Harlequin, the global queen of bodice-ripping books telling talesof romance between doctor and nurse, or servant and heir, has been seduced bymedia magnate Rupert Murdoch.Murdoch's News Corp said Friday it will buy Harlequin Enterprises from Canadianmedia group Torstar Corporation, tying the knot with 455 million Canadian dollars(US $414.5 million) in cash.The Australian-born US tycoon's News Corp will bring the international fictionpublisher into its HarperCollins Publishers unit, 99 percent of whose books arepublished in English.Harlequin is a globetrotter. It publishes romance and women's fiction andnonfiction books in 34 languages on six continents, written by more than 1,300authors worldwide."Harlequin is a perfect fit for the new News Corp, vastly expanding our digitalplatform, extending our reach across borders and languages, and is expected toprovide an immediate lift to earnings," said Robert Thomson, chief executive ofNews Corp.The world's leading publisher of romance fiction churns out more than 110 newbooks a month.Its market is women. The formula is simple: a hero, a heroine, a complicated lovestory that ends happily ever after, or at least well.Since its founding in Toronto in 1949, the company has sold 6.3 billion booksworldwide.In France, the nation of amour, customers bought one of its books every threeseconds in 2010, according to Harlequin.There is a broad array of genres to choose from, with themes set for variousromance collections: medical, historical, intrigue, erotic, fantasy, suspense.The novels often have been criticized for their canned story lines and cliches, animage not entirely disputed by the writing guidelines on Harlequin's websites forpotential authors.Varying according to the series, in general Harlequin wants heroines to be young,beautiful and intelligent, someone "relatable" to the reader and who can be "sweptin the arms of powerful heroes": a "hot-shot" surgeon, a "rugged and strong"cowboy, a firefighter or a wealthy alpha male.Harlequin also recently has begun to accept same-sex romance stories.As for eroticism, that varies by collection but the company welcomes steamyelements to spice up the story but "no graphic sexual details."
"While our books are very sensual, they deliver on the Harlequin promise of onehero, one heroine, and an implied committed relationship at the end."- Alongside the Wall Street Journal -In a less glamorous vein, Harlequin faced complaints a few years ago from editorsin France who said they were being exploited.The publisher currently faces a class-action lawsuit in the United States over claimsit deprives authors of certain e-book royalties due them.
Despite its critics, Harlequin has grown in 65 years to be the world champion inromance novels, adapting fairly quickly to e-books and adding books with largerprint.The company today earns 95 percent of its sales outside Canada (CAN$398 millionin 2013).Torstar, the press group that publishes Canada's largest English-language
newspaper, the Toronto Star, acquired a controlling interest in Harlequin in 1975and bought the rest of the company in 1981.But seeking to reduce debt, Torstar decided to sell the publisher to Murdoch.At 83 and recently divorced from his third wife, Murdoch last year split his globalempire News Corp into two to separate his television networks (Fox, Sky) and filmstudio (20th Century Fox) from his publishing and press holdings, shaken byphone-hacking scandal in Britain.It is the second entity, the so-called "new" News Corp, that Harlequin is going tojoin. Its holdings include the prestigious The Wall Street Journal and The Times inLondon, tabloids like The Sun in Britain, and publisher HarperCollins."Harlequin has a devoted audience around the globe and an empathetic insight intocontemporary cultures, which is itself a remarkable resource," Thomson said."This acquisition will broaden the boundaries of both HarperCollins and Harlequin,and is a significant step in our strategy to establish a network of digital propertiesin the growth regions of the world."The transaction is expected to close by the end of September.