Romance Novels' Popularity Has Been Rising, Even in a Bad Economy

Kensington Publishing's mass-market romance novel sales are rising.
Kensington Publishing's mass-market romance novel sales are rising. (Kensington Publishing Via Associated Press)
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By Megan K. Scott
Associated Press
Sunday, May 31, 2009

NEW YORK -- With an out-of-work husband and two children to support, Christine Mead needs a cheap -- and uplifting -- break from life.

So lately she's been escaping into sweet and heartening stories of love and passion, where heroines overcome insurmountable obstacles to find their happiness.

"I am left with a satisfied feeling at the end of a good book, a feeling of hope that all can, and will, be okay," said Mead, who lives in the small town of Festus, Mo., and suffers from fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

Mead, 41, rarely goes anywhere because of the price of gasoline, and the family has been relying on a food pantry. Romance novels, she said, are "a distraction from not knowing what's going to happen next."

Love may not conquer all in real life, but its power in relatively inexpensive books is quite a comfort in this economy. Publishers are seeing strong sales in the romance genre as other categories decline and consumers cut back on spending.

Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., a global giant in women's fiction, reported fourth-quarter earnings up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier, with U.S. retail sales up 9 percent in 2008.

For the week of May 10, romance book sales overall were up nearly 2.4 percent compared with the same week last year, according to Nielsen BookScan, which covers 75 percent of retail sales. Travel book sales were down 16 percent, detective/mystery and self-help were each down 17 percent and adult fiction overall, of which romance is a subgenre, was up 1 percent.

Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher for St. Martin's Press, said romance is doing so well, the publisher is releasing 32 titles this year (more could be added), compared with 26 last year.

Books from notable authors, including Lora Leigh, Lisa Kleypas and Sherrilyn Kenyon, are experiencing healthy sales, she said.

Enderlin and other publishers said they're not surprised by the genre's success.

"If you really think about it, there is a little romance in virtually every book," said Laurie Parkin, vice president and publisher of Kensington Publishing Corp. Kensington has seen a 5 percent increase in sales for mass-market paperback romances for its fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, she said.

"But especially when business is bad or business is down, people want to escape a little bit," Parkin added. "I think romance offers that in a wonderful, wonderful way."

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