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Care for a book with that beverage, sir?

On November 7, regulars drinking their cups of coffee at the Chembur Barista were in for a treat. For, at the café was well-known writer Shobhaa De. She wasn’t just another guest either. De was at the venue to launch her new novel Sethji. The book, which was unveiled at a recently held literature festival, was launched in the rather warm environs of a coffee shop and not at a regular, perhaps even mundane, venue such as a bookstore with celebrities in tow or at a banquet hall with free food and alcohol for company.

Shobhaa De
Shobhaa De at the launch of her book Sethji at Barista Lavazza, Chembur

Book launches have been slowly moving out of book stores and into more interactive environments such as coffee shops and pubs. Over the last year, there have been launches at Mocha (another coffee shop major) and Bonobo (a popular Bandra pub and restaurant).

Rishad Saam Mehta
Rishad Saam Mehta at his book launch at Mocha Mojo in Bandra

In fact, though the launch of De’s book was Penguin India’s first, it will not be the last. Plans are afoot between the publishing house and Barista Lavazza to make such events a regular feature. The publishers have partnered with the coffee chain on a long-term basis.

“Coffee houses and books have always been linked together, internationally too. Maybe because coffee shops are considered the ideal places to have intellectual conversations,” believes Hemali Sodhi, head of marketing, Penguin. “Shobhaa De is the queen of reinvention and therefore perfect for the launch of this partnership. Sethji is one of the biggest titles we’re launching this year and it helped that De was extremely excited by the concept,” she adds.

De tells us over email, “I was delighted to kick off the initiative for what will be an ongoing exercise that combines book launches with coffee. Brews and books make a fantastic combo. It was innovative and lots of fun! I have done 17 book launches so far. Most have followed the traditional route — lit fests and bookstores. This was a first, and unique.”

A younger audience
Regular book launches attract the regular crowd. But publishers seem to have realised that if you want youngsters to get into the habit of reading, you will have to reach out to them.

De describes her interaction with the young group at the café as “young, buzzed, enthusiastic and responsive. What more does a writer want? I liked the profile of the crowd. Such a welcome change from the usual suspects who turn up looking for free booze, canapes and books.”

Rishad Saam Mehta, who had a similar interactive session at Bandra’s Mocha Mojo for the launch of his book Hot Tea Across India in April this year, pins 18 to 45 year-olds as the audience at coffee houses. “That’s my target audience. My book is a sort of travelogue — it is humorous and an adventurous story — something I know will appeal to patrons at Mocha,” says Mehta, who says the idea of hosting an event at the café came as a result of discussions with his publishers, Westland.

Because these events are held as open-to-the-public events, not everyone who walks in is an avid reader, admits Mehta. “But I see that as an advantage. Through my audio-visual presentation, I might interest a non-reader enough for him to pick up my book,” adds Mehta, who has written two other “more technical” books before this one.

The interaction at the café in Mumbai, which included a chat with travel journalist Heena Munshaw, worked for Mehta’s book because it was targeted at the youth. “Every book requires a set of unique, promotional events. However, Not every book launch will do well in a café setup like this one did,” says Anushree Banerjee, Westland. Sodhi voices a similar opinion, adding that Penguin will not limit their promotions to Barista outlets.

Westland Ltd has been partnering with Mocha for the past year now. For the book The Reluctant Detective, author Kiran Manral hosted a tweetup (a meeting/ event organised on Twitter) at Mocha in Kolkata in March “This worked because the author already had a huge fan base on Twitter,” explains Banerjee.

Westland has also tied up with the café to publicise their books. For instance, during the launch of 31 by Upendra Namburi, each person whose bill value had the numbers three or one in it won a copy of the book.

Pulling in the crowd
Hachette doesn’t organise book launches in Mumbai because no one turns up, says Sohini Bhattacharya, publicity executive, Hachette India. One way to make sure you have a full house is to offer drinks and food, believes funny-man Sorabh Pant. So when he launched his book The Wednesday Soul in January, he decided to host an open event at Bonobo in Bandra.

“My criterion was that it should be casual and fun. I wanted everyone to drink, because if people were drunk they would definitely buy my book,” laughs Pant, who says he had about 85 attendees — a high number for a book launch. “Although cafés were an option, I wanted something slightly snazzier,” he adds.

While this was a first for Bonobo, Anup Gandhi, co-owner, Aureiga Hospitality (Bonobo), says they are open to hosting more book events at the pub cum restaurant. “But we will be selective. We will definitely not host the launch for a book like Dhirubhai Ambani’s biography or Man of Steel and the like,” he laughs.

But Pant, who also had a book reading at bookstore Kitab Khana at Fort, isn’t sure about returning to Bonobo for a book launch. “The next time, I will go for a larger launch at a bookstore. That’s where the readers are after all,” confesses Pant. “I always have a stall with books during my stand-up comedy acts. Some people who bought the book at such events were surprised that the book actually had a story! I want to target readers who take my book seriously the next time.”

A win-win situation
Bookstores aren’t afraid of losing out. “Eventually any reader will come to our bookstore to buy the book. So we don’t really see it as a loss,” says Neha Khanna, marketing, Crossword Bookstores.

For the authors, it’s a win-win situation. Not only did De get a book launch but also added publicity. Barista also launched a special Sethji coffee brew to continue the publicity. “The coffee will be served for the next two months at Barista outlets across the country,” says R Shivashankar, director South Asia, Lavazza.

The coffee, which has been flavoured keeping the personality of the main character in mind, was made in consultation with De. The extra sweet, extra creamy coffee has been well received, says Sodhi.

“How many books in the world get a specially created coffee named after them? Sethji khush hua! I think of it as an honour,” says De. 

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