Dr. Seuss Earned More Money in 2020 Than Any Other Dead Celebrity Except Michael Jackson

A storm is raging in the world of Dr. Seuss. The Seuss estate has announced it will no longer publish six of the beloved children author’s books because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” The news ignited a firestorm of controversy as some people objected to what they called the “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss. (Dr. Seuss was a pen name for Theodor Seuss Geisel.) Others cheered the decision to address long-standing concerns about racist imagery in some of The Green Eggs and Ham author’s work. 

Books by Dr. Seuss become bestsellers after controversy 

Copies of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, and McElligot's pool displayed on a table in a library
Copies of three Dr. Seuss books that will no longer be sold | Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

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In the March 2 announcement, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said that it would no longer publish or license half-a-dozen Dr. Seuss books: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street; If I Ran the Zoo; McElligot’s Pool; On Beyond Zebra!; Scrambled Eggs Super!; and The Cat’s Quizzer

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” the company said in a statement. 

The decision triggered a spike in interest in Dr. Seuss’s many books, which were already perennial bestsellers. As of March 5, nine of the top 10 books on Amazon’s bestseller list were by Dr. Seuss, including The Cat in the Hat; One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish; Green Eggs and Ham; and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! 

Who owns Dr. Seuss? The Seuss estate earned $33 million in 2020 

Photo of Theodor Seuss Geisel holding a copy of The Cat in the Hat
Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss| Gene Lester/Getty Images

Though controversial in some quarters, the decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to cease publishing a handful of books appears unlikely to hurt the author’s sales. 

Dr. Seuss — who died in 1991 — was one of the top-earning dead celebrities of 2020, with $33 million in total earnings, according to Forbes. That’s up from $9.5 million in 2015. His estate actually earned more than any late celebrity except for Michael Jackson, whose estate earned $48 million. Of the Seuss estate’s 2020 earnings, $16 million came from book sales. 

The Dr. Seuss books that have been pulled were not very popular. Last year, Green Eggs and Ham sold 338,000 copies, while Oh, the Places You’ll Go! sold 513,000 copies, the New York Times reported. In comparison, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street sold 5,000 copies, while lesser-known titles like McElligot’s Pool and The Cat’s Quizzer “haven’t sold in years” through retailers BookScan tracks. However, that the news the books would suddenly not be available sent prices soaring on used book site AbeBooks, Forbes reported, while remaining copies quickly sold out at stores such as Barnes & Noble.  

Dr. Seuss earns money from book sales, movie deals 

A big chunk of the Seuss estate’s 2020 earnings came from book sales. But lucrative film and TV deals have also increased the bottom line. In 2019, Dr. Seuss Enterprises earned $5 million for the Netflix adaptation of Green Eggs and Ham, according to Forbes. More screen adaptations are on the horizon. 

Upcoming movies involving adaptations of The Cat in the Hat and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! will result in seven-figure paychecks for the estate, along with additional earnings based on box office performance. The company also makes money from licensing deals.  

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