Today is National Coloring Book Day (at least according to which publisher deemed it so), but unfortunately for the big cats at Big Coloring Book (that’s a thing, right?), Things are not going well for the industry.
At the end of 2015, the adult coloring book trend was the hottest thing in publishing. Adult coloring books lacked the ties to movies, cartoons, fairies, and princesses that characterize children’s coloring books. These were coloring books designed for adults, with intricate and elaborate designs that required advanced motor skills to color (like Johanna Basford’s Secret garden). They were designed to ease adult anxiety (Anti-stress models) and to appeal to adults’ sense of humor (Good life, asshole).
They were extremely popular and extremely profitable, and they more or less came out of nowhere. In 2014, 1 million coloring books were sold; in 2015, 12 million were sold. The coloring book craze even led to an echo boom in colored pencils, with sales up 26.4% in 2015 compared to 2014.
For publishing, this trend has been a boon. Coloring books boosted sales in the arts and crafts category by 133% in the first few months of 2016. In the adult non-fiction category as a whole, they boosted sales by 12%, even though sales in more traditional non-fiction categories, such as biography and travel. , fell. Coloring books helped stabilize a faltering industry.
The trend will not last. In December, booksellers reported that coloring book sales had begun to decline, leading to Barnes & Noble’s worst holiday quarter in 10 years. Last March, Barnes & Noble reported that its store sales fell 8.3% in the quarter and blamed the decline, in part, on decline in sales of coloring books. (Another contributor: The fact that Adele’s album 25 did not sell as well as before. Get together, Adele.)
“Sales [of adult coloring books] slowed down, but we don’t think the market will go away,” one editor said optimistically at the New York International Toy Fair in February. “We’re not adding as many new titles, but we’re still posting in coloring, especially with niche audience topics and things we have retailer requests for,” said another. “There is always interest.”
Adult coloring books will likely continue to make money, but they no longer bring in enough money to carry publishing through a crisis on their own. The high point of fashion seems well and truly over.