Why Mumbai’s Hot for Mills & Boon

In Growth Markets by Liz Bury

By Liz Bury

Mills and Boon

MUMBAI: Of the numerous UK publishing houses to set up new operations in India during the past few years, Mills and Boon has perhaps the best brand recognition among its target audience. The publisher’s special formula of boy-meets-girl romance found a loyal readership in India during the 1980s and 1990s, when English language editions were first exported there.

The land of Bollywood romances filled with star-crossed lovers has a ready appetite for such titles as Taken by the Pirate Tycoon, and Blackmailed Into a Fake Engagement. “The Bollywood tradition is definitely complimentary to Mills and Boon. It’s all glitz and glamor and happy endings; and meeting the handsome prince. There is a cultural alignment,” says Retail Sales and Marketing Director Clare Somerville.

As well as a taste for romance, India has other market conditions favorable to Mills and Boon. There’s the well-documented rise of English language speaking, and as well as globalized communications, but the publisher was finally convinced to open an office in Mumbai on seeing the growth of India’s modern retail trade. The chain bookstores and supermarket-style outlets that particularly suit Mills and Boon’s range have flourished in India’s metro centers and their newly-built shopping malls. The growth of the modern trade has encouraged another UK company into India too: look for the launch of BookScan India during 2010.

To find out more about their target audience, Mills and Boon held a series of reader focus groups in the metro centers with interesting and charming results. Young working women, aged between 20 and 29, who had finished their education but not yet married emerged as prime Mills and Boon candidates.

“They see work as a way to resist the pressure of marriage, and are living an aspirational lifestyle, enjoying new freedoms,” says Somerville. “Interestingly, among this group and the marrieds, despite all the conventions of their society and arranged marriage, they are looking for the ideal partner, aspiring to having one romantic relationship. There is the concept of marriage and of a soul mate.”

Younger, single women still at college and living in hostels saw Mills and Boon as a safe way to explore sexuality, even seeing the books as instructive. But although the content is much appreciated and is never censored, the publisher is “judicious” about cover images. “The research showed that they enjoy the content, but are wary of being seen as bad girls. We are constantly looking at our covers and ways to make them better, to overcome any inhibition to purchase. That’s true to an extent in the UK too,” says Somerville.

A distribution deal with Living Media India, part of the India Today group, puts Mills and Boon at the heart of its target market. The group includes women’s magazines like Cosmo, Good Housekeeping, and Harpers & Queen, as well as Men’s Health and Fortune.  Research results from Mills and Boon retailers show a bedrock contingent of customers who return loyally to pick up the latest monthly releases, just as they might do a magazine. Currently four series are published in India: Modern, Desire, Romance and Special Moments, with more to come during 2010.

The publisher is producing themed titles, too, to capitalize on special holidays and festivals like Diwali, and gifting seasons such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Pricing of individual titles is designed to be accessible at 99 Rupees ($2.15), with shrink-wrapped three-in-one packs at a higher price point.

The series have dedicated space in all the major bookshop chains including Crossword, Landmark, Om, and Odyssey, as well as being stocked by the traditional book stalls and the newsstand trade. And, Mills and Boon is building partnerships with third parties which have a product appealing to their target demographic: Westside women’s wear stores carried a  scratch card redeemable for discounts on Mills and Boon books.

Having opened the Mumbai office in 2008, the publisher began local manufacturing with Thomson last year and, although it is not yet originating content in India, nothing is being ruled out. Says Somerville: “We’re working to bring out the winner of our Voice of India writing competition, and there’s nothing to say we won’t start originating content locally in years to come.”

A Mills and Boon Bollywood adaptation may not be far off in the future.

VISIT: The Mills & Boon India Web page

READ: Mills & Boon India’s first India author on why men should read Mills & Boon

About the Author

Liz Bury

Liz Bury is a full-time journalist who lives in London.