history at a glance
As book bans and challenges mount across the country, the extra media attention — especially during Banned Book Week — is giving some authors a sales boost, even as their works are removed from some shelves.
According to the nonprofit PEN America, a record number of books have been banned from schools and libraries, with a total of 2,532 cases of individual books being banned across the country between June 2021 and June 2022.
While some work to restrict access to certain titles, their bans and challenges may have the opposite effect: draw national attention to these books and, in turn, increase the number of Americans who buy them.
For example, last year’s most challenged book — Gender Queer by Maia Kolbabe — saw a 130 percent jump in US print sales in May, according to a report by NPD BookScan. The publication tracker noted that this came after dozens of schools pulled the book from their libraries and the media reported the controversy surrounding it.
Gender Queer follows Kolbabe’s exploration of sexuality and identity outside of binary genders.
Republicans in North and South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia in particular have called the book “pornographic” and “probably illegal.”
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Art Spiegelman’s books Mouse I and Mouse II saw similar increases in sales and reach after a Tennessee school board banned them in January. NPD found that sales have increased 50 percent in a matter of days, while sales for the combined titles have reached 1.2 million units since NPD began tracking books in 2004.
Author Ibram X. Kendi also saw sales of his book Antiracist Baby surge 5,000 percent in March after Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) criticized it during the Supreme Court hearing for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Sometimes even the publisher himself taking a book out can increase demand. after dr Suess Enterprises announced in March 2021 that it would no longer publish six of its books due to “hurting and incorrect” depictions, over 10 million more young adult fiction titles were sold this month than in the previous month.
According to the NPD, “The news had a significant impact on the sales volume of Dr. Seuss titles, as consumers generally responded to a perceived ‘rejection’ from Dr. Seuss.”
dr Seuss Enterprises decided to stop publishing certain books, such as “Mulberry Street,” which featured a racist stereotype of an Asian male with slanting eye lines.
A jump in sales usually correlated with the books that got the most news coverage, NPD found. Sales data for a longer list of banned titles, beyond those prominent in the headlines, has been mixed.
“In this sample, only half showed an increase in sales, suggesting it’s the news cycle driving sales rather than broader consumer protest,” said Kristen McLean, book industry analyst for NPD.
McLean explained that the immediacy of news about a banned book prompts consumers to react and that many consumers are likely to be unaware of other largely banned books.
The American Library Association estimates that between 82 and 97 percent of requests to remove books from libraries or schools go unreported and receive no media attention.
Banned Book Week, now running through September 24, also hopes to draw more attention to banned books and the impact of book censorship and intellectual freedom. Honor Week was established back in 1982 in direct response to the increasing number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.
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