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May 30, 2017

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Harlequin romance novels fall into the arms of Murdoch

NEW YORK--Harlequin, the global queen of bodice-ripping books telling tales of romance between doctor and nurse, or servant and heir, has been seduced by media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch's News Corp. said Friday it will buy Harlequin Enterprises from Canadian media group Torstar Corporation, tying the knot with 455 million Canadian dollars (US$414.5 million) in cash.

The Australian-born U.S. tycoon's News Corp. will bring the international fiction publisher into its HarperCollins Publishers unit, 99 percent of whose books are published in English.

Harlequin is a globetrotter. It publishes romance and women's fiction and nonfiction books in 34 languages on six continents, written by more than 1,300 authors worldwide.

"Harlequin is a perfect fit for the new News Corp., vastly expanding our digital platform, extending our reach across borders and languages, and is expected to provide an immediate lift to earnings," said Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp.

The world's leading publisher of romance fiction churns out more than 110 new books a month.

Its market is women. The formula is simple: a hero, a heroine, a complicated love story that ends happily ever after, or at least well.

Since its founding in Toronto in 1949, the company has sold 6.3 billion books worldwide.

In France, the nation of amour, customers bought one of its books every three seconds in 2010, according to Harlequin.

There is a broad array of genres to choose from, with themes set for various romance collections: medical, historical, intrigue, erotic, fantasy, suspense.

The novels often have been criticized for their canned story lines and cliches, an image not entirely disputed by the writing guidelines on Harlequin's websites for potential 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 "swept into 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 steamy elements to spice up the story but "no graphic sexual details."

"While our books are very sensual, they deliver on the Harlequin promise of one hero, one heroine, and an implied committed relationship at the end."

In a less glamorous vein, Harlequin faced complaints a few years ago from editors in France who said they were being exploited.

The publisher currently faces a class-action lawsuit in the United States over claims it deprives authors of certain e-book royalties due them.

Despite its critics, Harlequin has grown in 65 years to be the world champion in romance novels, adapting fairly quickly to e-books and adding books with larger print.

The company today earns 95 percent of its sales outside Canada (CA$398 million in 2013).

The transaction is expected to close by the end of September.

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