NEW YORK — Barnes & Noble changed chief executives yesterday, elevating the president of its website to lead the company, a surprise move that highlights the importance of digital books to the bookseller’s future.
The company said former chief executive Steve Riggio will stay on as vice chairman and be actively involved with the company.
New chief 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 to boost sales and ward off intense competition from online retailers, discount stores, and rival e-readers such as Amazon.com’s Kindle.
The impending launch of Apple’s iPad tablet computer is also crowding the e-reader field. Barnes & Noble, which offers its e-reader software across a host of platforms, including laptops and most mobile devices, said last week that it will also make it compatible with the iPad.
Lynch, 39, has been president of Barnes & Noble’s website since February 2009. He said he will work to develop both retail and online businesses.
“Although the stores will be just a part of the offering, they will remain a key driver of sales as we expand our multichannel relationships with our customers,’’ he said.
Barnes & Noble is under pressure from shareholders as sales at its stores flag.
Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle has blamed company’s management.