Updated: Amazon Books Should Replace Local Libraries, and Other Publisher-Serving "Solutions"
Do you know how companies sometimes like to buy editorials that support their position (I see this a lot in the WSJ), or even go so far as to fund think tanks to produce position papers to order?
Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities. They can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock.
There was a time local libraries offered the local community lots of services in exchange for their tax money. They would bring books, magazines, and journals to the masses through a borrowing system. Residents could borrow any book they wanted, read it, and return it for someone else to read.
They also provided residents with a comfortable place they could enjoy their books. They provided people with a place they could do their research in peace with the help of friendly librarians. Libraries served as a place where residents could hold their community events, but this was a function they shared with school auditoriums. There’s no shortage of places to hold community events.
Libraries slowly began to service the local community more. Libraries introduced video rentals and free internet access. The modern local library still provides these services, but they don’t have the same value they used to. The reasons why are obvious.
This piece was written by a professor of economics, and it is so lacking in facts or any real connection to reality that the writer gives other ivory tower intellectuals a bad name.
Edit: This piece was so bad that Forbes actually deleted the article.
There is literally not a single sentence in this piece that stands up to scrutiny. Not only has the writer never used a library, he is equally unacquainted with Amazon Books – a cursory visit would reveal it cannot provide half the services we get from libraries.
And that is just the beginning of the ignorant nonsense he spouted.
Here are my favorites:
- There’s no shortage of places to hold community events – says the guy who has never tried to organize one. I have a Meetup group that is on hiatus because it is so hard to find meeting spaces; if not for libraries, we would not meet at all.
- streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have replaced video rentals – but they only work in the about half of the country that has fast internet. And guess what? People who live in rich parts of the country still have slow internet; until I got service through Comcast, I had Verizon DSL. It was barely capable of streaming one SD video at a time, and only if you stopped all other web activity.
- streaming services (cont’d) – Furthermore, streaming services are great if you can afford to pay for all of the upgrades to get all of the content. I can’t even afford to do that; can you?
- streaming services (cont’d) – Another problem with streaming services that the Forbes writer didn’t mention is that the services are great right up until a studio decides to pull its content. You can’t watch what isn’t there, but you can borrow DVDs from the library (hat tip to Michael Carusi for making this point on Twitter).
- Technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services – for rich people like the Forbes writer who can afford to collect them, this is true. It is not true for the rest of us.
- Amazon have created their own online library that has made it easy for the masses to access both physical and digital copies of books – Again, if you can afford it. Sadly, many of us are not as rich as the Forbes writer.
- Amazon Go basically combines a library with a Starbucks – no – just no. (If I had allowed myself to become emotionally involved, this is where I would be gibbering in anger.)
The problem with market "solutions" to public services is that it conveniently ignores the realities of market economics. There are many places that do not have bookstores because the local market will not support one. Many of those places do have libraries, however.
Furthermore, the other problem with so-called market solutions is that it frequently makes sense for a business to ignore, say, 90% of a market and instead concentrate on the 10% that is profitable.
Edit: I can phrase that better.
The other problem with so-called market solutions is that they depend on businesses that are motivated by profit rather than serving the public good. If it makes sense for a business to ignore, say, 90% of a market and instead concentrate on the 10% that is profitable, then the company will do so.
I should not have to point this out to a professor of economics, but a market solution to a public program that ignores 90% of the public is by definition not a solution, but that is academia for you.
Anyone who thinks that Amazon Books can replace a library is just as wrong as the fools who argued in 2013 that libraries could be replaced by Kindle Unlimited.
My local library serves a population of 463 thousand at a cost of $37 per resident in FY2017. It used those funds to:
- give 92 thousand people internet access,
- answer over 600 thousand questions,
- loan 3.6 million books, media, and other item, and
- host 5,152 special events and programs where 186,273 attended.
That is only a tithe of what my local library does. I have left out at least a dozen other services, none of which I could get from an Amazon Books store.