As a teenager, Srinidhi Raghu was a regular at coffee shops, spending time there with a huge group of friends. “Their tagline, a lot can happen over a coffee, was so appealing. But now I go to coffee shops to work undisturbed, or to spend some quiet time over a cup of coffee,” says the 29-year-old photographer. With unlimited WiFi, an in-house library and good music, her favourite coffee shop in Adyar, says Srinidhi, provides a congenial atmosphere to finish her work. Remember J.K. Rowling? Yeah, she wrote a substantial portion of the first Harry Potter novel in a local café. Perhaps, there is an author in Chennai’s coffee shops, writing her magnum opus even as you read this. Chennai’s cafés are setting themselves apart from restaurants and hotel lounges by providing their customers much more than space. They have amped up music, the lighting is cool and comfortable and there are books, internet, board games, TV, food and a lot more to go with your coffee. “There is that lone reader or someone with a laptop, happily disconnected from the physical world or looking for time to connect with friends on social media, the single person looking for attention, the friends meeting up to chat… we have to take care of everybody,” says Raju Purushothaman who works at the Café Coffee Day in Kilpauk. A regular at Coffee Central in T. Nagar, Anjana Sri says she loves going there and the Zha Cafe because they let you play board games. “Barista was perhaps where it all began, with board games, a place to jam and someone playing the guitar all the time,” she says.
When it comes to combining technology with a lot of love for books, Chennai is no pushover. Chennai’s own are trying to combine their love for one with the other, and make a profit of it. The technique is simple: browse titles in a book store, then go home, log on to the internet and buy them online at a much lower price. Harish, an avid bookworm, says the distinguishing factor between online bookstores and the physical ones is the discount the former gives, and that’s why he prefers to buy online now. Several youth in the city resort to this. Sivaraman Balakrishnan, marketing head, Landmark, talks about newer marketing strategies to take on these online book stores: the pioneering ‘3 for 2’ concept wherein people get the third book free if they buy two; and focus on children. “Landmark has done both. With children, parents tend to take them to bookstores to inculcate the reading habit, and also to allow the child to make her own choice of what she wants to read.” T.V. Swaminathan, director, Connexions, says most of the books sold online are top-of-the-chart ones, whereas for old titles and classics, a bookstore is still the place to go. He suggests that to keep the book business above water, it is better to avoid setting up stores inside malls where the rent is prohibitive.