Harlequin Enterprises

Harlequin Enterprises

Infobox Company
name = Harlequin Enterprises
type = Public
foundation = 1949
location_city = Toronto
location_country = Canada
location =
locations =
key_people =
area_served =
industry = Publishing
products = romance novels and women's fiction
services =
revenue = $585 million
operating_income =
net_income =
num_employees =
parent = Torstar Corporation
divisions =
subsid =
slogan =
homepage = http://www.eHarlequin.com
dissolved =
footnotes =
intl =

Harlequin Enterprises Limited is a Toronto, Ontario-based company that is the world's leading publisher of series romance and women's fiction. Owned by the Torstar Corporation, the largest newspaper publisher in Canada, the company publishes approximately 120 new titles each month in 26 different languages in 109 international markets on six continents. These books are written by over 1,300 authors worldwide, offering readers a broad range of fiction from romance to psychological thrillers to relationship novels. With 131 million books sold in 2006--half overseas and a tremendous 96% outside of Canada--it is both the country's most successful publisher and one of its most international businesses.

Early years

Harlequin was founded in May 1949 by publishing executive Richard Bonnycastle in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada as a paperback reprinting company. The company's first product was Nancy Bruff's novel "The Manatee". For its first few years, the company published a wide range of books, all offered for sale for 25 cents. Among the novels they reprinted were works by Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, James Hadley Chase, and Somerset Maugham. Their biggest success was Jean Plaidy's 1951 release, "Beyond the Blue Mountain." Of the 30,000 copies sold, only 48 were returned.Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 63.]

In 1953, the company began to publish medical romances, with Bonnycastle's wife, Mary, serving as editor. Mary Bonnycastle enjoyed reading the romances of British publisher Mills and Boon, and, at her urging, in 1957 Harlequin acquired the North American distribution rights to the category romance novels which had been published by Mills and Boon in the Commonwealth of Nations. [Thurston (1987), p. 42.] The first Mills and Boon novel to be reprinted by Harlequin was Anne Vinton's "The Hospital in Buwambo" (Mills and Boon No 407).Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 64.]

Mills and Boon partnership

The contract with Mills and Boon was based solely on a handshake, given each year when Bonnycastle visited London. He would lunch at the Ritz Hotel with Alan Boon, the son of a Mills and Boon founder, and the two would informally agree to extend their business agreement for an additional year.Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 66.]

Mary Bonnycastle and her daughter Judy Burgess exercised editorial control over which Mills and Boon novels were reprinted by Harlequin. They had a "decency code" and rejected more sexually explicit material that Mills and Boon submitted for reprinting. Upon realizing that the genre was popular, Richard Bonnycastle finally decided to read a romance novel. He chose one of the more explicit novels and enjoyed it. On his orders, the company conducted a market test with the novel he had read and discovered that it outsold a similar, tamer novel. [Regis (2003), p. 185] Overall, intimacy in the novels never extended beyond a chaste kiss between the protagonists. [Thurston (1987), p. 42.]

The romances proved to be hugely popular, and by 1964 the company was exclusively publishing Mills and Boon novels. Although Harlequin had the rights to distribute the Mills and Boon books throughout North America, in 1967 over 78% of their sales took place in Canada, where the sell-through rate was approximately 85%. The company was successful, and in 1969 the Bonnycastle's took the company public. The following year, in 1970, Harlequin contracted with Pocket Books and Simon and Schuster to distribute the Mills and Boon novels in the United States.

On October 1, 1971, Harlequin purchased Mills and Boon. [Regis (2003), p. 156.] John Boon, another founder's son, remained with the company, overseeing British operations. North American booksellers were reluctant to stock mass market paperbacks, Harlequin chose to sell their books "where the women are", [Thurston, pp. 46-47.] distributing them in supermarkets and other retail stores. The company focuses on selling the line of books, rather than individual titles. Rather than traditional advertising, the company focused on giveaways. A sampling of books within a line would be given away, sometimes in conjunction with other products, in the hopes that readers would continue to buy books within that line. Harlequin then began a reader service, selling directly to readers who agreed to purchase a certain number of books each month. [Thurston, pp. 46-47.]

At the time that Harlequin purchased Mills and Boon, the company published only one line of category romances. Six novels were released each month in this line, known as Harlequin Romance. At the urging of John Boon, in 1973 Harlequin introduced a second line, Harlequin Presents. Designed partially to highlight three popular and prolific authors, Violet Winspear, Anne Hampson, and Anne Mather, these novels were slightly more sensual than their Harlequin Romance counterparts. Although Mary Bonnycastle disapproved of the more sensual nature of these novels, they had sold well in Great Britain, and the company chose to distribute them in North America as well. Within two years the Harlequin Presents novels were outselling Harlequin Romance.

Romance wars

By 1975, 70% of Harlequin's sales came from the United States. Despite this fact, the company contracted with only British writers. Harlequin contracted with its first American author in late 1975 when they purchased a novel by Janet Dailey. [Thurston (1987), pp. 46-47.] [Regis (2003), pp. 155-156] Dailey's novels provided the romance genre's "first look at heroines, heroes and courtships that take place in America, with American sensibilities, assumptions, history, and most of all, settings." [Regis (2003), p. 159.] Harlequin was unsure how the market would react to this new type of romance, and was unwilling to fully embrace it. In the late 1970s, a Harlequin editor rejected a manuscript by Nora Roberts, who has since become the top-selling romance author, because "they already had their American writer." [Regis (2003), pp. 158, 183, 184.] Harlequin terminated its distribution contract with Simon and Schuster and Pocket Books in 1976. This left Simon and Schuster with a large sales force and no product. To fill this gap, and to take advantage of the untapped talent of the American writers Harlequin had rejected, Simon and Schuster formed Silhouette Books in 1980. [Regis (2003), pp. 156, 159.] Silhouette published several lines of category romance, and encouraged their writers to experiment within the genre, creating new kinds of heroes and heroines and addressing contemporary social issues. [Regis (2003), p. 184]

Realizing their mistake, Harlequin launched their own line of America-focused romances in 1980. The Harlequin Superromance line was the first of its lines to originate in North America instead of in Britain. The novels were similar to the Harlequin Presents books, but were longer and featured American settings and American characters. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 67.]

Harlequin had also failed to adapt quickly to the signs that readers appreciated novels with more explicit sex scenes, and in 1980, several publishers entered the category romance market to fill that gap. That year, Dell launched Candlelight Ecstasy, the first line to waive the requirement that heroines be virginal. By the end of 1983, sales for the Candlelight Ecstasy line totaled $30 million. Silhouette also launched similar lines, Desire and Special Edition, each of which had a 90-100% sellout rate each month.Citation | last =Barrett | first =Mary Ellin | title = Pure as the Driven Slush | newspaper = Family Weekly | date = January 9, 1983 | url =http://www.cherylclarke.net/cherylclarke.net%20folder/cherylclarke.net/pdf_files/Binder%203.pdf|accessdate = 2007-05-24] The sudden increase in category romance lines meant an equally sudden increase in demand for writers of the new style of romance novel. This tight market caused a proportionate decrease in the quality of the novels that were being released. By 1984, the market was saturated with category lines and readers had begun to complain of redundancy in plots. [Thurston, p 188.] The following year, the "dampening effect of the high level of redundancy associated with series romances was evident in the decreased number of titles being read per month." [Thurston, p 128.] Harlequin's return rate, which had been less than 25% in 1978, when it was the primary provider of category romance, swelled to 60%. [Thurston, p 190.]

In 1984, Harlequin purchased Silhouette. Despite the acquisition, Silhouette continued to retain editorial control and to publish various lines under their own imprint. [Regis (2003), p. 156.] Eight years later, Harlequin attempted to purchase Zebra, but the deal did not go through. Despite the loss of Zebra, Harlequin maintained an 85% share of the North American category romance market in 1992. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), pp. 67-68.]

International expansion

Torstar Corporation, which owns Canada's largest daily newspaper, the "Toronto Star", purchased Harlequin in 1981. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 69.] The company began actively expanding into other markets. Although the authors of Harlequin novels universally share English as a first language, each Harlequin office functions independently in deciding which books to publish, edit, translate, and print, "to ensure maximum adaptibility to the particulars of their respective markets." [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), pp. 21-22.]

Harlequin began expanding into other parts of Europe in 1974, when it entered into a distribution agreement with Cora Verlag, a division of German publisher Axel Springer AG. The companies signed a two-year agreement to release two Mills and Boon novels each month in magazine format. The books sold well, and when the agreement came up for renewal Harlequin instead purchased a 50% interest in Cora Verlag. The new joint venture format allowed Harlequin to receive more of the profits, and allowed them to gain continued distribution in West Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. As of 1998, Germany represented 40% of Harlequin's total European business.Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 101.]

During this same period, Harlequin opened an office in Holland. Although this office lost money in its first year, by its third year in business it had accumulated a profit. In 1979, the company expanded in Scandinavia with an office in Stockholm. Expansion was rapid in both Finland and Norway. Within two years of its opening, Harlequin held 24% of the market for mass market books in Sweden.Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 102.] Scandinavia offered unique issues however, as booksellers refused to sell the category romances, complaining that the books' short life span (one month) created too much work for too little compensation. Booksellers and distributors also worried that the uniformity of the Harlequin book covers made advertising too difficult. Instead, Harlequin novels in Scandinavia are classified as magazines, and sold in supermarkets, at newststands, or through subscription. Harlequin has retained their North American style direct marketing. The direct marketing message is very similar in Scandinavia to that of North America, but the target audience differs a bit.Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 103.]

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, gave Harlequin an opportunity to extend into previously closed markets. Cora Verlag distributed over 720,000 romance novels at border checkpoints to introduce East Germans to the company's books. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 19.] The same year, Harlequin's German joint venture began distributing books in Hungary. Within two years, the company was selling 7 million romances in that country, and by the third year, Harlequin sold 11 million books in Hungary, a nation which at the time contained only 5.5 million women. At the same time, Harlequin's wholly owned subsidiary in Poland was able to order initial print runs of 174,000 copies of each title, and the Czech Republic was purchasing over $10 million each year of Harlequin novels.Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 68.] In 1992, Harlequin had its best year (as of 1998), selling over 205 million novels in 24 languages on 6 continents. The company released a total of 800 new titles in English, with 6,600 foreign editions. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 20.]

Harlequin moved into the Chinese market in January 1995. In China, the company produced books in both Mandarin and English. Twenty titles were offered each year in Mandarin, with 550,000 copies offered of each. An additional ten titles were offered in English, with print runs of 200,000 copies each.

In total, Harlequin has offices in New York, London, Tokyo, Milan, Sydney, Paris, Madrid, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Athens, Budapest, Granges-Pacot and Warsaw, as well as licensing agreements in nine other countries.

International editions

Harlequin's success in overseas markets is a result of its "emphasis on locality and language, independence and autonomy." [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 184.] The editors in Harlequin's branch offices have a great deal of control over which Harlequin novels will be published in their market. An editor generally chooses a book after either reading it herself, receiving a favorable review of the book from someone else, or reading a tip sheet about the novel. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 112.] The editors accept a novel for one of four reasons:
*She believes it will sell well.
*She really liked the novel
*She is looking for a specific setting or topic for the month
*The Harlequin head office insists that the book be published. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 115.]

The novels published overseas are not necessarily contemporaries of those sold in North America, or even those sold in other European countries. International editors are allowed to choose from Harlequin's backlist, and books published in a particular country may have been published in North America six or seven years previously. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 121.] As the novels are translated into the country's native tongue, the names of the hero or heroine may be changed and the title might not be translated literally. Furthermore, each novel is usually shortened by 10-15% from its original English version. This is usually accomplished by removing references to American pop culture, removing puns that do not translate well, and tightening the descriptive passages. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), pp. 130, 133.]

Additional imprints

In the early 1990s, many of Harlequin's authors began leaving the company to write single-title romances for other publishers. To retain their top talent, in October 1994 Harlequin launched the MIRA imprint to publish single-title romances. Most of their early novels were written by well-known Harlequin authors, including Heather Graham Pozzessere, whose novel "Slow Burn" launched the imprint. For its first few years, MIRA produced four novels each month. Of these, one would be an original novel, while the other three were repackaged backlist br other Harlequin authors. [Hemmungs Wirten (1998), p. 84.]

Harlequin has expanded its range of books, offering everything from romance novels under its various Harlequin and Silhouette imprints; thrillers and commercial literary fiction under the MIRA imprint; erotic fiction under the Spice imprint; Bridget Jones-style 'Chick lit' under its Red Dress Ink imprint; fantasy books under the LUNA imprint; inspirational fiction published under the name Steeple Hill and Steeple Hill Café; African-American romance under its Kimani Press imprints; male action adventure books under Gold Eagle imprint and single title romances under the HQN imprint.


In 2002, Harlequin published 1,113 romance novels, more than half of all romances released in North America. The next most prolific publisher was Kensington Books, which released only 219 romance titles.citation|last=Wyatt|first=Edward|title='Sorry, Harlequin,' She Sighed Tenderly, 'I'm Reading Something Else'|newspaper=The New York Times|date=August 17, 2004|url=http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/17/books/17romance.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5090&en=86a63e8a76228f5b&ex=1250481600&adxnnl=0&partner=rssuserland&adxnnlx=1180450818-+P4ZCTVCA7SnWP2hbjPlgQ|accessdate=2007-08-27] In 2006, Harlequin published books in 26 languages in 109 international markets. They sold a total of 131 million books, similar to the company's sales in 2005.cite press release|title=Torstar Corporation Announces Fourth Quarter and 2006 Full Year Results|publisher=Torstar Corporation|date=February 28, 2007|url=http://biz.yahoo.com/iw/070228/0221322.html|accessdate=2007-08-27]

The company is considered one of the most profitable in publishing. Over $585 million worth of books sold in 2003, for gross profits of $124 million and a profit margin of 21%. Its large profit margin can be tied in part to the amount of advance that its authors receive. These advances are often smaller than the industry average, and can total to only a few thousand dollars for a series romance.

Current Harlequin Enterprise Imprints Published in North America

Harlequin Category Romance Imprints

* Harlequin Romance
* Harlequin American Romance -- small-town
* Harlequin Blaze -- more explicit
* Harlequin Ginger Blossom --romantic manga
* Harlequin Historicals
* Harlequin Intrigue
* Harlequin NASCAR
* Harlequin Presents
* Harlequin Superromance

ilhouette Category Romance Imprints

* Silhouette Desire
* Silhouette Nocturne
* Silhouette Romantic Suspense
* Silhouette Special Edition

teeple Hill Imprints

* Steeple Hill Cafe
* Steeple Hill Love Inspired
* Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense
* Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical
* Steeple Hill Women's Fiction

Kimani Press Imprints

* Kimani Press Kimani Romance
* Kimani Press Arabesque
* Kimani Press New Spirit
* Kimani Press Sepia
* Kimani Press TRU

Other Imprints

* LUNA Books
* MIRA Books
* HQN Books
* Red Dress Ink
* Spice Books
* Worldwide Library
* Gold Eagle

Harlequin More Than Words

Harlequin Enterprises runs Harlequin More Than Words, a community investment program to reward women's work in communities across North America. Harlequin Enterprises solicits nominations of women who are make notable contributions to their communtities. Five women are chosen as Harlequin More Than Words award recipients each year, and a donation of $50,000 is divided equally among their charitable causes. A collection of romance-fiction short stories inspired by their lives is then written by five of Harlequin's leading authors. Some of the biggest names in women's fiction have donated their time and talent to the annual More Than Words anthology, including Diana Palmer (author). Debbie Macomber, Susan Wiggs and Linda Lael Miller. The first book was published in October 2004, with a new volume published annually. Proceeds from the sale of the book are reinvested in the Harlequin More Than Words program.



*cite paper | author =Hemmungs Wirten, Eva| title =Global Infatuation: Explorations in Transnational Publishing and Texts. The Case of Harlequin Enterprises and Sweden| version =Section for Sociology of Literature at the Department of Literature, Number 38 | publisher = Uppsala University | date =1998 | url =http://www.abm.uu.se/evahw/Global_Infatuation.pdf | format =PDF | accessdate =2007-08-27
*citation|last=Regis|first=Pamela|title=A Natural History of the Romance Novel|publisher=University of Pennsylvania Press|date=2003|location=Philadelphia, Pennsylania|isbn=0812233034
*cite book|last=Thurston|first=Carol|title=The Romance Revolution|publisher=University of Illinois Press|location=Urbana and Chicago|date=1987|isbn=0-252-014421-1

External links

* [http://www.eharlequin.com/ Harlequin homepage]
* [http://www.HarlequinMoreThanWords.com www.HarlequinMoreThanWords.com] -- information about the charity and how to make a nomination
* [http://www.diesel-ebooks.com/cgi-bin/category/FIC027120/Harlequin-Romance.html/ Harlequin digital repository]

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