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My legions of loyal readers will know that I’ve written a lot about the fate of bookstores, speculating whether they’re doomed or not; offering ideas to help keep them going. So when I saw this article: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201209090033 , I couldn’t resist commenting.

It seems the new thing to replace the traditional bookstore model could be stores that are…imaginary?

Ika Bunko is a virtual bookstore “open” now in Japan whose main feature is that it has no actual “books”. Oh, and also it doesn’t really exist as a “store”. Manager Yuki Kasukawa calls Ika Bunko an “air bookstore”. There is no physical presence. No actual store you can walk into. The financial benefits are obvious: no rent, no utilities, no overhead, no expenses, no employees to pay, other than the owners. The benefit for consumers is, what? No walking? No pesky shopping when they’re shopping? There’s no chance of being overwhelmed by the selection, when there isn’t any. No risk of impulse buying at the checkout counter when there isn’t one.

I’m a little confused, but intrigued.

However, it’s not like Ika Bunko doesn’t sell anything. The store publishes a newsletter about books and bookstores, sells merchandise like t-shirts, tote bags and book covers, and host book groups and fairs – all within other, brick & mortar stores.

And, someday, Ika Bunko hopes to start publishing books. When you literally have no physical limitations, I suppose there are no limits to what you can do. Why not Ika Bunko books with blank pages? You don’t just decide the ending, you decide the whole story. Or Ika Bunko movie productions filmed entirely in front of green screens with computer generated actors?

So what do you think of this new frontier in the bookstore story? Is it a way to save the bookstore or destroy them once and for all?

I don’t know.

I’m fascinated to see where this leads. I can totally see this idea spreading to other areas: restaurants that sell the sizzle, not the steak; hair salons that hold the comb up to your head, Fonzie style, and say you look just fine the way you are; grocery stores that sell empty food packages like in my kids’ toys; hookers that sell the promise of sex without the payoff.

Hopes, like the possibilities, are endless. When we imagine, we can dare to do great things…that are also imaginary.


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