A digital web of different stories unfolding in a fictional hotel turns fiction on its head.
Mills & Boon is claiming to be turning “traditional storytelling … on its head” with the launch of an online story world which stitches together more than 800 pieces of digital content in multiple formats in what it says is a global first.
The romance publisher – whose parent Harlequin has just been acquired by News Corp – has created a fictional online hotel, The Chatsfield, as the jumping off point for a host of different storylines. There’s Jessie, the executive assistant who has bet her best friend that she won’t date anyone for three months, who stumbles across a mysterious bar manager with a secret to hide. There’s a chambermaid with a sideline as an escort, and, in true Mills & Boon style, a playboy media mogul. The stories will be played out through Facebook, YouTube, blogs, short stories and Twitter, with characters reacting to readers’ interactions, and the publisher planning to develop the characters that users interact with most.
Mills & Boon hopes the project will be a new evolution for the series romance novels for which it is best known. “Welcome to a world of style, spectacle and scandal,” says the Chatsfield website, which went live this week. “The Chatsfield has welcomed, captivated and entertained the fabulously rich and famous for almost a century.” Readers can follow the characters’ real-time Twitter and Facebook account, watch their video blogs, and even check characters’ emails.
“A digital story isn’t just an ebook or an ebook with hyperlinks or video added,” says the publisher. “Harlequin has taken traditional storytelling and turned it on its head, to get the attention of their audience in the digital spaces where they are already hanging out and being entertained.”
“Obviously Mills & Boon is really popular. It’s a powerful part of our brand, and customers get really addicted to the series,” said Jo Kite, Mills & Boon’s marketing manager. “But we wanted to take it further, and develop it – make it something like popular series at the moment such as Mad Men or Modern Family. We wanted to engage our audience, and create something more contemporary.”
Kite said the project was “totally new”, and that “no publisher has done anything like this before with transmedia storytelling – it’s a global first”.
The project, which the publisher is describing as “social storytelling”, is rooted in a collection of eight Mills & Boon “Chatsfield” novels, with the online hotel world then allowing the stories to spin off into more characters and developments. These will play out over the next three months, when – if the initiative proves successful enough – Harlequin will launch a second Chatsfield series.
“The idea is to produce lots of different stories in bite-sized content,” said Kite. Fans are also able to create their own stories and share them on the website, where they can create their own profile and help to solve a mystery.
“The genesis for this project was to evolve the Mills & Boon series model around the female consumer of today. Could we best utilise the resources at hand (our authors/brand and team) to tell great stories in ways that would engage and entertain women?” said Tim Cooper, managing director at Harlequin UK. “We don’t really know how this project will end or where it will take us – but isn’t that the whole point of a great story?”