Romance inc.: Why the love industry flourishes

Without our insatiable appetite for romantic love, a large part of the mainstream economy would bump and grind to a halt. Luckily, finds Sophie Morris, the downturn hasn't affected the love industry yet

Romance comes in many forms. Most of them, in the modern world, involve money. It may be the initial wining and dining; or one of the more extravagant displays of affection required to put a relationship on a more permanent footing; or just one of those periodic injections of the romantic spirit that are so important for keeping such relationships going. There are the various forms of romantic entertainment books, films, music with which we put ideas into one another's heads, or to which we escape when reality doesn't quite match up to our dreams. And then there are the various correctives flowers, chocolates, holidays that we often use to put relationships back on the right track when, say, one of the partners has been working away (or, worse, playing away) for a while.

Not every romantic gesture has to be expensive, but, taken together, it all adds up to an industry that, even in the current climate, is booming.

You can see this in the continuing success of that pillar of the romance industry, Mills & Boon. A hundred years after its first book, the publisher now churns out some 2,000 books a year. You might not know anyone who admits to enjoying Mills & Boon titles, but it is equally unlikely you will find someone in the English-speaking world who hasn't heard of them. Globally, they sell 130 million books every year 10 million of them in the UK. To put that into context, Harry Potter has shifted a mere 400 million in 11 years.

The tone has evolved over the years. In the Twenties when the brand's popularity really took off female readers' romantic aspirations probably went little further than some compliments, maybe a gift or two; a date into which a lover had put some thought. Today's romantics have steamier expectations but Mills & Boon can satisfy them: your 3 will typically buy you a narrative led by a woman's yearning and a man's touch with titles such as Coming Undone ("Waves of pleasure"), The Novice Bride ("Innocent bride, conquering husband") and The Shocking Lord Standon ("Rich, vivid and passionate").

Mills & Boon's marketing director Clare Somerville says that the books reflect how romance has evolved along with society the heroine is now more likely to be a neurosurgeon than a housewife, and descriptive sex scenes are commonplace in some of the Mills & Boon sub genres; in fact, they lead the plot as long as the protagonists are romantically interested in one another. "Part of the enjoyment for our readers is they know to a certain degree that certain conventions are going to be followed," she says. "There is a framework and a premise, which is that a couple are going to meet, there are going to be quite a lot of obstacles on the way to them achieving happiness, but ultimately the ending is going to be uplifting, and leave you with a positive feeling".

Literary purists will always have reservations about the books as literature with their repetitive plots, two-dimensional characters and gender stereotyping but as a product they are hard to fault, with an annual UK turnover of around 20m. Their example, believes Somerville, has informed more inventive romantic reads. "We're definitely the precursor to modern chick lit such as Bridget Jones, but we're also the child of Jane Austen and the Brontës."

And if Somerville sounds less worried than many about the hard economic times ahead, perhaps that's not surprising: it was during the Depression of the Twenties and Thirties that the imprint really took off. "People wanted to escape the hardship of the depression and general strikes," she explains. "What women wanted, and what we could make money out of, was light fiction. They concentrated on ramping up the light fiction of the time, and the growth of the lending libraries in the Thirties was a great conduit for romantic fiction."

But it's not just publishers who can profit from the earning power of romance. The outlook also looks rosy for the British greeting card industry, whose incredible success in recent years suggests that most of us still struggle with putting our romantic thoughts into our own words. In 2006 alone, 2.87 billion cards were sold in the UK with a combined value of 1.306bn. That's 48 cards per person.

"We're huge fans of slushy cards in the UK," explains Sharon Little, general manager of the Greeting Card Association. "We wonder whether it is because people are still quite stiff upper lip when it comes to face-to-face meetings, and need some medium to convey their feelings".

No other country has quite such an embedded culture of sending and receiving cards. Little claims the UK is 10 years ahead of anywhere else in terms of design, and there are around 800 card publishers operating around the country. It is a vital industry as far as the economy goes: one in six retailers stocks cards, and hot spots include Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire, where cards have stepped into the shoes of heavy manufacturing as major employers.

Chocolates are another tried and tested way of saying "I love you", and, once again, despite the credit crunch sales are booming. The seasonal and boxed chocolate market is now worth 1.246bn, a significant increased from 1.180bn in 2006, when a heavy downturn in the market was predicted.

Times have moved on since the days when a lady was happy with a stealthily delivered box of Milk Tray. Posh chocs are where it's at, and the provenance of the cocoa is all important. Luxury food halls and bespoke chocolatiers such as Godiva and Green & Blacks are gaining ground and squeezing businesses such as Thorntons, long the chocolate king of the high street. The big food producers have not been slow to notice the trend towards luxury which suggests that chocolates are now being bought for special occasions, no doubt many of them romantic and three years ago Cadbury Schweppes bought Green & Blacks for 20m.

Flowers top even chocolate in terms of revenue. The UK trade in cheap bunches of tulips and costly hand-arranged bouquets is worth 2.2bn annually. On Valentine's Day, of course, most of that trade is done in red roses, a flower associated with love, passion and romance.

A more costly way to express feelings for a loved one is to buy a piece of jewellery. The market is worth around 2.5bn, an 11 per cent increase over five years, and the most successful jewellers are those offering high quality pieces in distinctive designs. "Upmarket jewellery is often bought for sentimental reasons," says Mintel's senior fashion analyst Katrin Magnussen. "This means that the market is likely to hold its own in these more challenging times." Platinum the engagement and wedding band of choice for young women is the real mover. Sales are worth 75m and have grown 36 per cent since 2003.

There are those who say that flowers and chocolates are no indication of how a person feels for another, but when it comes to romantic gestures the figures show we are fairly conformist in our tastes. That said, buying gifts as an expression of romance is so deeply engraved on our nation's psyche, it looks as if the practice might withstand even the toughest of economic shocks. St Valentine must be turning in his grave wishing he had trademarked his name.

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice