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News Corp. (HarperCollins) buys Harlequin; stupid jokes abound

May 12, 2014

The News: News Corp., owners of HarperCollins, has purchased Harlequin Enterprise from Torstar Corporation in a deal worth $412 million. The deal must still be approved by regulators, but if it is, HarperCollins’ revenue would climb to about $1.8 billion. No immediate changes are expected at Harlequin. It will become a subsidiary of HarperCollins. Its headquarters will remain in Toronto and CEO and publisher Craig Swinwood will keep his job. No imprints are expected to vanish.

It’s the second recent major acquisition for HC, following the 2012 acquisition of religious publisher Thomas Nelson. For its part, Harlequin is a strong presence, but its sales fell 6.7% last year.

The Analysis: While these deals don’t have the wow factor of the merger of Random House and Penguin, they show further consolidation in the publishing industry, and more broadly, in the media industry. News Corp is the owner of 20th Century Fox, FOX Broadcasting, the Fox News channels, the Fox Sports channels, FX, FXX, Syfy, the National Geographic family of channels, The Wall Street JournalBarron’s, and The New York Post, and more. For the big publishers, bigger is definitely better right now.

What it means going forward: Although News Corp is saying there won’t be any massive changes, a certain level of consolidation would make sense, particularly in back office operations. HC will also probably leverage some of Harlequin’s global reach for its own imprints. In particular, HC CEO Brian Murray spoke of Harlequin’s huge international reach offering authors the opportunity to be published in as many as 30 languages. Further changes will probably occur as the relationship matures.

The Stupid: Earlier this week, the romance genre site Smart Bitches Trashy Books posted a workout guide for reading articles about the genre.

It really is the 17th iteration of the workout, making P90X look like a relative newcomer in relation. In the 16th iteration, you were required to do 25 tricep dips for mention of the words bodice ripperOverall, if you were to apply the workouts to the coverage of the purchase, you’d be buffer than anyone on the cover of any romance novel. (See? Even I dipped my toe in the water.)

As the same website pointed out, the coverage included the predictable trite headlines, like CNN’s Harlequin swooped up by News Corp, in an article that points out that CEO Rupert Murdoch is newly single–because that’s relevant, isn’t it, ladies? (Knowing nod.)

(Oh, also, insert sarcasm tag above.)

One supposed news analysis played out the story as a stereotypical scene from a, well, stereotypical bodice ripper, including moaning, passion, rippling muscles, and things being lovingly stroked by a man’s hands.

Seriously? It’s hard to imagine the stories being written the same way if Harlequin were best known as a science fiction and fantasy or mystery imprint. And, though many of the reports didn’t include this information, Harlequin does include the MIRA imprint, that focuses on mainstream fiction.

I did the Romance Novel Workout Series based on this week’s coverage of HarperCollins purchasing Harlequin and look at my arms now.

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