Harlequin Mills & Boon in India: From the ‘Colonial Library’ to Marketing to Modern Indian Readers

In the early twentieth century, most British publishing firms had what was termed a “colonial library,” which was not a physical space but rather a list of the books the publisher sold to colonial markets. This paper explores the impact of the publishing firm Mills & Boon’s (M&B) early 20th-century colonial library in India as well as its negotiation of new markets in what business historian Geoffrey Jones describes as the second global economy. Founded in 1908, M&B distributed popular romance novels to colonial territories and established a strong brand identity among English-language readers that continues today. Once Mills & Boon was acquired by Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Mills & Boon (HMB) built upon the strength of the M&B brand in the English-reading Indian market. By 2008, HMB established a branch in Mumbai and offered popular romance novels written by Indian authors for an Indian readership. HMB’s negotiation of this national market offers insight into the demands of a new generation of readers in India and provides a case for exploring the characteristics of a second global economy and a turn toward regionalization. Research was conducted at the M&B archive at the University of Reading, England, and the Paul Grescoe archive at the University of Calgary, Canada. Newspapers, trade publications, recent scholarship on the history of book publishing, as well as interviews with HMB company employees provide a context to understand HMB’s marketing and promotional strategies.