The internet is abuzz with the news that Torstar has agreed to sell Harlequin to Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation, where it will become a division of Harper Collins. Though not normally one to get embroiled in romance industry happenings, I thought I might as well share my $0.02 – or R2 in South Africa – this once.
Putting on my management consulting hat for a moment, I can’t say I’m totally surprised. Torstar reported a 7% loss in revenue at the end of 2013 and book publishing – especially in the US market – was one of the segments that decreased. When the COO was swiftly appointed to replace the retiring CEO (rather than finding and appointing a big-name external with an editorial background) I did wonder about what felt like a playing-it-safe hire given the degree of flux in the industry at the moment. Surely this was the time to bring in fresh blood and big vision? But executive moves are my bread and butter and I tend to consider them far more than most people, who probably couldn’t really care less.
With today’s announcement, the recent C-suite reshuffle leapt immediately to mind. Retrospectively it makes sense – who better to steer a company through a merger than the tried-and-tested operations guy? Equally it’s not hard to see how a shift in the top brass could open the way for a merger; without the advocacy of a long-serving CEO, a newer executive may struggle to influence the relevant stakeholders. At the end of the day Torstar needed the money, and Murdoch was willing to pay it.
From an industry perspective I think it’s a bit sad. It’s certainly the end of an era, plus it’s almost never good for a company to be subsumed into a huge corporate as that almost always means cost-cutting and big compromises. News Corp will see value in the Harlequin brand but not necessarily its culture or identity. Harlequin as we know it may eventually go the way of Silhouette, now not much more than a logo.
As an author published by Harlequin’s Carina Press, it’s hard to see the positive side. Harlequin’s existing value is in its distribution and readership, so it’s unlikely authors will see either of those increase. It also already has a large, well developed marketing and publicity department so it’s unlikely authors will feel anything there, although if HC decides to run HQN’s marketing on its own, I’m the sure the job losses in the HQN department will be palpable! From an administrative angle I wonder whether, as happened to Lyrical Press authors when it was acquired by Kensington, existing books will be temporarily pulled from sale while authors sign new contracts. And what will the terms of those contracts be?
So much remains to be seen here, but as a slightly tangential aside I wanted to take this moment to acknowledge how much I love my other publisher, Samhain. I don’t know whether it’s down to Samhain being a genuinely independent, private company or simply its culture, but my author experience has been that of a small, intimate start-up while the sales numbers comfortably compete with Carina’s despite its much greater resources. Soon I’ll have some exciting news to share about an upcoming project over in Samhain’s corner, but in the meantime I’ll settle for feeling grateful I’m one of their authors.