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updated 3/18/2010 11:51:31 AM ET 2010-03-18T15:51:31

Bookseller Barnes & Noble announced a CEO switch Thursday, elevating the president of its Web site to lead the company and replace Steve Riggio.

The company said Riggio will be actively involved with the company and will stay on as vice chairman.

New CEO William Lynch helped launch the company's electronic book store and oversaw the introduction of its electronic book reader, the Nook. The company is counting on the technology on to boost sales and ward off intense competition from online retailers and rival e-readers such as Amazon.com's Kindle and now Apple's iPad.

Lynch, 39, has served as president of Barnes & Noble's Web site since February 2009.

Barnes & Noble is under pressure from shareholders as sales at its stores flag. Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle has blamed company management.

In February, Barnes & Noble blocked an attempt by Burkle, whose Yucaipa Cos. holds a 19 percent stake in the company, to amass more shares.

"William came to us as a skillful leader in e-commerce who, in a short period of time, has done a superb job in quickly establishing Barnes & Noble as a major player in e-commerce and digital content," Chairman Leonard Riggio said in written statement. "Given the dynamic nature of the book industry, William is uniquely qualified to lead the company's transition to multi-channel distribution and drive the continuing expansion of our e-commerce platform, eBooks and other digital content and products."

Steve Riggio is the brother of Leonard Riggio, the company's biggest shareholder.

The company also promoted Chief Operating Officer Mitchell Klipper, 52, to CEO of its retail group.

Last month Barnes & Noble, based in New York, said the launch of the Nook helped spur online sales, but weakness at its bookstores led to a drop in profit during the third quarter.

Its outlook for the beginning of this year left many investors disappointed.

Before joining Barnes & Noble, Lynch was executive vice president of marketing at home shopping network HSN Inc. and general manager of HSN.com. He also served as CEO and co-founder of Gifts.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of IAC.

Michael Norris, senior trade analyst at Simba Information, said that while it was apparent Lynch was being groomed for a larger role since joining the company, he was surprised the shift happened so fast.

"It's pretty clear that they're putting all of their chips on the (digital) side," Norris said. "I hope that Lynch maintains the understanding that a huge part of Barnes & Noble's value proposition is their commitment to the superstore format. There's been so much excitement over the digital side of things a lot of people forget most people buy old-fashioned print books and are not yet committed to e-books."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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