Following a rough fourth quarter that saw shrinking Nook sales, Barnes & Noble has revealed that it plans to close up to 20 stores a year over the next decade, The Wall Street Journal reports. The plan would cull up to a third of the bookseller's retail stores, which Barnes & Noble executive Mitchell Klipper says will bring the total down to 450 to 500 stores — the WSJ notes that the chain currently has about 689 retail stores in operation. The plan to close stores reflects the company's strategy to compete with Apple and Amazon in hardware — it's easier to move devices across a lower volume of stores — but Barnes & Noble still views its brick and mortar operation favorably; Klipper tells the WSJ that less than 3 percent of Barnes & Noble stores lose money, and asks "why close them if they are making money?" The move, then, suggests that Barnes & Noble sees more of its stores losing money in the coming years, leaving the flagging Nook to pick up the potential slack.

Update: A Barnes & Noble spokesperson has offered a statement to The Verge regarding the WSJ's report:

Barnes & Noble has not adjusted its store closing plan whatsoever. The Wall Street Journal article implies that our rate of store closures has changed. We have historically closed approximately 15 stores per year for the past 10 years. Of that number some of the stores are unprofitable while others are relocations to better properties. The numbers reported today by the Wall Street Journal are consistent with analysts’ expectations. It should be noted that in 2012, Barnes & Noble opened two new prototype stores and in 2013 plans to test several other prototypes, as well. Barnes & Noble has great real estate in prime locations and the Company’s management is fully committed to the retail concept for the long term.

While the company says its store closures may be happening at the same rate as in prior years, that obviously isn't the full story: the WSJ noted in its report that "the chain shut an average of 15 stores a year in the past decade, but until 2009 it also was opening 30 or more a year."