Seducing the Indians


Mills & Boon's passage to India is not simply a holiday romance.

"I'll be your mistress – for a million dollars."

For years, model Briana Davenport fought temptation – in the form of a six-foot, blue-eyed seducer. Jarrod Hammond was her employer's sworn enemy and as such off-limits to her… and her bed.

Today, thousands of women across India – and not a few men – are devouring purple prose such as this in the type of novel that everyone must have flipped through at least once in their lives – a Mills & Boon.

This brand of romantic fiction, which boasts sales of 10 million books a year in the UK alone, has arrived in India. A Mills & Boon office officially opened in Mumbai in February, and its head Andrew Go thinks the country may over time become the largest market outside of North America.

"Incredible things happen if you get all things in the right place; things will explode. India is one of those places," said Go, who hails from Toronto, Canada and transferred to Mumbai from London.

Go said both India’s demographics and economy are shaping up in favour of romantic fiction. More women are working and thus have greater disposable income to spend on consumer items such as books. At the same time, the increased stress of managing a career means that, from time to time, they may want to “escape” into the realm of passion and happy endings.

"Women in India are now more willing to give themselves some 'me' time," he said. "The books in turn can affect the women; increasingly, the books feature assertive female characters, and this in turn rubs off on the women as they head back to the office."

Mills & Boon prices its books in India at 99 rupees, compared with other books which sell on average at 250-350 rupees. A copy of Cosmo magazine is 75 rupees, and Vogue is 100 rupees, said Go.

"We bring our books to where the women go, as romance novels are very much an impulse purchase," said Go. "People don’t make separate trips just to buy such a book."
As such, Mills & Boon is working at building a wide distribution base consisting of stores, both large and small, across the sub-continent as well as chain bookstores such as Crosswords, Landmark and Odyssey, Go said that the company was in discussions with various chain supermarkets as well as the mum-and-pop stalls, and had already set up accounts with many of them.

Globally, Mills & Boon produces over 100 titles each month of which 10 are published in India. "We will be increasing our publishing schedule in the coming months," said Go. Neither the content nor the covers of the books are changed for the Indian market.

"We are not modfiying any of our content," said Go. "We have done extensive pan-Indian research which confirmed this decision. It is our characters and the adventure of their relationship and love that binds our readers together across languages and cultures."

Mills & Boon has a unique publishing model based on the concept of a limited shelf life for its titles. In India, for example, the books are released monthly and have a one-month shelf life, meaning that after 30 days, a particular title is taken off the shelves, never to be sold again. This creates a spur for buyers to purchase a Mills & Boon whenever they see a copy that strikes their fancy.

This year marks the 100th year of Mills & Boon. The publisher, now a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises, has grown to become the market leader in the UK. Such is the strength of the brand that in 1992, a Mills & Boon book was added to a time capsule in the grounds of Castle Howard, Yorkshire, to mark the 60th anniversary of the BBC. The capsule contained "vital clues of life in 1982 of generations to come".
Go thinks that the prospects are very bright for Mills & Boon in the world’s second most populous nation. And while it may be hard at first to imagine a traditional society such as India warming up to the bodice-ripping passages of romantic fiction, Go thinks that India and Mills & Boon make a very good couple.

"Indian people are incredibly passionate and warm by nature," said Go. "This translates naturally into love. This is the land of Bollywood and the stars. At the end of the day, what is wrong with reading a book and getting two hours of romance?"


First Published: 
August 2008


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