Sydney bookstore says it was targeted by pickup artists from 'dating coaching' company

Guardian staff

A commercial “dating coaching” company has been using a popular Sydney bookstore for its clients to test out predatory “pickup” techniques.

In an open letter published online, Kinokuniya Sydney said it had been made aware the unnamed dating coaching company “has been using our store to give their clients practical experience, much to our dismay”.

“We apologise to any of our customers who have been approached in the store or had the negative experience of someone trying ‘pickup’ techniques with them.

“And to anyone who has felt harassed we offer our deepest apologies. We have contacted the company we know is involved and requested they not enter the store again.”

Related: 50 years of pickup artists: why is the toxic skill still so in demand?

The global emergence of commercial courses coaching men to be “pickup artists” has been widely condemned for teaching men who are unsuccessful in talking to or dating women to use psychological manipulation, intimidation and coercion in order to attract potential partners.

Despite global opprobrium, the industry is estimated to be worth $100m a year and teaches manipulative techniques such as “negging” – insulting a woman to undermine her confidence – or “peacocking” – dressing flamboyantly for attention (when actual peacocks do it, it is known as “lekking”).

The industry emerged into widespread public consciousness through journalist Neil Strauss’s 2005 book, The Game, which sold 2.5m copies but further iterations have been developed by self-styled pickup gurus such as Julien Blanc, whose visa to Australia was torn up after protests over videos published online demonstrating behaviours such as grabbing women by the throat, and forcing their heads towards his crotch, and Mystery (whose real name is Erik von Markovik).

Online, readers praised Kinokuniya’s public statement to call out pickup artists and the commercial operations using their store.

Writer Chloe Sargeant posted online that an apprentice “pickup artist” had approached her in a bookstore.

“Today a dude tried some classic The Game pickup artist lines on me at a bookstore, and started out with ‘can you help me with a recommendation, what was your fave book of 2019?’ So I said Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl. He looked a bit flustered but persevered and was like ‘oh no, I meant fiction!’

“So I said The Power by Naomi Alderman and when I explained what it was about he was like ‘oh ... uh ... too scary for me, thanks anyway!’ and scurried away.

“I’ll add that I’d seen him try the same thing to two different women before me. Pickup artist stuff is so grim.”

Kinokinuya also issued a public warning to any other companies coaching men in “pickup” techniques: “Don’t come in.”

“Our staff and security have all been made aware that this has been happening and are on the lookout for anyone who is receiving unsolicited and unwanted attention.”

The store said anyone being harassed should speak with staff.

“That said, the bookstore should be a place for discussion and we don’t want to discourage organic communications from taking place.

“Please come in, enjoy the books and the ideas, and enjoy sharing the space with other booklovers.”