Why Forbes took down that controversial op-ed calling for Amazon to replace public libraries

An Amazon Books store in the Bellevue, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Forbes has taken down a head-scratching opinion piece that makes the case for Amazon to take over public libraries after the article was widely lambasted online.

In the op-ed, Panos Mourdoukoutas, chair of the LIU Post economics department, says that companies like Amazon and Starbucks have effectively made libraries obsolete. Officially replacing libraries with Amazon bookstores would save taxpayers money and be a boon to the e-commerce giant, Mourdoukoutas claims. That proposition rankled a lot of people, many of whom pointed out that poor and marginalized communities would suffer most without public libraries.

A Forbes spokesperson explained the reasoning for the highly unusual move to take an article down after publishing in a statement provided to GeekWire:

Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view. Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.

Mourdoukoutas did not respond to GeekWire’s request to comment on the dust-up.

In the piece, he says Amazon and Starbucks “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.”

The piece does not include an exploration of the costs associated with frequenting an Amazon bookstore or Starbucks. Both companies are headquartered in Seattle, where public libraries offer a wide range of free services including e-books, language classes, and community events.

Mourdoukoutas also claims that private companies have made the digital offerings of public libraries obsolete.

“Services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have replaced video rentals,” the article says. “They provide TV and movie content to the masses at an affordable rate.”

Over the past few years, Amazon has been opening brick-and-mortar bookstores around the country. They sell print and digital media and serve as showrooms for Amazon devices.

Mourdoukoutas’ op-ed includes a number of other puzzling claims, like “Amazon Go basically combines a library with a Starbucks.” Amazon Go is a convenience store that allows customers to buy items without paying at a register. We’ve visited the pilot Amazon Go store in Seattle and found little resembling a library.

Amid widespread online backlash, Mourdoukoutas posted the following tweet before Forbes took the piece down Monday morning.

According to an investigation by Quartz, eliminating public libraries and divvying up their funding equally would put about $36 in each American’s pocket.