BookScan® data shows sales spikes for books that have been banned or receive community challenges 

Port Washington, N.Y., May 23, 2022 – The number of books banned last year in various states in the U.S. reached the highest levels in the history of tracking by The American Library Association. In the public square, the surge in bans and community challenges against specific titles, like “Maus,” “Antiracist Baby,” and “Gender Queer” have been covered widely by the media. According to The NPD Group, these types of challenges, and the media attention surrounding them, led to significant sales increases for these books.

“When a book finds itself at the top of a national news story because it has received a challenge, sales go up,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “But that doesn’t translate into an overall sales boost for other banned books. It’s the immediacy of the story, and viewers’ reaction to it, that drives increased sales. It is also likely that many consumers don’t know what books have been widely banned beyond the current title at the top of the press coverage.”

The following books were among those that have recently made national headlines after being challenged or banned, resulting in significant sales spikes as the story was amplified by the press:

  • Noted by the American Library Association as having the most challenges in the U.S., “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kolbabe, experienced significant growth after the controversy surrounding the book was covered in newspapers in May. With total U.S. print book sales volume of 25,000 units, sales spiked by 1,900 units (130% over prior week) for the week ending May 7, 2022.
  • After it was banned by a Tennessee school board in February 2022, sales of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus I” and “Maus II”, by Art Spiegelman, jumped 34,200 units (50% higher than the prior week). Sales for the combined titles have reached 1.2 million units since BookScan® began tracking books in 2004.
  • Sales of “Antiracist Baby,” by Ibram X. Kendi, increased by 14,500 units during the week ending April 2, 2022, after Texas Senator Ted Cruz criticized it during a Supreme Court hearing. Total lifetime book sales have reached 303,000. 
  • “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson, sales increased by 1,900 units, during the week ending February 12, 2022. The book, which has sold more than 37,000 copies overall, had been banned in public libraries in eight states.

As part of its research into recently banned books, NPD found that sales data for a longer list of previously banned titles, beyond those prominently covered in headlines, was a mixed bag. “Within this sample, only half exhibited a sales increase, suggesting it is the news cycle that is driving sales rather than a wider consumer protest,” McLean said.

Case Study: Dr. Seuss Sales Benefited from the News Cycle 

Dr. Seuss Enterprises released a statement in March of last year that six books by Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) would no longer be published, to ensure the catalog “represents and supports all communities and families.” The statement was sent during Dr. Seuss Week, a national children’s reading celebration that coincides with Theodor Geisel’s birthday on March 2. The news had a significant effect on the sales volume for Dr. Seuss titles, as consumers reacted to a perceived “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss generally. The net effect was a major boost for juvenile fiction across the entire month of March, which sold more than 10 million additional units, compared to February 2021.

About NPD Books
With the explosion of content generated by print books, streaming video-on-demand services, podcasts, and audiobooks, our culture is increasingly dominated by the stories we tell. In this interconnected media landscape, books are where some of today’s hottest media properties get their start. But as retail and consumer change accelerates, it can be a challenge to make sense of it all. We work with all the major players in U.S. publishing, retail, media, and toys to understand how digital and print content is evolving. Our books industry experts know the publishing world inside and out; they tap into our point-of-sale data to help you make better and faster decisions in today’s market.

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