The publishing and bookseller world as a whole has seen substantial shake-up over the last few years: the rise of the e-book, the collapse of Borders, for example. And the world's largest bookseller Barnes & Noble has received its own fair share of mixed reviews lately as well. On one hand, the company announced last summer that it was putting itself up for sale in order to boost what it felt were undervalued shares. On the other hand, Barnes & Noble has had a string of wins in the digital realm, most recently when Consumer Reports ranked its e-reader the Nook over competitor Amazon's Kindle.

So eyes were on the Barnes & Noble quarterly earnings report today, particularly in light of an offer from Liberty Media to acquire the company. And again, the news was mixed.

It's good news, no surprise, for digital sales, as the company reported a 50% sales increase from BN.com. Those sales involved both traditional, print books, of course, but as Barnes & Noble showcased in today's report, it's the Nook and its associated digital content that's the real star. The company reported that Nook sales were $250 million in the fourth quarter and that during the same period, it opened over 1 million new Nook accounts. For the full year, sales of the e-reader rose to $858.1 million, up from $572.8 million last year.

"We now sell three times as many digital books as all formats of physical books combined on BN.com," CEO William Lynch said in a conference call. Much like Amazon's recent announcement about e-books versus print sales, Barnes & Noble gave no exact sales figures here.

Nonetheless the growing e-book business helped push total sales for the year at Barnes & Noble up 20% to a record $7 billion. By comparison, in-store sales for the year were just $4.4 billion, and during the fourth quarter, those sales fell by almost 3%. The company chalked this up to the "fire sales" held as its once-competitor Borders closed over 200 retail stores. Whatever the cause, the result: a total loss for Barnes & Noble for the quarter of $59 million, more than had been anticipated.

While the sales of the Nook and e-books have been strong, Bloomberg points out that Barnes & Noble has had to increase its marketing and product development expenditures in order to keep pace with Amazon, which still has a strong lead in market share for e-readers.

Bloomberg cites Standard & Poor analysist Michael Souers calling The Nook is the company's "only driver of long-term growth." So in answer to the question "Can e-books save Barnes & Noble," the response perhaps is "indeed, it's the only thing that can."