Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shuffling the Deck Chairs

Right on schedule. A mere two weeks after Torstar, Harlequin's parent company, reported less-than-spectacular second quarter results, the publisher is moving the deck chairs around.

Robert Prichard, Torstar's president and CEO, said of the quarter ending June 30, 2006, "This was a difficult quarter for Torstar." Duh.

Torstar's net income per share was down 13 cents from the same quarter last year. About Harlequin, Prichard said: "a supplier's bankruptcy disrupted the direct-to-consumer business's spring mailing and reduced earnings by an estimated $2 million."

Late yesterday afternoon, Silhouette posted this message on the eHarlequin.com community board:

Below is an excerpt from a letter sent to Silhouette Bombshell authors in regards to changes to our publishing program.
As a company, Harlequin is committed to the success of our series publishing business. We believe it is our responsibility to develop, evolve and enrich our various programs in order to bring new opportunities to our authors and fresh and relevant reading experiences to our readers.

The complex side of keeping our publishing programs healthy is that every so often, we must evaluate a series that has not consistently been a strong performer and make difficult decisions about its future. Unfortunately, Silhouette Bombshell has not been able find a broad-based readership, and after reviewing the past, present and projected performance of the series, we're sorry to announce that January 2007 will be the final publication month for Bombshell.
There are also rumors that Silhouette Intimate Moments is about to be renamed "Silhouette Suspense" and be moved in the direction of romantic suspense. What that move will mean to Harlequin Intrigue, the current romantic suspense line, is anyone's guess. Are they going to start cannibalizing their young?

In his comments, Prichard said, "some of the current underlying trends in . . . unit sales at Harlequin remain challenging, leading to constrained expectations for the remainder of the year in these businesses. At the same time, we are continuing to invest in future growth for both our book publishing and newspaper businesses. Harlequin launched its new book business in Brazil during the second quarter and has introduced several new products in the North American market during July."

I got an email this afternoon from a writer I respect and trust. She said that the problem with Bombshell was not with the line. She believes the problem is in how Harlequin/Silhouette marketed that line.

The guidelines for writing a Bombshell described the stories in terms of Jennifer Garner on "Alias." That's a single title mentality, not a category romance approach. Yet the books were shelved along with the category romances. That meant that the readers looking for the run-of-the-mill romance were disappointed when they bought a Bombshell, and the readers wanting a single title adventure overlooked the Bombshell offerings because they didn't want a category. Meanwhile, the books were removed from the shelves after the standard month allotted to category romances.

It's no surprise that the Bombshell line tanked. It would have been a surprise if it survived.

Stay tuned.

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