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Transmedia Love: Harlequin’s Mills and Boon creates massive cross-platform story experience

Harlequin breaks boundaries on cross-platform storytelling for book publishers

Mills and Boon, an imprint of Harlequin UK, has launched a massive transmedia project today called The Chatsfield. The project has been months in the making and was created through a collaboration with transmedia firm StoryCentral Digital.

A quick rundown of the depth of the project gives us a fictional hotel with a website where you can ‘check in’, receive a room key, and start exploring the hotel. There are several locations to discover, where users can interact with the environment to learn more about the four main characters. These characters can be found across digital, social, and mobile platform, including through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.

Best of all (well, for me, anyway) is the chance to participate. Email them? You’ll get a response. Tweet the character? They tweet you back.

In one area, users can upload videos and blogs sharing their own stories, interact with one another, and share details of the progressing narrative – effectively, becoming part of the story. This may not be anything particularly groundbreaking in transmedia, but for a book publisher? This kind of audience participation is huge. Harlequin has initiated a innovative project for a publisher, and it may be the first to do so. Other than Pottermore, which is not owned by a publisher, The Chatsfield appears to be the first of its kind – which is a big, welcome step for publishing.

Book publishers have been caught in a struggle to stay relevant as the way people consume content has changed. Rather than focusing on a single piece of content for hours on end, more and more consumers have been switching to bite-sized snippets of content that don’t require too much time or investment, often feasting on multiple pieces of content at the same time (watching TV while browsing on their mobile). More and more, content is being consumed across a variety of platforms on a combination of devices. As readers’ attention becomes more fragmented, publishers have faced the challenge of first getting people’s attention, let alone keeping it.

By creating a story world that can be accessed in a multitude of ways, Mills and Boon have provided the opportunity to consume as much as you like in the ways you prefer. You can choose to dive right in and check in to the hotel, follow the characters’ blogs and social media accounts, upload your own stories, and get interactive – or you can simply read the books. How involved you get and how much you consume is up to you, and whether you take in a little or a lot you’ll get a great experience either way. Making sure the audience has fun at all involvement levels is key to a successful transmedia project, and it looks like this one has been well-planned.

Harlequin has said that they will be rolling out some 800 pieces of content over the next three months. It’s free. So how are they making money? Two ways: novellas set in the world of the Chatsfield are available to purchase, and partnerships with companies like Glossybox and, the latter of which gets a quick mention in the first video blog by character Jessie Loe, an exec PA. What will be most interesting to find out is how successful the venture is in terms of numbers. While romance isn’t usually my bag, this is one love story I’ll be keeping tabs on.

Harlequin was purchased by HarperCollins last week, which could have fantastic implications should the project prove successful.

Check out the trailer:

Katie Todd

Katie Todd

Katie Todd has a MS in Publishing from Pace University and works as a copywriter, editor, and communications specialist. She lives in New York. She is not very good at being serious.

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