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Why the Public Library Beats Amazon 165

Posted by Soulskill
from the where-do-i-sign-up-for-library-Prime dept.
Nate the greatest writes: The launch of Kindle Unlimited last month has many questioning the value of public libraries, with one pundit on Forbes even going so far as to proclaim that the U.K. could save money by shuttering all its libraries and replacing them with Kindle Unlimited subscriptions. Luckily for libraries, they're safe for now because they still beat Kindle Unlimited and its competitors in at least one category: content you want to read. As several reviewers have noted, Kindle Unlimited is stocked almost entirely with indie titles, with a handful of major titles thrown in. Even Scribd and Oyster only have ebooks from two of the five major U.S. publishers, while U.S. public libraries can offer titles from all five. They might be expensive and you might have to get on a waiting list, but as the Wall Street Journal points out, public libraries are safe because they can still offer a better selection. That is true, but I think the WSJ missed a key point: public libraries beat Amazon because they offer services Amazon cannot, including in-person tech support, internet access, and other basic assistance. The fact of the matter is, you can't use KU, Scribd, or Oyster if you don't know how to use your device, and your local public library is the best place to learn.
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Why the Public Library Beats Amazon

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  • And now... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Reason58 (775044) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:09PM (#47666175)
    Let me tell you why the apple beats the orange.
  • An actual place requires actual staff during operating hours and requires actual bus drivers to get patrons there and back. Not everybody wants the limits inherent in that arrangement.
  • My local library (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OzPeter (195038) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:12PM (#47666211)

    My local library doesn't just have books.

    It has:

    Books (well yeah)
    Audio Books
    Meeting Rooms
    Internet Access

    In general it is trying to position itself as a local community resource

    Somehow I can't see all of that being replaced by a Kindle, and thats without even going into what limited selection of titles the Kindle will have.

  • by mendax (114116) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:17PM (#47666249)

    The fact that the public library is an actual place is important. Libraries are not just places to get information. They are sometimes positioned to be social centers of communities, places for those without Internet access to get that access, a quiet place to avoid the hustle and bustle of life, a place to meet friends, a place to hold a meeting, a place to do homework and study, and so on and so on. Libraries have long since been simply a place to get the latest novel or some old classic.

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:21PM (#47666287)

    Libraries were created for the common good. That is why they are free to the public (and paid for through taxes). Instead of replacing the library with a corporation like, maybe what is needed, for the common good, is a public library version of something like Amazon. Already many local libraries allow one to check out e-books.

    E-readers and public libraries aren't mutually exclusive. Maybe sometime in the 21st century, there won't be as many physical libraries, but the public library will still exist through through the checking out of free e-books. There is no reason why libraries and book stores could coexist and not e-libraries and Amazon.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:26PM (#47666341)

    That is for the general public and they have damn near everything or can get it. Music, movies, books, magazines, internet access and more. Anyone saying public libraries should go away is against society in general, IMO. Not everyone can afford the niceties from Amazon, let alone even having internet access at home (if they have one) to access Amazon and order their junk.

    Amazon will never replace libraries and if libraries every do go away, our society will be much worse off because of it. Libraries are a necessary part of our educated society, but if we're headed for Idiocracy, then it won't really matter. There is no other place that someone can get access for free to all of the resources that libraries offer. The only way this will happen is if Amazon becomes a publicly funded "company" via "global tax dollars" and opens physical locations themselves and offer "memberships" for free, to ALL.

  • Amazon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tailhook (98486) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:34PM (#47666421)

    I've been purchasing used books on history, politics and science from Amazon for almost the cost of shipping, which is close to or less than the cost of the fuel it would have taken for the two round trips to the library, and it takes a lot less of my time. Funny thing is, about half of these have library card sleeves. These books sat unread in libraries (you know, the places that supposedly have "content you want to read") for decades almost untouched (based on the condition I find them and the empty cards I find in said sleeves) until the libraries sell them off to make room for more new books almost no one will read. Here are a few from 2013;

    (shipping included with these prices.)
    Nuclear disaster in the Urals, Zhores A Medvedev, $6.98
    The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia, hardcover, Tim Tzouliadis, $6.78
    Red Atom: Russia's Nuclear Power Program from Stalin to Today, Paul Josephson, $4.94
    The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress, Virginia Postrel, $4.00
    Behind the Facade of Stalin's Command Economy: Evidence from the Soviet State and Party Archives, Paul R. Gregory, $5.36
    The Legacy of Chernobyl, Zhores A Medvedev, $4.49. (got 2x for some reason; gave one to a co-worker.)

    I could go on all day as I've been reading this sort of stuff from Amazon for going on ten years now. Most of these are hard covers in excellent condition.

    The truth is libraries are dead to me as a source of reading material. I can't afford the time or fuel it takes to frequent them, and they simply can't host the selection I demand, which is why they purge themselves of their stock using Amazon. Right or wrong that's how it is.

  • KDP Select (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ysth (1368415) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:35PM (#47666433)

    There are so many indie books because, AIUI, you cannot choose to have a book included in Kindle Unlimited unless you are providing it to Amazon under the KDP Select program. This program gets you higher percentages and free marketing and promotional tools. The tradeoff is that whatever books you have in the program be available exclusively from Amazon. This is a tradeoff that is going to make sense for many authors, but is just horrible for readers. And in the long run, the lock-in this inspires is bad for the authors too.

    See Chris Wright's rant [].

  • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:36PM (#47666435)
    But libraries already have floating e-book licenses you can check out for downloadable content (including off hours) in addition to everything else they offer.

    My daughter volunteered at the local library this summer teaching younger kids to read. In theory some semblance of this "could" be done over the Internet, but I just don't see it actually happening, and it wouldn't be the same.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:37PM (#47666443)

    I can see two advantages to my local library: 1) They have a collection of valuable books, some of them out of print for decades, and 2) if their collection does not include the book, they have the connections to get it for me. I have been able to get hold of a rare book, long since out of print, just by telling the librarian that I really wanted to see it. In the end it came from the far side of the world, Australia (as seen from Denmark)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @06:01PM (#47666683)

    The point, for the WSJ, is just different from what you think it is. Which is to say, any time you can replace a public service with a private one, that is a good thing from the WSJ's point of view. Getting rid of all the public things--libraries, schools, parks, art, streets, radio, etc.--brings us closer to the ideal of total control by the oligarchy. Open spaces are replaced by controlled spaces, spaces ruled by corporate will.

    Not only does Amazon not have what libraries have, but they never will--many libraries house archives that will likely never be digitized, historical records, and the like. I mean, I have access to two major university research libraries and the Boston Public Library, which by itself holds something like 9 million items.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @06:14PM (#47666813)
    Libraries are also a haven from commercialism. Any privatized variation on the library, run by e.g. Amazon, will unavoidably slide into becoming a flea market and / or Cable TV, just as surely as the Internet did. There are deep inherent conflicts between the goals of spreading knowledge vs turning a buck.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @08:12PM (#47667533)

    It will never be practical to corrupt or destroy all the copies of any widely-printed title. But once people rely overwhelmingly on electronic libraries, it will not be long before such an event is discovered - that some political or religious group or foreign government had released a worm that alters specific works, and no one had noticed it for months or years. With e-books, something like the Ministry of Truth becomes very practical, erasing and rewriting the past to suit the agenda of the present.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @09:50PM (#47667965)

    Another thing libraries offer is protection from censorship. Each book exists physically in a library and most will resist government goons until forced to remove/replace a book by the courts, usually attracting media attention in the process. Amazon is a single point of attack and has already shown they will quietly "update" everyone to a censored version of a book, and no one will ever know unless they re-read a book they read in their youth (like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).

"No problem is so formidable that you can't walk away from it." -- C. Schulz