What Adult Coloring Books Show Us (And It's Not About Books)

Of all the colors in the big box of crayons, which hue is missing? Adult coloring books roll on in major publishing markets, but the picture coming together isn’t about books.

Image - iStockphoto: Chamille White
Image – iStockphoto: Chamille White

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Fuzzy Wuzzy,’ 1998 to 2005

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s springtime for Crayola. Not that we haven’t known for some time that everything’s coming up “Brilliant Rose” for adult coloring books. (That’s a shade of crayon produced by the company from 1949 to 1958, “Fuzzy Wuzzy” having been a more recent shade, 1998 to 2005.)

Last Friday, The Bookseller’s Lisa Campbell reported that the late Terry Pratchett is to be honored in the UK with an adult coloring book from Gollancz, created by the illustrator Paul Kidby. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Colouring Book is scheduled for an August 11 release.

A few days earlier, The Independent’s Alexandra Sims warned us:  Adult colouring book craze prompts global pencil shortage: “The world’s biggest wooden pencil manufacturer, Faber-Castell, say they are experiencing ‘double-digit growth’ in the sale of artists’ pencils and have been forced to run more shifts in their German factory to keep up.” The adult colorists, it seems, are beyond the standard 36 colors, too, going for larger 72- and 120-color sets.

Elite Daily's story features examples of coloring-book pages from "Have a Nice Life Asshole: Breakup Stress Relief Adult Coloring Book" by Creative Collective.
Elite Daily’s story features examples of coloring-book pages from “Have a Nice Life Asshole: Breakup Stress Relief Adult Coloring Book” by Creative Collective.

At Elite Daily, Connor Toole surveys coloring books that offer such sayings as Have Fun Living With Your Mother and Your Brother Is Better Looking and Time To Come Pick Up Your Shit, Dumbass to the person you’re breaking up with. Real class, you see? Color them “Mango Tango” (produced from 2003 to the present).

Us Magazine last weekend offered us The 12 Coolest Adult Coloring Books You Need Right Now. You don’t want them, you need them, you see.

Sarah Halzack’s piece from The Washington Post is in The Seattle Times notes that in November, Wal-Mart added “a dedicated four-foot section for adult coloring books in its stores.” And Target, this month, Halzack tells us, will get its adult coloring book offer up to 40 titles in its stores. Michael’s, the handicraft chain, is up to 150 titles, Halzack says. She cites Nielsen reporting a 26.4-percent increase in colored pencils in 2015.

Back at Crayola, Halzack reminds us that the company (owned by Hallmark) has released a line of “Color Escapes” collections of pencils and coloring pages “aimed squarely at adults.” Her article bears a photo of adults coloring together in Washington, DC, at Busboys and Poets: heads down, deeply engrossed, five rational-looking grown-ups working away at their coloring together in a lounge.

Après “Permanent Geranium Lake” (produced 1903 to 1910), this is getting deluge-ional.

A page from a personalized Put Me in the Story coloring book features the name of the person to whom the book is given.
A page from a personalized Put Me in the Story coloring book from Sourcebooks features the name of the person to whom the book is given.
Beyond the Social Question

In Tom Tivnan’s rundown earlier this month of the 68 shortlisted companies in the British Book Industry Awards (the ceremony is May 9 in London), we read:

BBiAAdult colouring books powerhouse Pavilion leads the charge for indie publishers and is up for four awards: Independent Publisher of the Year (sponsored by Firsty Group), Batsford for Imprint, Batsford publisher Tina Persaud in Editor and the work on Batsford star Millie Marotta in Marketing Campaign. Laurence King and Michael O’Mara, who both had huge success with colouring titles, are also vying for the indie publisher gong.

Here’s the full shortlist in the category of Independent Publisher of the Year:

  • Andersen Press
  • Faber & Faber
  • Head of Zeus
  • Laurence King Publishing
  • Michael O’Mara Books
  • Nosy Crow
  • Oneworld
  • Pavilion Books

These are strong contenders, literary houses and specialist studios like Faber and Head of Zeus and Oneworld and Nosy Crow, in competition with coloring books. And Pavilion is riding in with its recent win of the Independent Publishers Guild’s International Award. It’s not even alone in the “Maximum Purple” (1926 to 1944) class of coloring book leadership. As Tivnan reminds us, Laurence King and Michael O’Mara are also here, like a curious wave of “Eggplant” energy (1998 to today), a Crayola hue that leaves you wondering…what is it?

The concern is not that coloring books are somehow inherently bad. They’re not. To some, it’s an especially peculiar populist distraction, sure, but what’s more important is that we not get our colors mixed up and think that this is about books or literature.

Regular followers of the New York-based consultant Mike Shatzkin (he directs the Digital Book World conference) took note when they read him at the very end of last month writing of a trusted colleague’s point about the strength of print in the States:

Mike Shatzkin
Mike Shatzkin

“The entire print book sales increase shown in industry statistics can be accounted for by the rise in sales of adult coloring books, a category which has taken a big leap forward in the past 12 months.

“For one thing, it is impossible to predict with any accuracy whether or for how long those sales will sustain.

“But, more importantly, the sales of print that do not include adult coloring books, which have no ebook equivalents and are the good fortune of a few selected companies, are still declining.”

What Shatzkin is looking at suggests that in the US, the so-called “print resurgence” is not in books one reads or buys to give others to read, but in coloring books, pastimes, hobbies for the stressed-out among us — coloring apologists like to tell us — who are relieving their anxiety by coloring fanciful pictures of strange animals and fairytale jungles.

And what prompts this post now is Monday’s piece from Digital Book World’s Kristine Hoang in which we learn that Sourcebooks’ strikingly successful franchise Put Me in the Story — personalized books for kids — has so far this year made 40 percent of its sales not in those children’s books but in the personalized coloring books it positions as being for adults.

There’s more: Read the full story at Publishing Perspectives

By Porter Ander­son

Originally published at www.PublishingPerspectives.com


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