By Marty Brochstein, Senior Vice President, Industry Relations and Information International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA)
Sometimes, opportunities emanate from the most unexpected sources.
The adult coloring craze began quietly and unexpectedly about three years ago in the UK with the publication of artist Marlene Basford’s “A Secret Garden,” and extended itself to the U.S. two years after that.
What brought it about in the first place? There are all sorts of theories: some say coloring is a stress-reliever that offers a respite from tension-filled lives. Others say it’s a chance for colorers to express controlled creativity – applying their personal palettes to a pre-existing design. It’s anybody’s guess. In any event, Nielsen Bookscan estimates that 12 million coloring books were sold in 2015, a huge jump from the 1 million sold the previous year.
And the trend continues, showing much more longevity than many observers had predicted. As noted recently by longtime licensing and publishing analyst Karen Raugust in her RaugustReports, the extension of what was thought to be a relatively short-term trend is apparent not only in bookseller Barnes & Noble – a natural selling channel – and in logical specialty retailers such as craft stores, toy stores and stationery/gift outlets, but also in “stores that normally would not be considered a close fit, such as the regional home furnishings chain Cut Above Home; the indie toy chain Air Traffic, which specializes in playthings that fly; the high-end department store Nordstrom; and the charitable retail outlet Greater Goods, which is featuring a ‘Little Prince’ coloring book among other book-based licensed merchandise, with all sales benefiting literacy.”
While the launching pad for the adult coloring rocket ship was “The Secret Garden” and countless other art- and nature-based designs, Greater Goods’ strategy points to one of the factors that can probably be credited with extending the trend’s life – licensing. As LIMA Senior Director of Marketing Christina Jordan noted in a recent blog post about the rise of licensed coloring books, “Just walk into Barnes & Noble and it hits you from literally every angle. Amongst the flowers and butterflies, there is a significant uptick in all things licensed – various editions of Harry Potter are being joined by Doctor Who, Cath Kidston, Trolls, TMNT, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Disney Villains, and so very many more.”
And it’s not just about the books. According to Nielsen, sales of colored pencils jumped 26.3 percent in 2015; that’s after three years of increases in the single digits. And late last year, Crayola began marketing Color Escapes, packaging adult coloring books with colored pencils.
As with virtually anything that sees a meteoric rise, it’s inevitable that its growth will slow. But there’s little doubt that adult coloring is one of those categories that IP owners of all sorts – artists, entertainment companies, brand owners, and beyond – will be looking toward as a money-making opportunity going forward. The future is bright (and very colorful)!