New Delhi, Feb 10: This Valentine's Day, India has a new guilty pleasure which has wooed readers across the globe.
The days of the dark, dark and handsome man with the ever-so beautiful blonde is in the offing with Mills and Boons finally coming in to the country, providing readers their very own 'Made in India' copies. Priced at an unbelievable Rs.99, the192-page romances with graphic covers, seduction and rich-boy-meets-poor-girl tales, has been brought in by Harlequin Enterprises, owned by Canada's biggest newspaper publisher Torstar Corp, in collaboration with the India Today Group, while and Thompson Press has been looped in for printing and distribution.
The made-in-India books have received great response since hitting the newsstands.
''The idea of entering the India is to also penetrate the South Asian market where the company has been selling its pulp fare for the past 60 years,'' said Harlequin Enterprises CEO and publisher Dona Hayes.
But in a nation that is most often conservative about explicit contents, sensitivities seem to have changed along with market dynamics and Harlequin sales strategies. ''Just before the launch of the India operations we conducted a market survey which showed that we had rationalise in terms of price and content," said Harlequin Mills&Boon India (HMBI) GM (Sales) Manish Singh.
The company has sobered down the content looking at the market.
Often, literary works have met scrutiny of various groups of the society, who have not only burnt copies of the books and sometimes been brutal to the authors as well.
''We have also adopted a new marketing model. The company, at the moment, is concentrating on the magazine distribution model on an annual subscription basis. The idea is to release 10 titles every month for the subscribers, recall it at the end of the month and then release fresh ones the next month," said Mr Singh.
M&B is also updating its database of 100 authors for India to ensure that there is an even spread of old and new authors and Indians get to read all that is published, Mr Singh added.
The Indian market is expected to become the world's largest market for romantic fiction outside North America, believes Ms Hayes as the country, with an estimated 300 million English readers, is a market of 'staggering' potential for titles such as Virgin for the Billionaire's Taking and Bedded for the Italian's Pleasure.
The firm has earmarked substantial investment for strengthening operations in India with a target of recording consistent sales year-on-year.
''India is one of the biggest single investment in 2008 and we working really hard to get our books out here,'' Harlequin Enterprises Vice President (Overseas) Stephen Miles said without giving investment details.
The company is also looking at catering to other South- Asian nations including Pakistan and Bangladesh from its office in India. ''We are looking at serving other markets in this region from India,'' Mr Go said. With most of its titles either semi-erotic or overtly explicit in nature, M&B hopes to tap a large market of young readers in a country.
The books will be progressively Indianised. Although M&B's market research shows 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.
''There are plans of launching 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'' said HMBI Director (Indian Operations) Andrew L Go.
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 added.
Ten new romance titles will be published every month in three series Modern, Romance and Desire, with about a print run of 80,000 copies.
The readers are also enthusiastic about the launch. ''It's great that the book is finally here. I would ask my relatives to get me editions from there or had to settle for old copies. But now, I get to read M&B at a cheaper price and with more choices'' said Swati Panda, who was visiting the World Book Fair.
M&B is the global leader in series romance and one of the world's leading publishers of women's fiction, with titles issued worldwide in 26 languages and sold in 109 international markets. The company releases 120 titles monthly and publishes more than 1,300 authors from around the world.
Last week, WH Smith announced that it was introducing Polish versions of some of its most popular titles to cater for Polish workers in the UK.
Mills&Boon is the latest in a string of foreign publications to enter India, following a change in government rules in 2005. The others are Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Hello.
In 2005, the Indian Government allowed foreign groups to own non-news publications wholly for the first time, triggering a rush of interest. Last October, Conde Nast, the American publisher, launched Vogue India, the first 100 per cent foreign-controlled magazine. GQ, its men's equivalent, is expected in a matter of months.
HMBI will begin by bringing in the same titles that are released internationally on the same day of the launch in other countries.
Aspiring authors can get in touch with the international editorial offices of the publishing house as the company does not plan to set up an editorial office in India at present.
The publishing house has about 1,300 active authors, including Indian, across the world.