Bibliophile’s brew: Can café culture save our bookstores?

Bibliophile’s brew: Can café culture save our bookstores?

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 14 May, 2016
Cafe Turtle in Delhi.

Ever wondered, what could enhance the pleasure of a cup of steaming hot coffee? A book, may be? Coffee and books easily go hand in hand. 

Find a sofa near a window, watch the world go by, order your favourite drink, pick up a nice book to read along and enjoy this little bubble of happiness. Yes, this would be the perfect setting on some days if you happen to be in a book café.

A book café is primarily a book-themed café with relaxed ambience and casual dining options, plus an attached bookstore.

The book café culture in India is catching on. You would find a trendy book café in most of the metro cities in the country. It is a perfect place for someone who is looking for a little chit chatting, reading or attending some events in a casual atmosphere.  In a book café one can find students, housewives and corporate honchos as well conducting a small meeting. It is basically a one stop solution for people who do not want to spend much, yet spend more time in a great ambience.

On some lazy afternoons, walking in a book café relaxes this writer. There is an aroma of tea and coffee in the air. The shelves stacked with books by different authors and genres invite you to take a closer look. Unlike a restaurant this is a space which allows you to sit for as long as you want with no one to judge. Also, it is much better than a library where you do not get the luxury of talking to people or eating something. In Cha bar, the book café which is run by publisher Oxford University Press, the menu comprises a variety of teas and other snacks. On one side of the café there were wide ranging books which were a delight to the senses. Even though you are not allowed to carry those in the café space, however you could browse through the shelves and read them as you sit in the books area.

Guardian 20 talked to a few café managers across the country to understand the trends that make a book café famous. Nishant Sinha who works as a consultant with The Coffee Cup, Hyderabad, says, “As the number of book stores are diminishing by the day, there are still a lot of people who would want to come to relaxed places and read books. Our café has become popular among artists and book lovers. We see a lot of bloggers, creative content writers and people who love to read books come to our cafe on daily basis to work or read for a while over a cup of coffee or their favorite food from our extensive menu.”

There are various schemes to attract customers in a book café. Nishant says, “We have events like poetry slam, stand up comedy and live music happening thorough different days of the week and it keeps our wide range of guests entertained apart from the book shelf and the food we provide.”

“As the number of book stores are diminishing by the day, there are still a lot of people who would want to come to relaxed places and read books. Our café has become popular among artists and book lovers. We see a lot of bloggers, creative content writers and people who love to read books come here.”

The cafés may or may not have specific themes. Mumbai based book café Leaping Windows is based on Japanese comic books. Bidisha Basu, the owner of the café, is a fan of Japanese comic books and her café is clearly a product of her love. She says, “Our cafe is based on the concept of Japanese manga cafes which house a huge amount of manga (japanese comic books), have internet and vending machine food and drinks. We have evolved this to have a full-fledged cafe menu and comic books from around the world. The cafe business is positive. Comics business is niche in India but growing steadily”

There are many people visiting the book cafes but the number is never fixed. Divya Kapoor, Owner of Literati Bookshops and Café in Goa says, “The number of people that visit in a day is not a fixed number. It however varies according to the tourist and holiday season, with more footfalls during the tourist and holiday seasons. But there is no discernible pattern. Of course, on event days and sales days there are more people.”

But in the times of Internet and Kindle, do book cafes stand any chance of survival?  “There are still many people who prefer a physical book  over Kindle. There are others who read both on the e-reader as well as the physical book. But I do not know if younger generations will also continue to read physical books. We will have to wait and see. I strongly believe that books can influence people positively and open up new worlds. Reading is one of the best hobbies or passions that a person can have,”adds Divya.

With various events happening in these cafes, the book cafes are here to stay. Priyanka Malhotra, Director, Full Circle and Café Turtle located at Khan Market says, “We regularly host book readings, book launches, art exhibitions and musical evenings to engage our customers and open our spaces for alternate uses. Our children's workshops, held a Sunday a month are very popular . And, being among books and book-lovers, chancing upon a book one didn't even know one was looking for, is a huge pleasure for some, and they'll keep coming back.”  

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