The thought of buying An Impolite Seduction, Her Lord and Master, or Mile High Mistress over the counter is enough to make even the bravest of us blush.
But the rise of eReaders has made the secret pleasure of indulging in steamy romances all the more attainable, offering the ability to download huge quantities of romantic fiction titles without anyone having to know. 'It was a bold move to publish our entire catalog as eBooks in addition to paper versions, but it's paid off,' says Tim Cooper, director of direct and digital marketing at Mills & Boon. In September 2008, Mills & Boon became the first UK publisher to produce all its titles as eBooks simultaniously to publish the paper versions. 'eBook sales have been higher than we had forecast – a real sign that eBooks are what our readers want, and they're here to stay,' explains Tim. According to Cooper, online sales were encouraged by the relatively low eBook prices that are about half the cost of many paperbacks.
More than 140,000 Mills & Boon stories were downloaded digitally last year, compared to 400,000 that were bought as paperbacks through Amazon. And US Supermarket Giant Tesco has reported a 57 percent rise in Mills & Boon eBook sales within the five months since the Sony Reader went on sale.
Mills & Boon has always been more popular with older readers, as many younger readers were often embarrassed to be seen reading one. But Tesco's own customer research revealed that younger fans (ages 30 to 42) are now indulging in the eBook versions of these books. 31 percent of correspondents also said that they prefer not being seen purchasing the print versions, because of it being associated with older readers.
Selling particularly well as eBooks are the titles in the Mills & Boon "Spice" category – which offer slightly more erotic literature than the average romance novel.
According to Hazel Powell, commercial manager for books at Tesco, "Some bashful customers prefer to use e-readers so they can access stories privately.
Ever since Mills & Boon were launched by entrepreneurs Gerald Mills and Charles Boon in 1908, millions of women have been entranced by this fantasy world of intrigue, danger, passion and romance. And the predictability that they offer is a very large part of the reason for their popularity. Smoking and one-night stands are not allowed. The hero is always tall and handsome. And the heroine is always attractive, never overweight, and often fragile and vulnerable.
This allowed the books to flourish during the war years when they were launched – when women needed to escape the dreariness of an era where both men and money were in short supply. And even though the world that women live in has changed a lot since then, everyone still needs a bit of escapism. Mills & Boon has managed to adapt and stay relevant, and is more popular than ever with more than 175 million copies sold each year, and a new Mills & Boon book sold every 5 seconds in the UK. They are available in 26 different languages and sold in 109 countries,