Is The Coloring Book Trend Over?

If you're a little "over" the coloring trend, you're not the only one. Falling coloring book sales are causing bookstores financial woes, and have left booksellers anxiously wondering: what's next?

The adult coloring fad began gaining steam several years ago, shooting to new highs starting in 2015. That year, an estimated 12 million coloring books were sold in the United States, an astronomical jump from 2014's approximately one million. In the first half of 2016, nonfiction book sales (which include coloring books), rose 12 percent; adult book sales as a whole rose over $90 million. In a market constantly battling the reach of Amazon, booksellers saw coloring books as a welcome monetary boost. You can read summaries and reviews of novels and non-fiction online, but you rarely have the opportunity to flip through every page. That advantage served as an unexpected leg up.

Think pieces on coloring as a form of meditation, as a form of self-care (in some cases, as a form of therapy), piled up across the internet. No longer relegated to preschool curriculums, coloring served as a screen-free way for beleaguered adults - specifically, Americans - to slow down, take a breath, and relax. It's simultaneously creative and mindless, filled with choices (what color? What medium?) but dictated by structure. As the political climate began poisoning the cultural well, it's no wonder that Americans clamored, almost obsessively, for an activity that promised peace of mind.

Like, I think we can all agree that 2016 (and, honestly, a lot of 2015) were a nightmare. Coloring proved for many a next-level escapist habit.

But as 2017 rolled around, a distinct shift occurred. For the first time in three years, Barnes and Noble posted declining holiday sales, down 9.1 percent for the nine-week holiday period. Coloring books and art supplies in particular performed at a glaringly weak pace. Perhaps many folks released that the time for escapism had come to an end; there was no need for a distraction from impending political doom - it had officially arrived.

As a bookseller, I've seen firsthand the waning in popularity. I've also seen the efforts made by bookstores, especially independent ones, to keep coloring book inventory moving. Adult coloring nights, with specials on books and wine, have become commonplace in Chicago. Obtaining increasingly niche copies ("Coloring for stoners"? Yep! "Coloring for stressed out wine moms"? We got it!) has been another tactic. And then, of course, there's the straightforward markdowns.

With the swan song of coloring books almost certainly upon us, it begs the question: what's next? How will Americans let off steam? Maybe by, oh, I don't know, actually reading real books? And educating themselves and tearing down the capitalist patriarchy that's actively burning down the world?

Mmm. That would be cool. That would be really, really cool.