Friday, May 02, 2014

Will There Always Be A Harlequin?

In an effort to keep pace with Random Penguin House, HarperCollins has bought up Harlequin from Torstar.

Will Harlequin remain the same, or will it be absorbed into HarperCollins? Will that be good for unagented authors, or bad?

A marriage of convenience?
Profits at the publisher of porn for women romance have been sliding for the past several years, and like all the other publishers, Harlequin blames the shift from paperback books to digital books. Harlequin's readers are facing the same everyday budget concerns that befall non-readers, and if a woman can get her smut romance fix on her smartphone for much less than the price of the paperback, she goes digital.

As for HarperCollins, they see the global reach that the Random Penguins have created through a recent merger, and no smart publisher will sit back and let the competition get a leg up. In purchasing Harlequin, HarperCollins gains access to markets it does not currently have. In addition, there are things that Harlequin does, like its book club, that appeals to the suits who run HarperCollin's parent company. News Corp has not done badly for itself, so it must see something in the Canadian-based publisher that could be massaged and nurtured until it blossoms into a voluptuous, heaving bottom line.

What might all that nurturing involve? For now, romance authors can submit to Harlequin and join the slush pile with a very small chance of getting published. All that slush requires readers, and is there really any benefit to HarperCollins to maintain that much staff to hunt for a readable needle in a haystack?

Harlequin is supposed to remain at its Toronto headquarters, but will HarperCollins executives keep their hands off, or will there be decisions made that bring Harlequin more into line with the new owner?

Of course, authors with HarperCollins' Avon line must be wondering if they are going to be shipped across the northern border to become part of the Harlequin family. After all, a big publisher doesn't need to maintain duplicate lines when "synergies" can be realized by combining departments and reducing staff.

Changes are coming because a new owner never lets an acquisition stumble along on its own well-worn path. Harlequin employees can only hope that they won't face the same disruptions that employees of Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin endured when Barry O'Callaghan started merging with a vengeance and hundreds of people lost their jobs.

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