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Child’s Play: Millennial Women Drive Sales of Adult Coloring Books

2 minute read | June 2016

This season’s hottest beach reads may require a flat surface and a box of colored pencils. The popularity of coloring books, especially those geared toward adults, has been steadily increasing since the beginning of 2015, and a set of new releases should continue to power the genre’s growth through the summer.

According to Nielsen BookScan data from the 2015 U.S. Book Industry Year Review, 12 million copies of coloring books were sold in the U.S. last year, up from just 1 million in 2014, and more than 2,000 coloring books were published last year, compared with 300 the previous year. The adult coloring book genre was particularly in-demand during the winter holiday season, with more than 3 million units sold between mid-November and mid-December.

But these DIY books aren’t any fun without the necessary coloring tools, and the rise in book sales has been flanked by a similar trend in colored pencil sales. In fact, in the past year alone (year ended April 30), Americans spent $128.2 million on colored pencils. That’s a 47% spike from the previous year. And prior to this year, colored pencil sales had been relatively flat in the $74 million-$79 million range.

Sales of adult coloring books isn’t child’s play. In fact, two adult coloring books were so popular last year that they landed spots on Nielsen’s 2015 Top 20 cross-genre bestseller list: Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, which sold 765,000 copies and 675,000 copies, respectively.

Basford’s third book, Lost Ocean, is the second-best selling coloring book of 2016 to date through week ending April 3, trailing only the Harry Potter Coloring Book. Other top-selling adult-oriented coloring books this year include: Whatever Is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Reflection and Worship (fifthtop-selling through April), Tropical World: A Coloring Book Adventure (seventh), Adult Coloring Books: A Coloring Book for Adults (eighth), Doctor Who Coloring Book (ninth), and Today Is Going To Be A Great Day (10th).

So who’s driving the surge in adult coloring book sales? According to Nielsen’s Books & Consumers data, a December 2015 survey showed it’s primarily younger women. Some 71% of genre buyers are female, with the largest representation coming from the 18-29 age group; Millennials overall are 29% more likely to buy an adult coloring book than all buyers.

Adults across all demographic groups who love the genre should have plenty to keep them occupied for the next few months. Some major releases include The Walking Dead Coloring Book (May 10), The World of Debbie Macomber (April 26), Imagimorphia (June 21) and Basford’s fourth book, Magical Jungle (August 9). Young adults, coloring books’ original fans, also have something big to look forward to: The Harry Potter Magical Creatures Postcard Coloring Book will be available on June 28. That should keep the entire family busy during summer break.

For additional insights, download Nielsen’s 2015 U.S. Book Industry Year-End Review.

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