New research into book bans in the U.S. shows that when states ban books from circulation, demand for them increases in states where they are not banned.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University sought to measure the effects book bans had on demand for the affected titles.
They studied a data set of more than 17,000 titles, which included more than 1,500 banned books, as tracked by the American Library Association and PEN America.
Banning a book resulted in a 12% increase in circulation where it wasn't banned.
Banning a book in one state increased its circulation 11% in states with differing political leanings that had not banned the book.
Banned books that had relatively high visibility on social media were read more frequently.
The deliberate politicization of book bans tended to increase donations to Republican House candidates relative to Democratic candidates, but only in states that leaned Republican.
"Book bans have become part of the national conversation and cultural debates, fueled by increasing concern about parental rights," said Uttara M. Ananthakrishnan, assistant professor of information systems at CMU’s Heinz College, who coauthored the study. "But our study highlights the pitfalls of politically motivated censorship on consumers’ consumption behavior."
PEN America announced earlier this year that from July 2022 to June 2023, states banned more than 3,300 book banks in public school libraries and classrooms, which restricted access to more than 1,550 unique titles. The count was a 33% increase in bans over the preceding school year.
Florida banned the most books in the 2022-2023 timeframe, followed by Texas, Missouri, Utah and Pennsylvania.
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