Forbes Wants to Close Libraries

I just read Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription, a Forbes article written by Tim Worstall. It’s a poorly-researched opinion piece about … well … what the title says. Getting rid of libraries and giving everyone a Kindle Unlimited subscription instead.

Yes, Forbes posted this. Thanks, Forbes!

Who is Tim Worstall? He’s a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a UK-based think tank. Working at a think tank, you’d “think” that Tim would get his facts straight, or at least do a bit of research first… apparently  not the case, which makes me wonder about the quality of research done at the Adam Smith Institute. Tim also has a blog, where he apparently likes to cuss. Alot.

I left a comment on the Forbes article – here’s what I said:

Tim – you say that it’s “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all.” Then you claim (but don’t cite) that only 8% of people buy more than one book a year.

Three things:

1. If you think no one reads, why would you want to shift tax payer dollars from a known, traditional institution (the local library) to a global corporation? That seems silly – you’re still paying tax dollars for something you don’t think anyone does.

2. I challenge your statistics. I’m not sure about UK stats, but I know American stats. According to Pew Research, in January 2014, 76% of American adults ages 18 and up read at least one book in the past year. So that trumps your “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all” statement.

And the average number of books people read over the past year is 5. I do believe an average is larger than 8%, no?

3. The larger problem isn’t lending books though – you actually want to get RID of local libraries altogether. You say this – “Let’s just close down the lending libraries and buy every citizen an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription.”

That argument, for starters, could also be said this way: let’s buy everyone garden hoses. Then we could get rid of the local fire department! Brilliant, right? Wrong. Because the local fire department also has quite a lot of knowledge about what they do – they are professionals.

The same goes for your local library. Yes, they still lend books – both print AND ebooks. They also work really hard to buy the BEST books for your community (having access to 600,000 ebooks from Amazon doesn’t mean they’re all readable books).

And the library does a lot more than that.

So – you mentioned that you have a local library. Instead of someone providing a plane ticket for you [he suggested in the comments that someone buy him a plane ticket so he could visit their library], why don’t you simply get in your car and visit your own local library for starters, and see what they do?

At least when you write your next opinion article, you’d actually know something about libraries :-)

A couple of other things to point out from this very obviously uninformed article:

Tim says this – “The first being that paid subscriptions is exactly how lending libraries started out.” He mentions WH Smith as an example of a fee-based lending library.

WH Smith is a UK bookseller. They operated a circulating library service from 1860 to 1961, and even created ISBN numbers (who knew?) – got this from Wikipedia.

But Tim is missing a HUGE fact – libraries have been around for centuries, and … I know it’s hard to believe – weren’t actually created by good ole WH Smith. Again from Wikipedia – “The earliest reference to or use of the term “lending library” yet located in English correspondence dates from ca. 1586…” Most of those have NOT been subscription-based libraries.

Tim also says this: “ the stock of books available [from the Amazon Kindle thingie] is far larger than any physical library (other than copyright depositaries like the British Museum) has available to readers. 600,000 titles is, at a guess, some 550,000 greater than the library system of my native Bath and North East Somerset purchases with its share of my council tax (that is a guess by the way).”

Again, quite wrong. First of all, my library has 450,000 titles – already coming close to that number that Tim thinks is unreachable by all but the British Museum (I think he really meant the British Library).

The larger issue with the Kindle service is this – just because Amazon’s Kindle service is offering 600,000 ebooks doesn’t mean they’re all actually GOOD books.

Amazon’s service focuses heavily on classics, some popular series, and their self-published ebooks. Read more about it at the Washington Post.

Most libraries are much more choosy than that, and work really hard to buy the best books, and the books our customers actually want to read. Unlike Amazon.

So there you have it! Go read the article and see what you think!


  • The Least Shrew

    I think we all know Forbes’ general opinion of libraries by now… opinion-heavy poorly researched articles like these, which stand on the historically good name of their publishers, are the result of the “print is dead” fever.

  • Danny C. Chan

    You do realize that this isn’t an article by Forbes…it’s an article by a contributor to Forbes. Contributed posts are not edited (much) and are generally treated as Op-Ed pieces. Nor do they represent the opinions of Forbes…I think it’s bit of a stretch to say Forbes hates libraries based on the opinion article of one writer. In fact, if you have enough personal branding done, much like yourself with this blog, you can probably create an account too. Reach out to their community manager, give them your bio and other related info and they’ll probably set you up with an account.

  • davidleeking

    Yep – completely realize that. And I’m writing about that on Thursday. Short version – it’s an article on Forbes, is it not? If you cited it, it would be cited as coming from Forbes, right? Then … it’s an article by Forbes.

  • Danny C. Chan

    Semantics! While I do agree with you, this new concept of community generated content (such as much of Huff Po) brings to light the issue with the way we cite these articles and how these media brands are represented…

    As indicated in the bio section “Opinions expressed by Forbes contributors are their own.” How does this come into play?

  • Danny C. Chan

    Quite frankly, though, his article is absolutely biased and meant to draw ire and responses. You should be telling your readers to stop driving views to his page…his responses to some of the comments are downright infuriating.

  • J. Strange

    I think you’ve had the best rebuttal to the Worstall article. Thank you for this!

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  • IT__Guy

    Most people differentiate between “articles” and “opinion pieces.” This is why newspapers have an “Opinion” section that’s separate from news articles.

  • IT__Guy

    Whether we want them to or not, libraries are going to go the way of the dodo. The Internet is a disruptive technology, and disruptive technology… Well, it disrupts. Just ask the print news industry.

    Perhaps large libraries will persist, but small libraries like the one in my community will likely disappear in the years to come.

  • davidleeking

    I think you’re painting with too broad a brush. For example, with your “print news industry” – the news industry still exists. Newspapers still exist. They’re still writing the same stories. They’re just posting them on their online newspaper – the only thing that’s going away for them is everything related to print (i.e., the print edition, the printers, print-related jobs, etc).

    But the news? Still exists.

    It’s the same for libraries. The libraries that adapt (and there are many doing just that, large and small) will be just fine. The libraries that choose to not adapt? Yes, agreed – those libraries will probably disappear.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  • davidleeking


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