If you want to attempt something new in digital publishing, start with the romance genre. What have romance publishers done that’s so astounding? They were among the first publishers to adopt ebook-first and digital-only titles at a time when books were only released as ebooks after a hardcover run. They were the first in the industry to offer 70% royalties to authors on digital-only titles despite accusations that they were pandering to authors who couldn’t get published otherwise. They were the first to offer nearly instantaneous publication from a major publisher, reducing the ridiculously long wait time for a new book to reach market. They among the first industry to open their arms to hybrid authors, giving them the freedom to write books for their publishers while also writing other unrelated titles specifically to launch as self-published works.
And while Harlequin was behind a lot of those bold moves, they certainly were not alone in the attitude of experimentation. But now, Harlequin is responsible for a whole new type of digital storytelling, or more specifically, its Mills & Boon imprint is. The Chatsfield is an online platform that weaves together the opulent setting of the fictitious hotel and the existing books about the tycoon’s family who owns it. Now, in a series of digital titles, further stories–broken up into the different “rooms” in the hotel–will add new content and new characters to the mix. There’s even a social media angle to the digital experience, allowing readers to connect on various platforms and share insights from the books.
In an interesting and immersive twist, fans of the platform can email characters from the stories, and those characters will respond, fostering more dialogue about the story and engaging readers in unheard of ways. The interactive website also offers a more in-depth look at the story lines and cast by inviting readers to “snoop” in the hotel’s guest rooms. Registration on the site comes with your own “check in” to bring the hotel stay experience to life.
Whether this is a gimmicky attempt to lure readers or the wave of the future for digital publishing remains to be seen, but as always, this kind of innovation has a strong foundation with romance readers and the publishers who provide that content.