November 30, 2015
One of the roles of The Weekly is to bring new trends in business and society to your attention. We cannot comment on all but a recent trend was brought to light over Thanksgiving by a family member who is in the publishing business. While many think publishing is dead, the reality is quite different. Publishing has become a cutthroat, low margin business where one new style or a storyline from a hot new author can capture the interest of millions of readers, and generate significant new revenue. This is all easy to understand but the latest trend caught me completely off guard – the rise of “adult coloring books”.
Sitting at our kitchen table during a reflective, post-Thanksgiving moment, I watched my two adult daughters in quiet contemplation working on a book with pencils in hand. It reminded me of them working on their homework years ago. I asked what they were doing and they said they were coloring. Coloring, I thought? My mind raced back twenty years to taking in the smell of crayons while urging the girls to keep within the lines. And now here were my two adult children patiently trying to decide what color to use as they each filled out an intricate design that required the steadiest of hands to complete. The main difference seemed to be that pencils and gel pens have replaced Crayola colors. This activity must be occurring in millions of other venues as my book publishing daughter informed me that adult coloring books are their number one seller, far ahead of the genre in second place.
Upon hearing about the large volumes of high end coloring books her company ships to retailers, I decided to check out this industry a bit further. In 2011 a British publisher approached illustrator Johanna Basford for a black and white pattern coloring book for children. It was to be high quality and carry more intricate designs than most children’s books in the past. The author suggested that the book be made for adults. An initial order of 13,000 was placed, and by 2013 over two million had been purchased. As time has passed others illustrators have joined the fashion, and the phenomena continues to grow. Currently the top two books sold on Amazon Global are adult coloring books.
There does not appear to be any one reason for this success. Aging experts have stated that coloring has the similar positive effects of engaging the mind and brain that have been shown with word and number games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles. But the real appeal is likely the relaxing effect of coloring. Most of those that color admit that they feel a sense of peacefulness when they are coloring. Unlike the more challenging word and number games, coloring can be done in a social setting and conversations can occur. I suspect that the reason it has captured, and is sustaining, a large share of the book publishing market is that it is just plain fun.