Romance novels, an inexpensive escape for women, are helping some publishers hide from the worst of the recession. Frequently an impulse purchase, mass-market paperback romances, often bought on the run at drugstores and supermarkets, cost $4.75 to $5.99--a bargain when hardcover editions are typically $25 or more. Trade romances, which cost up to $14, are still a relatively good buy. The bodice rippers piled up nearly $1.4 billion in sales last year, the largest share of the consumer book market. More than 1 out of 4 books sold is a romance.
Harlequin Enterprises, the Toronto-based company that is the world's largest romance publisher, has been a great story for parent company Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star. Newspaper revenues are declining, but at Torstar's Harlequin division, revenues were up 8.7%, to $225.5 million in the first half, although the weak Canadian dollar accounted for some of the increase. That's an impressive result in a year when publishing giant Random House reported that its sales were down 4% in the first six months of the fiscal year.
Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes credits the recession with having lifted the company's profits. "We tend to do better than we would otherwise because we have the benefit of the kind of story that is very uplifting in all of our books." A happy ending is a sine qua non of romance fiction: girl catches guy, and all is well with the world. Hayes also credits series romance books, sold monthly like magazines, with lifting sales. "Where else can you get two or three or four hours of entertainment for $5 or less?" she asks.
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