Most people who like their books and reading will probably have heard about an article in Forbes attacking libraries. I thought I’d present the article and a few rebuttals here, because I like libraries and books and how badly the author of the piece fared.
Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money
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.
One such reason is the rise of “third places” such as Starbucks. They provide residents with a comfortable place to read, surf the web, meet their friends and associates, and enjoy a great drink. This is why some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card.
On top of this, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have replaced video rentals. They provide TV and movie content to the masses at an affordable rate. Actual video rental services like Blockbuster have gone completely out of business.
Then there’s the rise of digital technology. Technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services.
Of course, there’s Amazon Books to consider. Amazon have created their own online library that has made it easy for the masses to access both physical and digital copies of books. Amazon Books is a chain of bookstores that does what Amazon originally intended to do; replace the local bookstore. It improves on the bookstore model by adding online searches and coffee shops. Amazon Go basically combines a library with a Starbucks.
At the core, Amazon has provided something better than a local library without the tax fees. This is why Amazon should replace local libraries. The move would save taxpayers money and enhance the stockholder value of Amazon all in one fell swoop.
As you can see, this article was terrible. The arguments are the sort you hear from the “let’s privatise everything” and the “what do you mean you won’t pay for the privilege of working in my asbestos mine?” crowd. They don’t believe in public goods, public benefits, nor that poor people are people.
Needless to say, the author of the piece proceeded to be mocked and ridiculed.
I hope he didn’t go to a public hospital for treatment of that burn.
To spell it out, Panos’ argument forgets that Amazon is a company whose goal isn’t to provide books to people, instead their goal is to make money. A library, however, is there to provide a community benefit of knowledge, education, and entertainment. Libraries are a key tool in creating a literate populous who are better able to contribute to our society. Plus, they have books. Books are awesome. Anywhere with books is awesome.
Panos, of course, couldn’t admit he might have made a mistake.
I have no idea how he became a professor.
The desperate and nonsense defence he used for the cost of libraries was immediately debunked by the librarians at EveryLibrary:
There are, of course, many problems with this idea. First of all, libraries cost the average American taxpayer over 18 years old just $4.50 per month. An Amazon Prime subscription alone is nearly double that price and you get very little for free with that subscription because you still have to buy books or pay more to gain access to premium goods or services. Source.
Amazingly enough, Panos was correct in claiming that our taxes pay for libraries… This is the sort of insight I think only a Professor of Economics could give us. But he has rather overstated the cost of libraries (unless he has 10x the average property portfolio) and failed to understand how much buying books costs.
The USA does things a little differently to what we do here in Australia. The USA ties library funding to levies and property taxes, so richer areas get nicer better-resourced libraries, whilst poorer areas get about what they always do. In Australia, our libraries are funded out of the state government budget.
Do us Aussies get good value for money just throwing our regular tax dollars at libraries? Let’s look at the Western Australian State Library, which has a 2016-17 budget of $9.8 million, or $3.38 per person. Now, even if we account for only the third of people (2009-2010 ABS data) who go to libraries as paying for them, then it is $9.95 per person. In Australia that wouldn’t even buy one discounted paperback. And this doesn’t even account for all of the other things libraries do with that budget, like the reading programs, book launches, archiving, history preservation, and maintaining that fleet of Ferraris they drive to work. Seems like a good investment to me.
Fortunately, Forbes pulled the article, despite its popularity, because of the backlash. They realised, far too late, that Panos didn’t have a clue and his arguments were rubbish. Interestingly, that hasn’t stopped them from publishing climate change denial articles. At least we love libraries, if not the planet we live on.