Should Amazon replace public libraries?
[UPDATED] LIU Post economics professor (and department chair) Panos Mourdoukoutas thinks the answer is yes, that “Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities” in order to “replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money” .
Yes, that’s in his lede paragraph.
My answer: not just no but hell no.
Mourdoukoutas teaches at a private institution  and focuses his Forbes-contributor writings on finance and the firm. The concept of public goods seems outside of his expertise; ditto the public sphere. That hasn’t stopped him from opining, however poorly reasoned.
Libraries as public goods
Public goods represent a unique form of market failure: non-excludability and non-rival consumption.
Non-excludability means non-payers can enjoy benefits. This means you do not have to be a taxpayer or have a library card to use public library facilities.
Non-rival consumption means that if something is offered to one person, it’s offered to all. No “tiered service” at libraries.
Some argue that libraries are quasi-public-goods because they have some rules: for example, residency required for library cards (which is muddied a bit by regional library collaborations). However that does not change the basic nature of their services.
Restrictions apply to checking out resources (far more than just books), not walking into a library and using the facility. If you go to a town that is not your home town, you can still walk in and use a public library. You just can’t check out a book or DVD (probably).
From private to public
Libraries used to be private (definitely excludable goods then). That changed when Andrew Carnegie established more than 1,600 libraries in the US.
In 1889, Carnegie outlined what he saw as the role of the “man of wealth” in serving the community. He believed that people with wealth should live modestly (“unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance”) and care for family.
The monetary surplus left over should be administered (in the wealthy person’s lifetime) in a manner that is “best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community.”
For. The. Community.
The public library system that he put into place is situated in COMMUNITY NOT PROFIT.
Today’s libraries offer more than books, CDs and DVDs. In Woodbine, IA, the library loans cake pans, for example.
Our library loans out American Girl dolls. Libraries are one small counter weight to unfettered capitalism. Do we really want to replace a public service with a monopoly
— Bård Ionson (@BardIonson) July 21, 2018
The Nashville Public Library, which was funded with help from then Gov. Bredesen, help folks find shelter for the night, job interviews for the next day, and a haircut and interview clothes if needed. Others they help gain computer skills, etc. They absolutely change lives.
— Becky Brunton (@BeckyIB) July 23, 2018
information center. We have an Innovation Station with 3D printers, scanners, engravers, etc. We offer language learning software so our residents can be global citizens. We visit classrooms so students learn how to research. We keep thousands of kids reading in the summer. We…
— Steve Dalton (@svdalton) July 23, 2018
That’s because libraries serve community needs.
But this professor of economics sees no value in community or public goods, based on this lame excuse:
Let me clarify something. Local libraries aren't free. Home owners must pay a local library tax. My bill is $495/year.
— Panos Mourdoukoutas (@PMourdoukoutas) July 22, 2018
That’s $1.36 per day, which provides library services to everyone living at his address. You sure can’t buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks every day for this? Nor could you buy a book a day from Amazon. (Plus, do I really need to go into the issues of multiple people owning a book that they each only read once?)
Mourdoukoutas is also clueless about Amazon collecting state taxes (he thinks they don’t). Or maybe he’s a troll.
This is an F-worthy answer, @PMourdoukoutas.
See the date on this news article (March 29, 2017)
Amazon has been collecting sales tax in all states for more than a year. Of course, you could just be bad at trolling.https://t.co/1cCybmSSeq https://t.co/OUyoxXsXTQ
— ??Kathy E Gill (@kegill) July 23, 2018
I have never seen comments outnumber likes or retweets like they do on his tweet: 5.5K comments but only 131 retweets.
Here’s a sampling of those responses, not all from librarians:
Do you not understand how unbelievably classist it is to say that everyone has a Netflix account or an Amazon Prime account? I know that people who you report on don't worry about those subscription prices, but for many lower income folks those CAN BE luxuries.
— ?Lyndsey??R.? (@lyndztanica) July 21, 2018
You will pry my library books out of my cold dead hands, Panos. I have 3 right now, which I’m using for research on DNA testing. I don’t have a Starbucks card. Your article is by far the dumbest thing I have read on the internet this week, and that’s a high bar. pic.twitter.com/PbmYz5GKSM
— Dr. mem_somerville | Wossamotta U (@mem_somerville) July 22, 2018
Spoken by a comfortably wealthy individual who lives in an urban setting. Small town or rural America has no Amazon Books, no access to unlimited broadband or streaming video, and will not have because extending those to much of the US is “unprofitable.”
— Altivo (@Altivo) July 22, 2018
Honestly, unthoughtful attacks on libraries makes me grumpy. I say this as the 2011 Google Policy Fellow at @ALALibrary. Yes, Google paid me to spend a summer working with the American Library Association, because Google is smart enough to understand that LIBRARIES ARE GOOD.
— Jessie 🌤️🎆 (@jlmannisto) July 22, 2018
I printed out my resume at my local library for .37/page and landed a job that increased my yearly salary by over $20,000. At the current levy rate, I would have to pay taxes for 334 years to make up that difference. Yes, they add value to the community. #LibrariesRock
— Eli Plaskett (@EliPlaskett) July 22, 2018
You, friend, might’ve paused before submitting this little op ed and considered how you just opened yourself to a debate with librarians: people who know how to RESEARCH YOU INTO THE GROUND
— Mia 🐝 (@im_a_mia) July 22, 2018
I see that you are a professor at Post, home of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science. What do your colleagues who have dedicated their lives to the profession think of this poorly researched article? How embarrassing for you.
— Christine Latham (@tiredmommy1010) July 22, 2018
Your lack of understanding of how the real world works for most people, especially in rural areas, is mind boggling. Not my best librarian vocabulary but I am speechless that someone can be so clueless.
— Karen Fauls-Traynor (@KarenFT) July 22, 2018
Usually there’s a reason for the warning: don’t read the comments.
In this case, however, read the comments you must.
But don’t click on the link to his essay. Those clicks mean $ in his pocket.
 UPDATED Link to Forbes essay is now 404 (23 July 2018, 11 am Pacific) forbes.com/sites/panosmourdoukoutas/2018/07/21/amazon-should-replace-local-libraries-to-save-taxpayers-money/
Here’s a PDF from Google cache.
 The LIU econ department is part of the College of Arts and Sciences; the dean is Nathaniel Bowditch. His email should be [email protected]
Known for gnawing at complex questions like a terrier with a bone. Digital evangelist, writer, teacher. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill, wiredpen.com