Civil Liberties

Does Being 'Banned' Help Book Sales?

A literary Streisand Effect


Publishers used to love it when they could put the words "Banned in Boston" on a book's cover—the phrase was bound to increase sales. So it's reasonable to suspect that getting listed as "banned" during Banned Books Week is going to help an author find readers. The analysts at Next Big Sound have crunched some numbers and, by one measure at least, their figures are consistent with the theory.

Here's an excerpt from their write-up:

Each year, hundreds of books are challenged in the US, meaning that a group or individual petitions to have the book removed from curriculum or libraries, often on the basis of explicit content and profanity. The American Library Association tallies all documented complaints and publishes a list of the top ten most challenged books annually.

Over the years, such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird and Joseph Heller's Catch-22 have been banned or challenged. And this year the top ten includes major titles, several of which have been successfully adapted to the silver screen, from the Hunger Games series, to The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.

It seems the spotlight does indeed have a positive impact for these books, at least if you look at book recommendation network Goodreads.

Comparing Goodreads Adds during BBW to the week prior, only one of the single-volume books did not see a lift in activity….Several books listed as most challenged are actually series. In these cases we can identify a lift in Goodreads activity, though not necessarily for every volume in the collection.

It surely helps that the books in question were removed (or just challenged) in libraries and school reading lists, not at Amazon.

[Hat tip: Bryan Alexander.]