Five private equity firms and a trade buyer are thought to be bidding to acquire The Works, which went into administration last month.

One of the unnamed firms is understood to be working with The Works’ existing management team to acquire the bookseller as a going concern. It is thought that the interested parties want to jettison some of the chain’s least profitable stores and trade it from a trimmed down version of its 307-store estate.

A separate trade buyer, which does not have a book chain on the high street, is also understood to have expressed an interest.

Administrator Kroll is thought to have set a deadline for the week commencing March 10 to enter exclusivity talks with one bidder. It wants to complete the sale in the week starting March 21.

However, a source close to The Works refused to rule out it pursuing a company voluntary arrangement, which could involve its existing bank, HSBC, continuing its involvement, but offloading unprofitable stores.

The Works was placed in administration on January 31 as it faced tough trading and debts of more than£50 million.