Sunday, January 28, 2007

One More Cup of Coffee Before I Go

A couple of years ago Bibliophile brought back into print “The Night side 0f London” a fascinating about two journalist journey from the West end to East end of London at the turn of the nineteenth century. What struck me when I read it, was the sheer number of coffee houses and street stands that existed then. I had assumed wrongly that it would be tea shops and gin houses and although gin was there, coffee dominated.

So I read last week’s Guardian article on the "cafefication” of the UK with some interest. The fact that it traced the café culture only back to the fifties is not surprising. But as we often find and the extracts from “The truth behind Bookselling” proved, “what goes around comes around”. History teaches us much about the future.

Shopping fulfills a social as well individual need. Its fun to be among the masses on the High Street, chatting to the assistant in the shop, or meeting friends in cafes and bars. So it is no surprise that the café has been successful in the retail outlet. I personally remember the first Barnes and Noble superstore I went into in the mid 90’s and the extra dimension the coffee shop gave them. Indeed in the report “Brave New World”, we touched on the need to embrace this culture and go further and wi-fi stores to encourage people into the store. What a logical place to offer access to online catalogues and kiosks and also promote an internet presence.

But there is also the other side of the coin and the potential of the coffee house to compete. They could sell other product and reading material. Reading material is a natural compliment to a frothy cappuccino or hot chocolate and is less invasive than music and games. You may think that “Costa StarNerobuck” would not carry inventory and maybe that’s right. But they could carry a limited merchandised range. POD potentially now offers a unique opportunity for short stories, serialized copy, and with the aptly named espresso POD printer who knows! Podcasts and audio downloads also carry no inventory, minimal footage and little risk.

Perhaps there is another way of looking at digital opportunities and social acceptance? If the bookshop can become the café, can the café become the bookshop?