Oh, those silly women and their multi-million dollar industries, helping keep publishing afloat as the big guns struggle to move with the times. Who do they think they are?
It was announced today that News Corp had acquiesced the iconic romance publishing house for the sum of around half a billion dollars, thus meaning it will become part of Harper Collins. This was a surprise but an entirely unexpected move. While the romance publishing houses in general have evolved at a faster pace than the big six, embracing self-publishing and e-books in a way many had written off as a fad, Harlequin have been struggling a little lately. Category romances haven’t held the sway they once did, although the house’s success in non-English language publications is not to be sniffed at. This is where 40% of their revenue comes from, while Harper Collins publishes 99% of its books in English. They knew what they were doing when they put the money on the table (the deal was done in cash, according to the Guardian). This gives Harper Collins a significant leg up in the digital field while allowing Harlequin a strong support system to continue doing what they do best.
Questions do remain as to what will happen to employees of Harlequin and the security of their jobs. Many readers are also dismayed at the possibility of the house losing some of the unique selling points as it becomes a division of Harper Collins. As noted by Jane at Dear Author, Harlequin has prided itself on being both reader and library friendly, while focusing on pushing diverse characters to the forefront, something that’s desperately needed in publishing. Will this continue untouched by News Corp or will changes be made? It would be foolish to mess with a tried and tested method that has readers returning time and time again, but sense and the publishing industry don’t always go hand in hand. The lawsuit involving Harlequin and several of its authors regarding e-book royalties also remains unresolved.
And then there were the reports of this news story.
Harlequin publish romance novels. Did you know that? If you didn’t now, every mainstream publication’s reporting on the acquisition sure let you know about it. The phrase “bodice ripper” was used in the headline of a number of stories, including the one on the BBC website. The BBC! CNN also fell into this trap. Financial Times described the purchase of a powerhouse publishing house as “Murdoch Woos Book Publisher”, which brings up some unpleasant mental images, while Reuters described it as “tying the knot”. Most articles felt the need to mention some of the more outlandish book titles, as if to invite scorn upon the publishing house and its readers, because mocking romance is a new and hilarious thing, apparently. These articles were all written by men, it should be noted.
The romance industry is a multi-billion dollar one. Time and time again, it has proven itself to be resilient even in the face of economic strife. Its readers are fiercely loyal and unafraid to let people know about their dedication. News Corp know a thing or two about making money and they would not have paid close to half a billion dollars for Harlequin if they didn’t see it as guaranteed money in the bank. Why mock that? Silly women and their disposable income. Forget taking the time to do some research and understand the genuine worries of a huge and ever growing audience: why do that when mindless misogyny is far easier?