Harlequin has announced that it is establishing a vanity press arm to go along with its commercial publishing business where, for approximately the same as it would advance to a previously unpublished first-time author, authors can pay for seeing their names in print.
But wait there's more!
Harlequin isn't even doing the work itself. It is, instead, partnering with the highly dubious Indiana-based Author Solutions (the current owner of AuthorHouse, Trafford, iUniverse, and xLibris) to make these hourly rentals available to prospective romance authors. Didn't PT Barnum say "There's an author born every minute," or something like that?
This is on top of the already-existing (equally unethical) eCritique "service" recently set up by Harlequin. Harlequin's excuse is that things are going to change in publishing, so writers just need to accept that Harlequin is going to take advantage of every potential income stream. That's more than a little bit like saying that a bank is entitled to embezzle from your account, merely because the banking system is the only game in town; or that a classic boiler-room operation is acceptable because the people it rips off really want success that much. In short, there's more than a faint odor of dead fish and fraud.
This time around, though, writers' trade associations are not accepting Harlequin's newest attempt to squeeze blood from a turnip. SFWA, MWA, and RWA have all issued public statements of disapproval. So far, Harlequin's response has been to change the name of the program.
My advice, for what it's worth: Run away and shun all Harlequin products (that you can clearly identify). Just because the corporation is in Canada does not give it license to avoid the consequences of its greed. If the corporate masters there think that aspiring authors are nothing more than 'hos, they're nothing more than madames (or, if male, pimps).