Coloring Outside the Lines: Popular Licenses Help Fuel Adult Coloring Craze


MartyBrochsteinBy 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.”

Adult Coloring BooksWhile 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)!





 About the Author: Marty Brochstein is responsible for LIMA’s outbound communications, as well as many of its educational efforts, such as the year-round webinar program and the extensive Licensing University seminar program that takes place each year in conjunction with the Brand Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. He also has spoken at conferences and seminars around the world on a wide range of licensing- and retail-related issues, and is widely quoted on issues related to licensing, marketing and branding. He joined LIMA in 2008 after 12 years as Executive Editor of The Licensing Letter, a New York-based newsletter that covers the global licensing business. He also was Editorial Director of the parent publishing company, EPM Communications. In addition to writing and editing the twice-monthly newsletter, he also compiled the publication’s industry numbers and edited EPM’s other licensing-related publications, including International Licensing: A Status Report, and The Licensing Letter’s Sports Licensing Report. Brochstein was a business journalist for more than 30 years, primarily covering the consumer products and retail industries. Before joining The Licensing Letter, he spent five years as Senior Editor of Television Digest and founding editor of Consumer Multimedia Report. He also has been editor of several publications in the consumer electronics and retail fields. He is a graduate of Boston University.  


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