And here's where nothing's changed.
Readers have been talking about what the potential results will be of HarperCollins/NewsCorp's acquisition of Harlequin most of the day. What does it mean for libraries, digital readership, international romance readers, and the people who work at both companies? All logical questions.
And while Harlequin and HarperCollins have composed appropriately worded press releases and are making statements like “business as usual” and about fourteen thousand lawyers on both the US and Canadian sides are like GAME ON, there's the part that actually sucks right now.
The media response to the acquisition is as expected. Which is to say, it's so awful, I can't even describe it adequately. There are no gifs or emergency cute baby animals strong enough to dull the pain.
“Swooped?” “Charming?” For real?
“Charming” is not the word describe Rupert Murdoch. Or was he tapping your phones and you had to be kind?
Also vying for first place in Completely Offensive Hogwash: the first sentence of Stetler's article:
News Corp (NWS), the publishing company chaired by Rupert Murdoch, said Friday that it would pay $415 million to acquire Harlequin, best known for romance novels sometimes nicknamed “bodice rippers.” (Murdoch is, coincidentally, newly single.)
Instant replay! Let's look at that again:
(Murdoch is, coincidentally, newly single.)
YES. Because Rupert Murdoch's marital status is absolutely relevant.
And then there's this steaming pile of crap, from the Globe and Mail, which is not (I checked) a TorStar publication.
Michael Babad writes about the signing of legal papers for a nearly half-billion dollar (CAN) acquisition, turning a Canadian company into an American subsidiary, as… a sex scene.
No, I'm not kidding.
In the corner of the room, on this warm spring day cooled only somewhat by the breeze from the lake, stood the Harlequin, arms crossed and still in shock that he wanted a divorce after 39 years.
True, her sales had sagged, and he was desperate for money to pay his $160-million in debts. And, she had to remember, it was News Corp. that courted Torstar. The wandering eye wasn’t his. Not at first, anyway.
But it chilled her to her very core to become just another member of the News Corp. harem. And obviously, he had forgotten the good times, when she was younger and more attractive, before her revenue and operating profit gave way.
She understood it, of course. It was a hard decision for him – he even said so in a statement to the press – and the $455-million was good money he so craved for his shattered industry. Which is why his hands were so lovingly stroking the paper that would seal the bargain. Intimate, really, like he used to be with her.
I'm embarrassed for everyone at Harlequin and HarperCollins after reading that. I'm embarrassed for all of Canada. I haven't cringed that hard in a long time.
This rage is too powerful, even for emergency kittens. I tried.
Whether or not the figures of billion-dollar annual sales for romance are accurate (as Jane Litte has outlined several times, they include books that aren't romance, e.g. Sparks, Steel, et al), romance is a business.
No, really. I swear. An actual business, with actual money that employs actual people and supports an industry that is in fact actually global.
A business that is, in the case of Harlequin for the time being, Canadian and apparently worth $455+ million dollars and will become – did you miss this part, Mr. Babad? This is kind of important, given that you're writing for a Canadian newspaper and this is a Canadian company we're talking about here – a subsidiary of an American publisher.
As I said on Twitter, do all nearly half-billion dollar acquisitions that change a Canadian company into an American subsidiary get written up as sex metaphors in The Globe and Mail?
No, of course not.
I am not surprised.
But I'm so pissed off. Because Rupert Murdoch, whose ethics, political influence, and business decisions are part of a whole network of Wikipedia articles about him, is a “charming billionaire.” CEOs in charge of a merger are reduced to sweating caricatures in a badly written parody.
One dull side note: at least we were spared the portrayals had Donna Hayes still been CEO of Harlequin. Imagine those articles.
No, better yet, don't.
It's better this way.
Pretend I didn't say that.
You'd think that this was enough of a story with very wide reaching ramifications that business reporters would be able to take it seriously.
But instead of examining the differences between the two companies, how Harlequin has often led the way in digital transitions in romance, how readers perceive the different publishers as brands, how each publisher has markedly different approaches to reader cultivation, library relations, and community building, and how each has followed very different timelines for all of the above plus many other initiatives in digital and print publishing, it's much easer and a well-worn path to just make sex jokes and call it a day.
One reason why I'm particularly disappointed is that this is an area of the publishing world I know little about, except to watch what happens when Random House and Penguin merge (so far: press releases, meetings, email address confusion, then layoffs and redundancies).
It's really that difficult to see this as a business transaction that has considerable ramifications – global ramifications – for writers, employees, and readers?
Apparently. Because, as usual, when the business is about women, it's not worth the time to come up with something new or even interesting. Thanks for the reminder.