The full-version of this post is now available at the Children’s Literature at the University of Cambridge blog!
Printed books have been on the rise of late, and one of the sources of the print publishing sales revival might beÂ a surprising one: coloring books have become very big business â€“ by some estimates, up toÂ 12 millionÂ coloring books were sold in 2015,Â compared to approximately 1 million the previous year.
IndicationsÂ of the popularity ofÂ grown up coloring books are seemingly everywhere. ForÂ example,Â crayon manufacturer Crayola’sÂ Color EscapesÂ marketed asÂ the colored pencils for adults (â€œfor adultsâ€ in this case, meaning a fancier box and higher price tag). But whyÂ the sudden interest in adult coloring books? There are many theories that have been circulating, but as with most explanations for broad cultural trends, perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between many factors. Coloring books have been touted for their appeal as a type ofÂ art therapy, andÂ there appears to beÂ some university research suggesting that coloring might justÂ reduce levels of stress. Other explanationsÂ focus upon how the coloring book satisfies a deep-seated need for playÂ that is intrinsic to all of us, no matter what age we might be.
AnotherÂ popularÂ theory is that coloring books offer a welcomeÂ respiteÂ from the hours ofÂ swiping, tapping, and reading on our ubiquitous screens at a time when digital fatigue might be setting in. AsÂ Johanna Basford, author of the surprise best-sellingÂ Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring BookÂ suggests:”It’s a chance to unplug, look away from the screens and do something analogue and fun.”
MaybeÂ there is something satisfying about the tangible experience of coloring itself, of seeing the results of our labor on paper instead of on screens. Of course, the non-digitalÂ theory has limits — part of the coloring book craze is certainlyÂ fueled by social media: we are now taking photos of our finished coloring to put them on Instagram (perhaps the digital ageÂ equivalent of sticking our drawings on the refrigerator?). For further proof of how complicated our split between digital and non-digital lives isÂ getting, the latest development: turning Instagram photos into coloring books, which you can print, color … and then post on Instagram (via Mashable: “Website turns your Instagram photos into a coloring book“).
The socialÂ element has carried over into the non-digital world, too: adult coloring group meet ups have become a commonplace sight in the U.S., and August 2 is set toÂ be National Coloring Book Day.
Coloring books for adults are not entirelyÂ a new thing, of course. They were especially popular in the 1960s, with a distinctively politically subversive flavor to them. That elementÂ of coloring protest is echoed even in our present dayÂ — you might for example enjoy Drew Daywaltâ€™s The Day the Crayons Quit.
It’s certainly possible theÂ coloring trend might disappear as quickly as it appeared — but that time doesn’t appear to be imminent. The efforts ofÂ publishers to reach the coloring book enthusiast market has taken a variety of forms, from the Hillary Clinton coloring book, to Game of Thrones (from the Guardian: “The Game of Thrones Coloring Book Really Isn’t For Kids“).
To read more about the topic, there are some excellent think pieces (such asÂ this and this), which delve into the coloring book phenomenon that might be causing a global shortage of pencils.Â Not everyone is a fan, however.
What do you think about the coloring book phenomenon? Do you have any first-hand experience? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!