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Mills & Boon sets its cap at Indian market

By Jo Johnson in New Delhi
February 12, 2008 11:13 IST
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Mills & Boon has launched its own publishing operation in Mumbai in the expectation that India will rapidly become the world's largest market for romantic fiction outside North America.

Donna Hayes, Mills & Boon's chief executive, said India , with an estimated 300m readers of English, was a market of "staggering" potential for titles such as Virgin for the Billionaire's Taking and Bedded for the Italian's Pleasure.

" India is the land of love," said Andrew Go, the head of the new India operation. "When you walk out of a Bollywood movie, with its boy meets girl, conflict, happy ending storyline, you feel uplifted. It's the same with our books."

With many of its titles either semi-erotic or overtly sexual in nature, Mills & Boon hopes to tap a large market of young and inexperienced readers in a country that remains in many ways relatively repressed about pre-marital sex.

But competition in the guilty pleasures market is getting tighter. At Rs99 ($2.50, euro 1.70, pound 1.30), Mills & Boon books cost more than the Indian edition of Cosmopolitan, a monthly glossy magazine crammed full of sex tips and priced at Rs75.

"Mills & Boon has definitely got its place among the younger lot," said Mala Sekhri, editor of Cosmopolitan, which is including a sample of one of the new titles in its February issue. "We thought with Valentine's day coming up, this was the right time to do it."

The books will be progressively Indianised. Although Mills & Boon's market research showed many Indian readers enjoyed the escapism of books set in the French Riviera, Venice, or other glamorous locations, a sizeable minority expressed a yearning for more local heroes and heroines.

Mr Go said he planned to launch a new series with Indian characters and locations and would hold a short-story contest in India later this year to help identify talented local writers to add to the company's global roster of 1,300 authors.

Nicola Marsh, author of The Desert Prince's Proposal and Hot Nights with a Playboy, said many readers liked to imagine one day visiting the exotic locations in the tales, something that is now increasingly feasible as India 's economy becomes ever more intertwined with the outside world.

Although Mills & Boon books have been available in India for 60 years, the market had hitherto been treated as "a dumping ground" for books remaindered in the UK, Australia and other markets, Mr Go said.

In a country with fewer than 2,000 bookshops, distribution is the key to success for any publisher. Mills & Boon, like Cosmopolitan, will rely on India Today, a leading local media group, to provide it with space in 10,000 news-stands and other retail outlets.

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Jo Johnson in New Delhi
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