Harlequin Enterprises Limited

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About The Company

Harlequin Enterprises Limited is both synonymous with romance and a major publishing entity. Under the Harlequin umbrella are many different types of romance ranging from inspirational to traditional to sexy. Each imprint has its own personality and devoted fanbase. Today, Harlequin is owned by Torstar, a Canadian news company. See Harlequin for a list of imprints published by the company today. The company publishes nearly 110 new titles each month in 27 different languages. Harlequin is also known as the only publisher of "series" or category romances. This genre of romance books are so called because they are issued with numbers identifying the order of their publication, not necessarily because the books have a common topic or are related.

Harlequin's success comes on several fronts, including its ability to make its product available in non-traditional settings, such as grocery stores (though other publishers now take advantage of this approach). Harlequin's "Reader Service", a book club that delivers all titles in a specific line to a reader each month, creates a steady revenue stream while satisfying the appetites of voracious readers. Unlike many publishers, Harlequin takes a front-list approach, focusing only on the sales generated by the initial release of a book. Most publishers rely upon front-list for initial numbers, but count on back-list sales for a long-tail revenue stream. The rise of retailers such as Amazon.com have affected Harlequin's approach to back-list product, but not in a significant manner. Harlequin, of course, retains the rights to all titles it publishes for a length of time, and often re-issues popular authors such as Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie.


Established in 1949 by publishing executive Richard Bonnycastle, Harlequin started out publishing a wide range of books from Westerns to Romances to cookbooks. In 1957 Harlequin began acquiring the rights to, and publishing, novels from Mills & Boon. The first Harlequin published out of the Toronto office was in 1957[1]. Due to the huge popularity of this genre, by 1964 the company was exclusively publishing romance fiction and in 1971 it purchased Mills & Boon, forming Harlequin Mills & Boon Limited in the UK.

For twenty years, Harlequin was lead by Brian Hickey. Hickey was replaced by Donna Hayes in 2001.

The Imprints

The publisher made it a point to provide consumers with an identifiable, reliable product. By breaking out types of romances into "imprints", Harlequin could guarantee that its readers received a sweet or sexy read without any surprises. This branding extends to the size, shape, and even color of the books. Harlequin does not change the basic look of its product without careful consideration -- generally lines are updated when they begin to look old-fashioned. See Harlequin for a list of current imprints.

Competition and Acquisitions

Though there were many entries into the Series or Category market over the years, Harlequin was largely able to defeat any competitors. Harlequin reinforced its business model when it acquired Mills & Boon a publisher in the United Kingdom in 1971.

Real competition arose, however, in 1980 when Harlequin decided to bring its distribution in-house. Simon & Schuster, who had handled that aspect of the business, responded by creating a division known as Silhouette. Silhouette was such a successful publisher of Category Romance that it was purchased by Harlequin in 1985, effectively ending all competition in the market. The Silhouette imprint has continued as a separate line under Harlequin ownership.

More recently, Harlequin purchased the Arabesque, Sepia and New Spirit imprints from BET Books in December 2005. These imprints are now published under the Kimani Press line.


In 1986, Harlequin created the Worldwide Library imprint in an attempt to capitalize on the growing Single Title market. Though Harlequin's authors appreciated the opportunity to write longer, more complex books, the imprint did not thrive, ceasing publication in 1988. In part, Worldwide Library did not last because Harlequin could not determine what the imprint should be. Harlequin launched the MIRA imprint in 1993 with more success. Today, Harlequin Enterprises encompasses more than women's fiction, including publishing titles under the Worldwide imprint again -- this time, as Worldwide Mystery.


There are 3 ways for Harlequin Enterprises to expand internationally:

  • subsidiary of Mills & Boon: Mills & Boon Australia - now Harlequin Mills & Boon Australia - was established in 1974 and was the first venture outside of North America and the United Kingdom. Harlequin Mills & Boon India Private Ltd was founded in 2007 and distributes titles printed in India for the Indian market in English.
  • joint ventures: The first was with the Axel Springer Verlag for the translation into German in 1976 and established the Cora Verlag. Another one is Harlequin Mondadori of Italy, established in 1981.
  • subsidiary of Harlequin: The first was founded in The Netherlands in 1975 and Dutch was the first language Harlequin books were translated into. This is the most common way to expand abroad.

Foreign branches and publishers of translations - most places of publication are given in Harlequin books below the publisher's name:

Publication Practices

Though Harlequin does not necessarily support breakout authors -- indeed their standard distribution methods do not encourage bestsellers, authors are compensated and promoted based on a tiered schedule. New authors receive lower advances and have no negotiating power when it comes to royalties. Mid-list authors often receive additional promotional support and may benefit from higher advances. Bestsellers, a group that includes superstars such as Nora Roberts have the most leverage with the publisher.

See Also

Articles About Harlequin Enterprises Limited