LESLIE W. RABINE
Harlequin, as it advertises itself, is the 'world's no. 1 publisher of romance fiction'. Like its imitators and rivals, Dell's Candlelight Romances, Bantam's Loveswept, and Simon & Schuster's Silhouette Romances, Harlequin turns out on its giant, computerized printing presses an ever-increasing number of uniformly jacketed and uniformly written romantic narratives per month. 1 Formerly a moderately successful Canadian publishing house, in 1971 it hired Lawrence Heisley, a Proctor & Gamble marketing man, as its new president. He turned feminine romantic love into superprofits for his then all-male board of directors by transferring to the sale of books the techniques used to sell detergent to housewives. By turning love into a consumer product, Harlequin increased its net earnings from $110,000 in 1970 to over $21 million by 1980.
But packaging alone cannot account for the loyalty of 14 million readers. The novels' flyleaf assures readers that 'no one touches the heart of a woman quite like Harlequin', and marketing statistics—188 million books sold in 1980, sales accounting for 30 per cent of all mass market paperbacks in a major bookstore chain—support this claim. 2 What exactly is the secret to a woman's heart that Harlequin and its rivals have learned, and how have they turned this knowledge into profits for themselves?
Harlequin may owe its dramatic growth in popularity to the fact that the romances now respond to specific needs of working women. Focusing on the juncture between their sexual, emotional needs on the one hand and