March 22, 2016

Explosive sales of adult coloring books lead to explosive sales of adult coloring pencils


There is not a global shortage of these, despite what the British press will tell you. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

There is not a global shortage of these, despite what the British press will tell you. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Adult coloring books—or “colouring-in books,” as they’re sometimes called in the United Kingdom, because apparently the more straightforward terminology might have led to confusion about how one should actually color when confronted with said book—were the biggest publishing phenomenon of 2015.

We first reported on the trend just under a year ago, but at this point, it’s hard to call an omnipresent, unstoppable genre a trend: whether you like it or not, the publishing industry is, at least for the moment, the adult coloring book industry.

But even though coloring books are keeping Barnes & Noble in business, the craze has also produced some negative externalities.

If you’re Telegraph editor Harry de Quetteville, who will probably have to change his name if the UK leaves the European Union, one such externality is cultural regression.

If you’re activist/comedian/vlogger Russell Brand, it’s all about fear, as seen in this analytically correct but mostly insufferable video, which finds Brand auditioning for the new season of Britain’s Next Top Žižek:

But if you’re not a cultural commentator and are, instead, a spokeswoman for a pencil company, the main negative externality is that your name will appear in a number of overheated articles in the British press.

Yesterday, the Independent published an article by Alexandra Sims titled “Adult colouring book craze prompts global pencil shortage.” Sims writes:

“The production of our artists’ pencils has increased strongly compared to the previous year,” Sandra Suppa from Faber-Castell told the Independent.

“Currently, we are running more shifts than usual in our factory in Stein, Bavaria in order to satisfy the global needs for artists pencils related to the colouring trend for adults.”

This sounds like boom times for colored pencils, but not, as per the title of the article, a “global pencil shortage.”

On Saturday, the Telegraph’s Senay Boztas and Colin Freeman spoke to another Faber-Castell spokeswoman, Carlotta Lein, and reported that “Faber Castell, the world’s largest wood pencil manufacturer, [revealed] last week that it was now having to run extra shifts at its factories.”

Again, extra shifts do not a shortage make, yet the article was titled “Colouring-in craze causes pencil shortages.”

On Sunday, Claire Ellicot rewrote the Telegraph article for the Daily Mail. The result was titled “Trend for adult colouring leads to pencil crisis!”

The UK’s Metro newspaper, meanwhile, went with the scolding “There’s a colouring pencil shortage, and we’re all to blame,” while the Mirror opted for the unconventionally capitalized “Colouring books for adults have led to a global shortage of PENCILS.”

Crazes may ebb and flow, but life still offers plenty of certainties: greater demand for one product will usually lead to greater demand for an essential, associated product, and whenever possible, the British press will exaggerate and hyperventilate for dramatic effect. These are truths universally acknowledged.




Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.