For an artist, Rachel LaBarre is proving to be a savvy businesswoman. The creator and publisher of the Very Adult Coloring Books line of, well, adult coloring books is more than aware that the bubble may burst any day. An activity once reserved just for kids, the popularity of adult coloring has spiked over the last year with some titles landing on bestseller lists and adult coloring nights popping up at bars. LaBarre, along with local companies such as Oceanside's Color Ink Book and the Escondido-based ColorIt, have seen the trend become especially popular locally. In fact, according to Amazon, San Diego is one of four U.S. markets where adult coloring books consistently rank among the website's bestselling print titles.
Still, LaBarre says she isn't taking anything for granted.
"I think that now that it's a thing, more people will be open to trying it and the holidays will be great, but from the business side of it, I anticipate there will be a day where the demand is not as high," says LaBarre, who started Very Adult earlier this year after seeing other books "surge" in popularity among her friends. "The shock value is wearing off and the market is becoming so saturated."
For now, LaBarre says sales and popularity has "been climbing ever since" she released the first Very Adult book in January. She has her own theories as to how the trend started in the first place. LaBarre says companies like Etsy have made DIY and craft culture more mainstream and that crafters and artists are more inclined to turn what was previously a hobby into a business. She also cites the recent culinary trend toward accessible "comfort food" as a parallel theory. That because of the recession, consumers began to gravitate toward food, and in the case of adult coloring, activities that were not only affordable, but would also create a sense of nostalgia for simpler times.
Adam Washburn—who along with his brother Jason started Color Ink Book in 2008 at the height of the recession—has also seen online sales of their "DIY Art Periodical" do a lot better lately. Color Ink may have the distinction of being the first local coloring book marketed toward adults. The book takes the work of established lowbrow and pop-surrealist artists and renders them in black-and-white so that purchasers can color them in. However, Washburn says the trend still has some ways to go before it's fully accepted by some of the larger arts and crafts stores.
"We'll still try to get the book into places like Michael's and they'll say something like, 'Well, our customers wouldn't go for something like this,'" Washburn says. "I'll tell them that they're just missing out on what's turned into a huge market."
It remains to be seen whether the market for adult coloring books will go the way of artsy trends like those Magic Eye 3-D posters, but folks like Washburn and LaBarre seem to be doing it for the right reasons.
"It engages a different part of our brains," LaBarre says. "Being able to tangibly and physically contribute in that way without the pressure of worrying about the result will always be gratifying to people."