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Falling coloring book sales are hurting bookstores

4 March 2017

From The Verge:

For the past two years, adult coloring books have been big business. Walk into a bookstore, and you’d likely see a rack of them featured prominently by the door. That craze might be coming to an end, however. Barnes & Noble reported its third quarter profits today, which slipped from expectations. The reason? Coloring book and art supply sales have begun to slip.

That’s potentially bad news for physical bookstores. Beginning in late 2015, sales of gimmicky books full of complicated illustrations skyrocketed. Publishers talked about the appeal of the “therapeutic value of coloring,” and worked up ways to sell packaged bundles of products, such as CDs and colored pencils. The result was good for bookstores and the publishing industry as a whole, which saw sales of nonfiction books rise 12 percent during the first half of 2016 compared to 2015. As publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores face increasing competition from online retailers such as Amazon, the coloring book boost was a welcome change. According to the Association of American Publishers, sales rose by $90 million in the adult books categories.

. . . .

Now the sales increases in coloring books seems to be evaporating. Barnes & Noble noted that the “trends softened” at the end of the year, and the company expects sales to drop in the coming year. To be clear, the publicist I spoke with off the record noted that the books remain a strong seller, but that the market isn’t expanding like it used to, and that publishers are beginning to ramp down their acquisitions as the fad comes to an end.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG was never able to understand why the traditional publishing and bookstore worlds could not immediately identify adult coloring books as a fad.


50 Comments to “Falling coloring book sales are hurting bookstores”

  1. On the picture PG chose to illustrate the post; I’ve been trying to find a hula-hoop. Can’t find one. Several stores have told me they usually carry them in summer. When fads fade they fade to black.

    POD is a good bet for the slow, steady sales adult colouring books will probably have from now on. No inventory to stock while waiting for the customer. Of course, that cuts out B&N and other brick and mortar stores.

    • Here’s a hula-hoop for you, Gordon – http://amzn.to/2lqWQZK

      • This item does not ship to Victoria, Canada.


        • Patricia Sierra

          Obviously, you need to move. I’d eagerly change places with you.

        • I’m told the main industry in Point Roberts is accepting and holding Amazon shipments for pickup by Canadians. The hula hoop no doubt explains it…

    • Patricia Sierra

      Amazon sells hula hoops, including weighted ones that are supposedly good for exercise.

      I fell for the coloring book craze. Bought one, along with art supplies, for my daughter on the off chance coloring would help her relax after a tense day at work. She was enthusiastic about the gift until she actually used it. She ended up giving it to someone else.

      Years ago, I also fell for the Pet Rock fad.

    • Dollarama sells them, Gordon. If not right now, very shortly as they’re getting in the summer stock.

  2. the Other Diana

    PG was never able to understand why the traditional publishing and bookstore worlds could not immediately identify adult coloring books as a fad.

    Wishful thinking?

  3. The prices for these coloring books are outrageous.

  4. “Why are print sales up? Data Guy gives his reason—and it isn’t adult coloring books.”

    The Passive Voice 18 January 2017


  5. Most people are now loaded with adult coloring books and art supplies they aren’t using, like the people who load up on books on their ereaders, free and cheap, and don’t get around to reading them.

    What did the publishers think? That millions of Americans were suddenly going to turn fake-artistic? Shows what they have inside their skulls for brains: not a whole lot.

    • The good news is: if you are like me and would like some great, nearly new art supplies, they will be available at bargain garage sales prices the next several summers.


  6. We had two hula hoops when I was small. They were fun to play with for a couple of weeks at most. And then never were touched again.

  7. What? No…wait! You mean, adult coloring books were a FAD? No, I don’t believe it. I read on some publishing sites how they were going to save the industry.

  8. Well, for some of us, coloring has not been a fad. I have only bought one coloring book in a bookstore and one in Walmart. Both were Johanna Basford’s. The rest have been bought on line. Like books they only carry the bestsellers. They are not interested in any of the rest of them. There are a ton of artist out there that do absolutely beautiful work. I’m in love with a lot of Japanese artist. You can not find these in bookstores. You must find these on line, just like trying to find some books.

  9. Felix J. Torres

    There’s also the matter of the tablet coloring book apps.
    Cheaper and more forgiving.

    Yup, once again, “digital killed the printed book star”.

    I think you can sing that to some old tune.
    (Oooh, oooh, oooh…)

    • @ Felix

      Great YouTube video of the Prince’s Trust performance by the Buggles. Far superior to the original video (BTW, first music video ever played on VH1, I believe.):


      • Yes, it was.
        Good video, there.

      • Wow… just spent the last half hour down memory lane. I can still remember when I got my MTV back in 82 and that played. I was beyond smoked. Great memory, and dynamite version.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Funny thing is the lyrics are even more relevant today than in 1979. To publishing, other businesses, society at large…


          I heard you on the wireless back in fifty two
          Lying awake intent at tuning in on you
          If I was young it didn’t stop you coming through
          Oh a oh
          They took the credit for your second symphony
          Rewritten by machine on new technology
          And now I understand the problems you can see
          Oh a oh
          I met your children
          Oh a oh
          What did you tell them?
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Pictures came and broke your heart
          Oh, a, a, a, oh
          And now we meet in an abandoned studio
          We hear the playback and it seems so long ago
          And you remember the jingles used to go
          Oh-a oh
          You were the first one
          Oh-a oh
          You were the last one
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far
          Oh-a-aho oh
          Oh-a-aho oh
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far
          Pictures came and broke your heart
          Put down the blame on VCR
          Oh, you are a radio star
          You are a radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star
          Video killed the radio star

          Read more: Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star Lyrics | MetroLyrics


      • Felix J. Torres

        BTW, check this version in 720p HD and high-bit rate audio via HDNET.

  10. I think a lot of it has to do with stock. For those of us who have always colored and were astounded with all these new books, well…we’ve stocked up.

    There’s no more need to rush to get them in case they stopped selling them. I, for one, am fully loaded for years of coloring.

    While I also paint, I used to have to create my own coloring pages, which isn’t as much of a surprise as one created by another person.

    I hope the fad isn’t entirely over, or that indie inkers will take over and bring their unique and brazen creativity.

    • Smart Debut Author

      I hope… that indie inkers will take over and bring their unique and brazen reativity.

      According to Data Guy’s latest report, they already did:


      He calls it “the answer to a 2016 disappearing act that puzzled the traditional publishing industry” 😀

      • That’s what I was going to say. The idies have already taken over that market as well.

    • Coloring for very long hurts my hands, but I got a few of the books anyways. I’ll take a break from work every once and a while and wander over to the calendar I got and add a little color. Or work on one of the bookmarks. I did pick up a couple from indies and I’m going to have to copy them onto different paper so I don’t ruin the originals.

  11. Bookstores are failing because the books in them are terrible, generally. Of course people aren’t buying them.

  12. It’s like going on a binder all night and then being surprised the sun rises in the morning.

    Long term, the big publishers really shot themselves in the foot trying to push this fad. Raising prices on ebooks simply meant Amazon sold more print books. Meanwhile, bookstores have been pushing away real readers by chasing hobby shop customers. So short sighted.

  13. The adult coloring book fad is fad-ing? Who’da thunk? 🙁

    I gotta wonder what the next big fad will be. Adult Tinker Toys? B&N will, no doubt, have sufficient shelf space for them. 🙂

  14. PG was never able to understand why the traditional publishing and bookstore worlds could not immediately identify adult coloring books as a fad.

    Looks like they just squeezed as much as they could out of the coloring books while they could. They will do the same with the next fad. Seems like good business practice.

    Who thought it was a long term thing?

    • Felix J. Torres

      The tradpubs who jumped in/expanded offerings last year?
      Given their workflow, those should be arriving…any…day…now.

      • Terrence OBrien

        I imagine they will pulp them, just like the guys did with the hula hoop and pet rocks. One of the characteristics of fads is you don’t know when they will end.

        • Felix J. Torres

          There’s an opportunity cost associated, though. The BPHs can mostly afford it but the bookstores?

          • Terrence OBrien

            Sure there’s an opportunity cost. It’s easy to define it after the fact. With any fad, that’s a cost of business.

            I suspect bookstores will just stop ordering, and return what they can. What’s left will end up on the coloring table with all the best sellers. Enthusiasts will get a lifetime supply.

            • Felix J. Torres

              …poisoning the well for the players who were in the biz before the fad. Standard bubble after-effects.

              • Poisoning the well? Sounds like normal competition. Everyone makes money in a fad, then someone figures out how to be a victim.

                • Felix J. Torres

                  That’s one view.
                  Another view is that there used to be a stable but small market for the product that was hyped to the heavens, drawing in a flood of product, collapsing the market and depressing demand (as you pointed out) for years to come.
                  The gold rushers made coin for a few months and leave wreckage in their wake.
                  That isn’t quite business as usual

                • Terrence OBrien

                  God help us. Someone disrupted the market, and someone doesn’t like it.

  15. When entertaining my young niece years ago I would download pages for her to colour in. There was some wonderful stuff there, all for free. The only drawback was I had to colour in with her, something I had not done since I myself was in Kindergarten. Some of them were extremely difficult and probably designed for adults. If you like it and find it relaxing, great. It does nothing for me. But no need whatsoever to give the Big 5 your hard earned money. Google, download, print and you can colour to your hearts content.

  16. Has anyone curated a list of indie-creator colouring books? I feel like I might like one, but I’m not enthused about even a few dollars’ funding going to BPHs dying swan act.

  17. Forget coloring books, puzzles are my addiction.

    I have boxes of puzzles still sealed, unopened. Finished puzzles sealed behind glass and framed. Luckily I have no open surface to set up a puzzle or I would be in big trouble.

    As a little kid, I started with a box of fine art puzzles, four in the box. I mixed all the pieces together so that I would do four puzzles at once. Only safe when Mom gave them away to some other family that “needed them”. Right. Sure, Mom. That’s like saying the family dog was sent to a farm where there was more room rather than saying it was put down.

    I’m fine as long as I can see the puzzles on the wall, or the unopened puzzle boxes piled here and there. I’m fine. Really I am. It’s okay. Say, I wonder if there are puzzles that can be assembled on the computer. Hmm, Uh-oh…. Google, Google, Oh no! God, no! I’m doomed. Why did I look. Oh, no…. God! Why did I Google it.

  18. If I want to relax, I read a book. I got given a colouring book. I coloured one page, then realised I’d rather spend the time reading.

    I guess I wasn’t the only one.

  19. I gave my wife a couple of them for Christmas 2015. She likes them. But she’s only done about ten of them. There’s around a hundred per book. I won’t need to get her another until 2035 or thereabouts, at this pace.

    We’re not buying more of them until then…(unless of course she decides she wants a different one…no such indications yet…)

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