Today is National Coloring Book Day (at least according to the publisher who deemed it so), but unfortunately for the fat cats of Big Coloring Book (that’s a thing, right?), things are not looking good for the industry.
In late 2015, the adult coloring book trend was the hottest thing in publishing. Adult coloring books were devoid of the movie tie-ins and cartoons and fairies and princesses that characterize children’s coloring books. They were coloring books designed for grownups, with intricate, elaborate patterns that required advanced motor skills to color in (like Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden). They were designed to soothe grownup anxiety (Stress Relieving Patterns) and to appeal to grownup senses of humor (Have a Nice 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 drove an echo boom in coloring pencils, with sales increasing by 26.4 percent in 2015 from 2014.
For publishing, this trend was a godsend. Coloring books drove sales in the craft and hobby category up 133 percent in the first months of 2016. In the adult nonfiction category as a whole, they drove up sales by 12 percent, even while sales in more traditional nonfiction categories, like biography and travel, fell. Coloring books were helping to stabilize a foundering industry.
The trend wouldn’t last. By December, booksellers reported that coloring book sales had begun to sag, leading to Barnes & Noble’s worst holiday quarter in 10 years. This March, Barnes & Noble reported that its store sales had fallen 8.3 percent over the quarter and blamed the decline, in part, on decreasing coloring book sales. (Another contributor: The fact that Adele’s album 25 wasn’t selling as well as it did earlier. Get it together, Adele.)
“Sales [of adult coloring books] have slowed, but we don’t think the market will go away,” said one publisher optimistically at the New York International Toy Fair this February. “We’re not adding as many new titles, but we continue to publish into coloring, especially with niche audience subjects and things where we have retailer requests,” said another. “There’s still interest.”
Adult coloring books will likely continue to make money, but they are no longer making enough money to single-handedly carry publishing through a slump. The highest point of the fad appears to be well and truly over.