The language of love does not change according to the seasons, is evident from the fact that the queen of romantic novellas, Dame Barbara Cartland, continues to remain a bestseller, even after being on bookshelves for over 50 years.
And now with an intervention by her family, chiefly her son and daughter, her legacy of romance gets a new lease of life, through a unique marketing initiative that involves country specific sales and distribution strategies.
Q: How do you propose to keep the legacy of Barbara Cartland alive?
A: The legacy will last for many centuries as she wrote classic love stories, which are timeless. As long as love makes the world go round, her books will always remain best sellers. I along with my daughter Iona, have started a publishing division called the “Barbara Cartland Pink Collection”. These would bring to readers across the world 160 of her unpublished manuscripts which she left at her death in 2000. No author in history has ever left so many books unpublished at death. In an innovative format, we are in the process of currently publishing them on the Internet and marketing them through the mail order route. This means that her fans can now look forward to unpublished titles brought out exclusively to whet their appetites.
Q: How much repackaging do the books require – in terms of the look, titles and cover designs of the originals in order to appeal to present-day readers?
A: Barbara Cartland never needs repackaging as her message about love is so strong and universal, appealing to generations of readers. The cover illustrations were painted by foremost artists in the UK and we intend to retain that look since it has become a trademark, making her titles easily recognizable in a rack of hundreds of other paperbacks. So in a sense it is our USP.
Dame Barbara Cartland with her son Ian McCorquodale
Q: Do you think the reader today would still find Barbara’s extremely Victorian descriptions and mushy love stories addictive or would they much rather have something that is more direct, explicit and well sexual too?
A: Barbara Cartland has always written pure romance and at the time of her death she was the only western writer penning pure romance. All other romantic authors were encouraged to insert saleable dollops of sex and violence in their so-called romances, to the extent that they turned out to be more on the soft porn side rather than pure romance. Barbara Cartland never competed with those kind of books, since her market was completely different and defined. Barbara had many mothers telling her that they went out of their ways to recommend her books to their daughters, trying to deflect their attention from the others in the romantic genre. Sexually explicit novels maybe available, but we are certainly not in competition with them and nor have we diluted our equity by bringing in ‘saleable’ components.
Q: What prompted you to go in for an Indian reprint edition of 28 books through Rupa & Co. How does this tie-up benefit the Indian reader and your own interest?
A: Barbara Cartland has always been extremely popular in India although for many years her books were pirated in the Indian market. On her frequent visits to India she was always mobbed by fans asking her to sign her books – but they were nearly always pirated editions! I am very happy to have a genuine Indian publisher in Rupa officially publishing Barbara Cartland and I feel certain they will be very successful with Indian readers. This is the first time that we have licensed Indian Subcontinent rights on our own to an Indian publisher.
Q: Which other countries do you have a similar arrangement with?
A: Our novels are published throughout the world and to date her books have been published in 37 different languages. Currently we publish in France, Germany, Spain Poland and Russia; new countries which have just started publishing her include Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, China and now India too.
Q: Where does Barbara Cartland have her maximum readership and amongst what age group?
A: Her romances have always appealed to all age groups, but mostly amongst women. The normal pattern would be that a Barbara Cartland reader would start at the age of 13 and get hooked to her gripping stories, which blend drama, action, romance, treachery and deceit against a backdrop that is typically English. Our research has shown that readers also revert to the Cartland brand of romances later in their lives, say when they are in their 40’s and 50’s. So in a sense brand loyalty is very much there.
Q: Have you created other products that can be marketed alongside the books, using Barbara’s brand equity?
A: We have been toying with the idea of developing products and are currently considering several options for cosmetics, furnishings and greeting cards.
Q: What are the annual sales of her books/ reprints?
A: Sales vary from one country to another, but in the heyday of the Barbara Cartland romantic boom in the ‘70s and ‘80s, her books were selling in the United States alone at 400,000 copies per title, 2 books per month and in the UK, 150,000 copies.
Q: Could you tell us something about Barbara Cartland the person. How romantic was she? Where did she get her story ideas from? How did she structure her time? How did she strike her work-life balance and what were the values that defined her.
A: Besides being the world’s most prolific author, Barbara Cartland was the most imaginative and creative writer. She wrote her first book when she was 19 and her last book when she was 97. She wrote a total of 721 books in her lifetime of which 657 were romantic novels and every book published became a best seller.
She was a great believer of discipline and routine and would write two hours every afternoon, between 1.30 and 2.30 and would write in that time up to 8000 words.
Her first marriage was not a success, but her second marriage to Hugh McCorquodale was extremely happy and lasted for 27 years until his death in 1963. She led an incredibly busy life working for charities, pioneering vitamin therapy and alternative medicine and becoming involved in politics, but at the same time was able to engage herself befittingly to all her activities, simply because she was organized and always had plenty of time for her family.
Q: How secure is your market share of romantic novels today and what are the threats that stand to dilute that equity?
A: There is no competition to Barbara Cartland romances. At the time of her death she was the only writer penning pure romance and therefore would not consider some of the current so-called romantic authors as any form of competition. Also there has been a huge upsurge in popularity for Jane Austin and period romance, which is exactly where Barbara Cartland comes in. This is a well-defined market and one which we see steadily growing, contrary to societal developments around us.
Q: What is your role specifically in ensuring that the Barbara mystique does not fade away.
A: I am publishing the Barbara Cartland Pink Collection which we intend to reprint in the USA and UK. These would be at least 400 of her older classic romances, which are currently out of print. Also, we now have her official website – www.barbaracartland.com and to top up the plans, we are in discussions with a Hollywood company for a series of new Barbara Cartland romances on DVD.