By James Greig for Metro
August 2nd was National Colouring Book Day. This seems as good a time as any to consider the adult colouring book trend, which really took off in the UK in 2015 and … hasn’t been talked about much since.
Are adults still using colouring books? Are they as good for mental health as people claim?
First, the bad news: these are hard times for adult colouring books. Hailed as the saviour to the publishing industry in the middle of the decade, by 2017 sales had plummeted so dramatically that there were a spate of articles concerning the death of the trend. But that said, a quick Google suggests that the trend is soldiering on.
You can still buy books with titles like I Hate My Ex-Husband (aimed at people who hate their ex-husbands).
What could be more rib-ticklingly funny than using swear words in a genre of book traditionally thought of as being aimed at children?
During the boom years, adult colouring books were bought en-masse, whether by people trying them out for themselves or as stocking-filler gifts for their least favourite relatives, many of whom would find that they weren’t that into them.
But there seems to be a small, steady market of people who simply enjoy doing them, or else find them therapeutic. In that sense, the trend is unlikely to vanish outright. As for the much discussed mental health benefits, these have been backed up by research.
One 2017 study showed that using adult colouring books does actually reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety – which confirms what plenty of people had been saying all along.
But are people who experience anxiety or depression still using these books as a way of improving their mental health? If adult colouring books really are an effective way of alleviating symptoms, this doesn’t seem like something which would simply tail off as a passing fad.
We spoke with Olivia, who lives with anxiety and still occasionally uses colouring books, though not as much as she used to.
“I find they’re really good when you just need to step outside of yourself for a little bit,” she says.
“Even though making my own art is a good outlet when I’m really anxious, I sometimes find having to create from the self can be a bit daunting and anxiety-inducing in itself. Colouring books take that pressure off. They let me zone out and reset.
“I always compare them to Buddhist monks creating mandalas,” Olivia continues. “It’s about focusing on one thing in front of you. It’s definitely meditative. Even destroying the pages afterwards is a really nice reminder that everything is impermanent, and that this too shall pass.”
Although, in one sense, the whole point is that colouring books don’t leave much scope for individual creativity, Olivia says that she still makes her mark.
“When looking back on certain pages, I can immediately tell what mental state I was in when I did them: how hard I was pressing, how loose or manic my strokes were, what image or colours I chose,” she explains.
For Olivia, and many others like her, adult colouring books are more than a short-lived publishing trend. Instead, they are an important act of self-care which helps them to manage their conditions – and there’s nothing childish about that.
By Adam Rowe for Forbes
In 2015, adult colouring books became the dark horse of the publishing industry, as a surprising surge in sales boosted major players’ revenues. In 2016, there was no end in sight. In 2017, the bottom fell out of the adult colouring book market and, this year, the trend is officially dead.
So it seems, at least. It’s possible that adults still enjoying colouring as much as ever, but independent publishers — whose sales numbers aren’t reported with the same rigour as those of traditional publishers — have cornered the market. Here’s a dive into the timeline of the adult colouring trend, as told through the cottage industry of articles covering the phenomenon.
A July 2015 New Yorker article described the early stage of the adult colouring renaissance, noting a connection to the popularity of other infantilising activities like adult summer camps and adult preschool. The trend was picking up, even if the numbers hadn’t come out yet: Dover decreed August 2, 2015, as the first National Colouring Book Day, and Bantam Books and George R.R. Martin teamed up on a Game of Thrones-themed colouring book. In December, Business Insider profiled a self-publishing colouring book creator who had earned $329,000 in Amazon royalties in 2015 alone, by selling her books via Createspace — noting that colouring books were at the time holding five out of the top 10 spots on Amazon’s hourly-updated bestsellers list.
The colouring book sales spike continued across 2016, to much media attention as numbers came to light: Nielsen Bookscan estimated 12 million colouring books sold in 2015, up from a paltry one million the year before. The hot takes were entertaining: America’s obsession was a cry for help, while studies showed colouring exercises reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Retailers doubled down on art supplies and colouring books. The Canadian company Newbourne Media LP released a music CD/colouring book combination product. Adult nonfiction books across the industry sold 12% better in the first half of 2016 than the same period in 2015, and Publishers Weekly credited colouring books.
In 2017 the cracks began to show. Barnes and Nobles’ third-quarter profits, released in March 2017, revealed sales were under expectations, though still strong, and the decline in colouring book (as well as Adele album) sales was responsible for “nearly one-third of the sales decline.” By August, the trend was declared dead.
But did interest in adult colouring books really wane, or was it diverted away from traditional publishers and towards the retailer to rule all retailers, Amazon? The evidence lies in a slide from a 2016 presentation by Author Earnings, one of the more authoritative analysts in the murky world of book data. A chart breaking down online book sales by genre shows that about 60% of crafts/hobbies/games books in 2016 were being sold by non-traditional publishers (indie self-publishers as well as Amazon imprints). That’s a huge percentage, second only to the formidable romance genre, and it indicates that in 2016, the year that Barnes and Noble’s third-quarter colouring book profits began levelling off, most online craft book sales went to Amazon and self-publishers.
In other words, book publishers might have lost their colouring book market share to the same retail giant who endangered their industry in the first place.
Author Earnings hasn’t offered comparable data in 2017 or 2018, and major industry databanks like Bookscan don’t track Amazon’s data, so it’s impossible to say for sure whether the colouring book craze is really over or whether faster-adapting colouring book self-publishers have used Amazon as a channel to scoop up the majority of what was once traditional publishers’ cash cow. But as publishers turn to the digital audiobook as the next popular format (sales are up 32.1% in Q1 2018!), they should be wary of Amazon’s growing interest in audiobooks.