The Business of Bans

From books to beef to screen time, a peep at the profit margins of prohibition.

0:00 / 0:00
  • Book bans are sending old classics back to the bestseller list.
  • Banning meat’s proved pretty lucrative for one beloved California chef.
  • If your kid is asking for more screen time, order Chinese and tell them they’ve got it pretty good.

The silver lining of censorship (kidding…but also, ka-ching)

Obviously banning books is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing (a phrase we learned *from a book*, btw). But is it also good for business? That seems to be the takeaway following the Tennessee School Board’s decision to remove Maus—a graphic novel about the Holocaust—from the eighth grade curriculum. That happened in mid January. In the weeks since, the 1992 Pulitzer winner has cracked Amazon’s top 20, hitting number one in the graphic novels category. 

Similar sales spikes have followed recent crackdowns on The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) and The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison). And it’s not always the far right behind the banning: Last year the discontinuation of six Dr. Seuss titles (featuring racist imagery) sent other Seussian titles soaring up the best seller charts. 

It’s something we could be seeing more of. According to recent data from the American Library Association, the fall of 2021 saw the most instances of “book challenges” since the group started record keeping more than 50 years ago. Meanwhile, Maus author, Art Spiegelman, has rebuffed offers from Hollywood to option his book for the big screen. He says the story (where Jews are mice and nazis are cats) is best served by the comic format. And honestly, who needs movie money when you’ve got LeVar Burton AND the moral high ground on your side?

Next up: Why did the lab rendered chicken cross the road?

Lab grown meat is big business and it’s getting a boost from one of the world’s most influential chefs. In 2018, Dominique Crenn banned meat from the menu at her Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco. Her goal was to effect “real environmental change”, and clearly taste didn’t suffer—Atelier Crenn scored a third star after moving to a meat-free menu. 

Four years (and one pandemic) later, chicken is making its triumphant return, following Crenn’s partnership with Upside Foods, the California-based startup at the forefront of cell-based poultry production.

Is this the future of meat? Crenn says yes, and plans to introduce new “chicken” dishes to her menu following regulatory approval. Upside Foods has raised more than 200 million in funding, including an investment from Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey. Just last month, the company acquired Cultured Decadence, another cellular agriculture startup focused on shell-free, cell-based lobster, which sounds a little…well…fishy, but it’s an excellent tongue twister that we won’t knock till we’ve tried it. 

When your kid complains about screen time limits…

…spend a long weekend in China. Tencent Games, one of the world’s largest gaming companies, spent China’s month long Winter Break limiting access to their platform for kids. 14 hours over 30 days.

The policy is in line with a national movement to combat climbing rates of addiction and near sightedness. Last summer the Chinese government banned game play for minors on weekdays and restricted use to three hours on most weekends, encouraging gaming companies to break “from the solitary focus of pursuing profit.”  

These rules took effect last August, prompting stock sell offs and a slump in domestic market growth (a 14.3% decline in just one year). Still, profits are climbing, thanks to robust  global sales. And meanwhile, the policy’s working. Tencent reported that minors now account for 0.7% of time played on their platform, down from 6.4% in 2020.

The outcome? More time to read banned books!