“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”
So wrote Dr. Seuss, the beloved children’s author whose decades-old writing crashed into the present-day culture wars last month when the company managing his work announced it would no longer publish six of his lesser-known books because they contain racist imagery.
Sales of books by the late author immediately surged as right-wing media and conservative politicians transformed the announcement into a rallying cry against “cancel culture.” Booksellers moved 200% more of the titles during the week of the announcement, putting the author, born Theodore Geisel in 1904, on track to double last year’s volume, a buying frenzy worthy of his death-bed wish that his work be spread to the “widest possible audience” throughout the world.
Sales of his books are now up 88% so far this year, according to data provided to Forbes from NPD BookScan. Americans have purchased more than 3.5 million Dr. Seuss books so far this year, compared to 1.9 million during the same period last year. The boom comes as Seuss lovers, opportunistic collectors and politically motivated shoppers began hunting for the canceled titles like And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo while hoarding classics like The Cat in the Hat, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and Green Eggs and Ham.
“Normally, we see a big spike for students during Seuss week . . . and then typically, it would fall away,” says Kristen McLean, executive director and book industry analyst at the NPD Group. “This year, there were a number of markets where the buying was actually stronger in the weeks following Seuss Week. So that implies other drivers.”
They can thank the outrage for that: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy posted a video of himself reading all of Green Eggs and Ham on social media; Senator Ted Cruz is selling signed copies of the book for campaign donations, raising $125,000 in the first day of the effort—he credited “lefties losing their minds” for the quick cash. After-market sales boomed for the discontinued titles, with one copy of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street put up for sale by a collector for $12,500, while other shoppers hit up their local bookstores hoping for a chance to grab a copy.
“They said things like, ‘My children each want a copy of this beloved book’,” says Justin Colussy-Estes, store manager of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia, of the calls he got following the cancellations. “And the list that they give just happened to exactly match the list of books that were pulled from the market.”
Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop on the west side of Houston, said the calls started rolling in after the coverage on Fox and she spent the better part of March 2 explaining to customers scared that Seuss was being brought down by political correctness that she never carried any of the obscure titles being pulled but would gladly help them order any of the author’s other nearly four dozen books.
She apparently wasn’t alone. Sales of The Cat in the Hat in Tampa and Indianapolis were nearly 40% higher compared to the rest of the country, during this year’s Seuss Week, with significant jumps also seen in Orlando, Florida (28%), Phoenix (25%) and Charlotte, North Carolina (14%).
It all points to the makings of a banner year for Seuss Enterprises, which collected $16 million from book sales last year, about half of the $33 million of pretax earnings that landed the late author at No. 2 on last year’s Forbes’ list of highest-earning dead celebrities. Forbes estimates that the estate has already earned $11 million from book sales this year. Seuss Enterprises declined to comment for this story.
Another of an extended bull market for the books: Sales for the full month more than doubled in the Southeast, from Maryland to Florida, with momentum picking up later in the month even after the controversy had waned.
“I don’t think anybody is going to cancel that cash cow,” says Koehler.