Anyone who’s read or written romance knows that Harlequin has been the most recognized brand name for decades. For years, they ruled the roost when it came to publishing and selling romances. But the tide has turned. In fact, over the past five years, Harlequin reports a loss of nearly $100 million in sales. This is important for all traditional publishers and authors to know, because the reasons speak to the e-book and self-publishing revolution in every genre.
Digitalbookworld’s article quotes the reasons for the downfall directly from Harlequin’s findings and they probably won’t surprise you. Harlequin cites increased competition from e-books, self-publishers, and Amazon. Harlequin also used to dominate direct-to-consumer marketing through catalogues and mail-order options. Well, online sites like BookBub have adopted the direct-to-consumer angle big time by offering thousands of free and $.99 romances, making Harlequin’s $4.99 prices seem expensive. Adding to Harlequin’s woes is the reduction of physical shelf space and the increased availability of movies.
Digitalbookworld offers a link to Harlequin’s report on their financial troubles, but there might be more to the story. There have been a number of blogs and articles written by former Harlequin authors complaining about the publisher’s unfair contracts and small royalty payments. It does appear that a number of Harlequin authors have jumped ship to self-publish their work. I don’t know what Harlequin contracts say, but I do know that rights and royalties are an increasingly contentious issue between publishers and authors elsewhere. It looks like Harlequin will have to make big changes to survive either in their contracts, their pricing, their marketing, or all three. Will they survive? We’ll have to wait and see.