mills and boon · novels · publishers · publishing · romance

Mills and Boon and the digital future of books

A while ago I wrote about how I was able to download the first book in Richard House’s multimedia thriller The Kills for free, just by sending out a tweet. I wondered at the time if The Kills multimedia format – in which videos are embedded in the digital download – was the future for books, but apparently I haven’t seen anything yet!

This week Mills & Boon launched The Chatsfield – a fictional online hotel which the publisher claims “has taken traditional storytelling and turned it on its head.”

mills and boon, helena fairfax, the chatsfield

The Chatsfield online hotel is the companion to a set of eight traditional M&B novels released this week, all of which tell stories involving characters from the hotel. Readers who visit the The Chatsfield online will get to meet a further range of characters such as the hotel’s assistant manager, a mysterious barman, and a chambermaid/escort, who keeps an online blog in real time.  The online characters’ stories will be developed on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, and readers are encouraged to interact by email and tweets, etc. Mills & Boon have said that they will develop the characters that users interact with the most, and if the online hotel is a success there will be a second set of novels.

This whole online world is a step far beyond that of the multimedia novel. As the people at M&B say, “A digital story isn’t just an ebook or an ebook with hyperlinks or video added.” They’ve taken the idea of the multimedia novel and developed it even further, to appeal to contemporary readers who spend a vast amount of time online.  Jo Kite, Mills & Boon’s marketing manager, said the project was “totally new”, and that “no publisher has done anything like this before with transmedia storytelling – it’s a global first”.

Here are a few of my thoughts on this imaginative project:

  • I admire M&B for their inventiveness. The choice of hotel as setting is perfect, with its glamour and the possibility of introducing a host of characters and different storylines. Apparently writing is all about interaction with the reader these days, and this initiative takes that interaction to a whole new level.
  • I’ve very curious to know how this project will develop. Personally, as a reader this whole online thing isn’t for me. I prefer to get a book and immerse myself in the story, without the distraction of FB and Twitter and online images interrupting my own imagination. M&B have been losing a younger readership, though, and I feel this is designed for younger women than I am. Will they go for it? I’m agog to find out!
  • As a writer, I’m quite disheartened to think that this is the future. M&B is a massive operation, even bigger now it’s part of the Murdoch empire. They have the money to experiment with this format, and if it’s successful, where will that leave indie authors and smaller publishing houses? If readers expect an online world for all their novels in the future, the only way writers will be able to make a living will be as part of a big corporate world that can provide the infrastructure.
  • The core of The Chatsfield, for me, has to be the set of six novels that have been released in the normal way. The online world should be an added extra to the books. I downloaded one of the books in the series, and I have to say I’ve read much better from M&B. The writing felt rushed and lacked polish, as though the author were racing towards a deadline. And that could very well have been the case, if release had to coincide with the launch of the online world. I’d absolutely hate it if online fictional worlds – no matter how inventive – became more important than the books themselves. It’s what my friend calls “the tail wagging the dog”.

What do you think? Would you enjoy spending time in the online Chatsfield, and would you take the time to interact with the characters through Twitter and FB? Do you think this is the future of storytelling? An imaginative idea, or just a gimmick? I’d love to know your opinion on this, and where you think the world of reading is going. Any comments, please let me know!




21 thoughts on “Mills and Boon and the digital future of books

  1. Like you say, it’ll be fascinating to find out how successful it is, and whether the take-up is by women younger than me; because I totally agree that the pleasure of reading is to immerse myself in someone else’s world – without distractions.


    1. Hi Beverley, yes I’m really curious to know how successful this will be. I think even Mills and Boon don’t have any idea yet, so it will be interesting to find out! Thanks for your comment!


    1. Me too, Kate. I looked around the hotel website but found it didn’t hold my attention in anything like the same way a book does. Still, since I feel the same way about video games, too, I’m obviously not their intended audience!


  2. Hi Helena

    Half-wondered if this might work for Dear Miss Landau, but that is a particularly type of book which took place in reality and highly photogenic locations, which could benefit from audio and even visual reconstruction.

    Hurried writing is good for nobody, and from experience I’d say the best idea is not to do every book like this (only ones whose format would benefit from it) and to remember (this is a particular theory of mine) that formats should be complementary, but too many fools rush in, call it THE GREAT BREAKTHROUGH or something similar and start predicting the imminent demise of the printed book…  The audio and ebook versions of DML, to my mind, complement the traditional version, not replace it; so I usually quite like this idea, but it would have to be for the right projects and it probably wouldn’t stand the test of time. Anything which requires an interface of any sort to reach the text will become obsolete a lot quicker than something which only needs the human eye Mark 1!

    Having said that, I quite like the idea of a multimedia DML with video, narration and colour pictures, so I am copying this to my publisher.

    Please note, Amanda, I know you are very busy at the moment, this is just for future reference.





    1. Hi James, you’re right when you say this particular way of attracting readers will become obsolete with time. I’m fascinated to see how the world of books will develop in the future. Will the printed book really die eventually? Ten years ago I never imagined I’d be downloading books onto my e-reader. How will we be reading in 20 years?
      It’s good that you welcome these ideas for your novel, James. Perhaps you could set up your own website, with multimedia links. It would tie in very will with the Buffyverse! Thanks for your opinion and your thought-provoking comment!


    1. Hi Harliqueen, if you do check it out, please let me know what you think of it all! From what I’ve had time to see of the site, it’s very glossy and well put together, and I can see how readers might really get into it.


  3. This sounds like another form of entertainment to me. We must erase the idea of i being just a book. Nowadays we have so many forms of entertainment—video games, TV, movies, binge watching series, print books, e-books, etc. I think this new form is exciting and an opportunity to expand our entertainment offerings. Huh, I thought adding live links to my e-book non-fiction book was pretty revolutionary. This new form is mind-blowing and on the cutting edge. Exciting. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


    1. It’s true, we have so many forms of entertainment, JQ, and Mills and Boon have come up with a great idea to compete with everything else that’s drawing their younger readers away. I’m very curious to know whether this will take off with readers. Thanks for your thoughts and comment!


  4. Thanks for sharing this innovative idea! I would hope that this becomes an additional form of entertainment, but that it doesn’t replace the old fashioned written novel. It’s a great venue to attract reluctant readers, but at the end of the day, students must acclimate to reading great big blocks of text without forced images and stimuli, which is crucial for advanced learning.


    1. Hi Loren, I agree – there are so many forms of entertainment competing with reading these days. If this entices people to pick up one of the books and start reading, it has to be a good thing. Let’s hope so. Thanks for your comment!


  5. Although it sounds fascinating as a new way to entertain and involve readers, it doesn’t entice me, Helena – I much prefer to read a book whether in print or on kindle and get lost in the characters coming alive in my imagination.


    1. Hi Ros, I really admire the innovation and the inventiveness behind it, but like you, nothing will ever beat a book for engaging my imagination. Maybe it will be different for future generations. It will be interesting to find out!


  6. After hearing a young adult author talk about interacting with her fans, i think this will appeal to teens. However, like you, I’d rather read a book. I buy kindle books because they are cheaper, but really prefer one to hold in my hand.
    Carolyn Rae Williamson, Romancing the Gold, coming in the fall.


    1. Hi Carolyn, I much prefer a real book, too. I use my Kindle like you, because the books are cheaper, but also because I just can’t physically store all the books I read in my house! The Kindle is a great way to carry books around when travelling, too – but nothing’s better than a real book! Thanks very much for your comment!


  7. It’s an interesting idea that might help market some books, but I cannot see it replacing conventional stories – or at least I hope it does not. This is something of a cross between a series and an online game. I have no interest in the latter, and I’m suspicious of series. Sometimes they work, but I get resentful if important plot or characterization elements are scattered among the series.


    1. Hi Bethany, I get what you mean about series. I don’t mind if they’re genuine, but I hate it when I’ve bought a book and only find out at the end that I have to buy the next to find out what’s going to happen. I feel as though I’ve been conned by a sales ploy. As far as I can tell, I think you can read all the Mills and Boon Chatsfield books as stand alone stories.
      I’m glad you can’t see the online element replacing conventional stories. That seems to be most people’s opinion so far, which is good! Thanks very much for your comment. Much appreciated!


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