Mindful Colouring: The Craze That Rocked The Publishing Industry

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Take a glance through Amazon’s top 20 books and the prevalence of publications like Animal Kingdom, Tropical Wonderland and Enchanted Forest reveal the popularity surrounding adult colouring books shows no sign of subsiding.

But as grown-ups around the world sit down with coloured pencils and illustrations in an attempt to regain focus and elicit a sense of calm, the authors, production houses and retailers responsible for supplying millions of copies of colouring books, are reeling in the commercial success of a bright new category.

Mindful colouring may have become a lucrative sales hit – data from Nielson shows the books generated £18.4 million in revenue during 2015, in the UK alone – but the emergence of an increasingly popular ‘new genre’ hasn’t come without its own set of challenges.

“The explosion in demand has meant our printers have been working really hard to fulfil orders and we’ve needed to forecast even more accurately than usual to keep up with demand. The lead times for printing abroad can be several months,” admits Colette Whitehouse, Head of Marketing & Publicity at Pavilion Books.

However hard to believe, Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom, a collection of intricate black and white drawings featuring birds, mammals and flora, was the bestselling non-fiction title in the UK market in 2015. And it was, by far, Pavilion’s bestseller in a genre that almost all publishing houses have now embraced, despite the logistical complications.

At Michael O’Mara, leading publisher of adult colouring in the UK, the team have been forced to take over extra parts of their building in order to fulfil production on popular titles including Colour Quest and The Creative Colouring Book For Adults.

“We’ve never seen a phenomenon like it in our thirty years of publishing. We are on our fifteenth reprint of some of our titles. [We] just can’t keep them in print fast enough,” Lesley O’Mara, Managing Director told The New Yorker.

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But when sales for books such as Marotta’s total over 5 million copies worldwide, turning over more than £2 million in revenue, rejigging production queues, fast-tracking new titles and outsourcing printing are hurdles worth jumping.

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Adult colouring books aren’t new, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the emergence of books specifically marketed around relieving anxiety began to take flight. Starting in France with the popularity of French publisher Hachette Pratique’s ‘Art-thérapie: 100 coloriages anti-stress’ (which has sold over 3.5 million copies globally), the phenomenon began to spread to the UK in 2014, before reaching unprecedented heights in 2015.

By July 2015 colouring books occupied five of the Nielsen BookScan Total Consumer Market top 50 bestsellers list. At the same time, Amazon UK’s top 10 bestseller chart contained 4 colouring books and for retailers, the sudden explosion of a new category of books also posed complications.

A handful of publications that once lived neatly within the realms of the art genre suddenly required their own category, throwing store layouts into disarray and causing retailers to come up with ways to drastically increase shelf-space in order to make way for a slew of new titles.

At Waterstones, bestselling titles such as ‘The Mindfulness Colouring Book’ and the ‘Colour Me Mindful’ series took center stage, thanks to impressive sales. “In 2015 we saw a year on year uplift of over 1,000% for the genre as a whole,” explained Sandra Taylor, Head of Events and PR.

And in the art sector, many businesses saw stocks of colouring pencils all but disappear, leading to a spike in prices.

Similarly, as consumers continued to drive the market, cementing mindfulness in the mainstream, the authors were also finding it difficult to keep up.

Since Marotta’s Animal Kingdom was published, Colette Whitehouse says the author has received many messages and letters from people who have enjoyed colouring the book.

“People remark that colouring helps them to clear their minds, rediscover their inner creativity and take some time out for themselves, while others use the books to connect with people who enjoy the same pastime, drawing inspiration from the creativity of their fellow colouring fans,” remarked Whitehouse.

Johanna Basford, author of global best-seller ‘Secret Garden’, has also garnered a strong fan base, with followers of her work becoming increasingly frustrated after copies of her bestselling titles sold out in multiple markets including the U.S, Brazil and China.

Taking to her Facebook Page, Basford assured fans that more copies were on their way, but some vocalised their dismay, highlighting the very real way mindful colouring has become integrated into consumers’ lives.

As people continue to move their focus towards embracing mindful practices, consumers’ growing desire to take a break from their busy lives and the constant demands of digital devices will continue to affect the book industry in 2016.

Publishers have already shown signs of  seizing on the trend for 2016 – Pavilion Books has plans to release Mille Morotta’s latest title in April and Quercus Publishing is set to publish further  titles in ‘The Little Book of Colouring’ series.

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