Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quick review: Sapna book house Koramangala

I checked out Sapna book house in Koramangala today. Sapna is one of the old players in the book store market. They were in Bangalore way before newer stores like Landmark and Crossword opened branches here. The Koramangala branch is the latest in their steadily expanding chain.

The first thing that caught my eye was the layout of the place. The shop is located in a brand new four storey building served by a single elevator. Ground and first floors stock stationery, movies, computer games and the like. Books are stocked in the second and third floors with the latter dedicated to technical and text books. The layout of the building reminded me of old Gangaram's in MG Road. Specifically the multi-floor building, the lone elevator and the distribution of wares across floors. Unlike G's however Sapna has kept the place clean, orderly, and dust free. No peeling paint or books stacked in the aisles here. They also have clean if tiny restrooms for men and women.

You can browse the collection reasonably well without needing help from staff. This is nice for an "old format" book store - I've rarely managed to dig up books in Gangaram's without help from their employees.

My first target was the history section. Unfortunately there isn't one. There is a section for biographies but that's about it. Sapna uses the non-fiction section as a catch-all for everything from "How to improve your sex life" to "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (no pun intended). Contrast this with say any of The Strand, Landmark or Crossword. All three of them boast decent sized history sections. Landmark even has a separate section for military history.

The fiction section contains mostly popular books. I thought it compared well with other bookstores. A rather sparse science fiction section is housed together with the humor section. Perhaps they find science fiction a joke? :P There is no separate grouping for fantasy titles. Again Landmark, Crossword etc. make this distinction.

I found Sapna's collection of comics rather lacking. While the staples are all there - The Adventures of Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, Amar Chithra Katha (Amar Chithra Katha even a separate section) there isn't much else. A few issues of Spiderman were placed below a boxed set of Maus. No sign of other popular DC or Marvel volumes let alone comic novels like Sandman, V for Vendetta or 100 Bullets, to name a few. I couldn't find any Anime/Manga titles either.

Fourth floor sets aside a lot of space to technical and text books. All computer science books are grouped under "computers". There are a dozen shelves titled computers making it tricky to look up specific books.

If there is one area that Sapna beats the competition it is in Kannada books. They have dedicated half a dozen shelves to stock Kannada volumes. I can't comment on the quality of the titles though.

Sapna is one of those bookstores who don't seem to expect their customers to read the books in the store. There are no chairs in the aisles, not even plastic footstools. Even the more crowded Landmark with its narrower aisles has a few cushioned seats, not to mention the comfortable upholstered sofas and chairs in Crossword.

In spite of the five floors there is only one elevator. Most of the customers trudged up and down the stairs. A sign board placed next to the elevator doors asks customers to use they stairs if they like to stay fit. I think stairs are fine when you have two floors (Landmark and Crossword, the former even sports an escalator) but with four they become irritating.

Billing is in the ground floor. There are nine counters but only three accept payment. Others are variously for delivery, issuing membership cards etc. The payment and delivery counters are helpfully located next to each other.

Post script: I find a store modeled after ol' Gangaram's in a brand new building in Karamangala very surprising. I believe that there is a lot of demand for more bookstalls like Landmark and Crossword. Why don't old brands like Sapna try to meet that demand? Are they content to get by with volume sales alone?