By the end of 2015 Octopus's adult colouring list stood at around 25 books and in a year we’d clocked up sales of more than 3million units. Our practical art imprint, Ilex, were early adopters on the commissioning front but the majority of the books were smart acquisitions from France by our group publishing director, Denise Bates, who had seen the trend take off there and convinced our sales team that they should take a punt that something similar was about to happen in the UK. Turnaround times have been quick, stock carefully managed (with frequent reprints) and retailers have responded favourably with strong displays of the range, including such bestsellers as Winter Wonderland and Cats: Colouring for Mindfulness. But as a wave of colouring books have hit the shelves, often with very similar-looking covers (intricate line art with splashes of bright pastels) the challenge now is to publish something that grabs attention in a very crowded market. Our response has been to work with some key talents from the Conran Octopus list and bring something new and more design-savvy to the genre.
In early November we published Vogue Colouring Book and immediately saw the benefit of the roughly crayoned logo of one of the world’s most valuable brands. The book was created by eminent fashion journalist, Iain R.Webb, who took his inspiration from a cache of classic images from Vogue in the 1950s. Each drawing was accompanied by a snippet of original text that had appeared with the photograph on publication, adding a delightful period charm to the book (‘happiness is a little jewelled hat’). The jacket broke all the conventions in its simplicity – offering just a logo and a deftly drawn pair of eyes and a mouth (at one point there was discussion about adding an earring to give the consumer ‘something else to colour in’ but the author held firm that simple was best and was proved to be right). Getting press for a colouring book can be a challenge but here was one that was covered widely, including a three-page feature in Stella magazine. Since publication on 5th November it has reached close to 20,000 Nielsen TCM-registered sales, with a broad range of retailers supporting the book including Waterstones, Asda, Liberty, Amazon and the independent book trade. Vintage Vogue: detachable postcards to colour in follows in April (Conran Octopus, £7.99) and Iain is already creating another Vogue colouring book for June.
Another valuable design brand from the Conran Octopus stable is ‘queen of pattern’ Orla Kiely and we publish Orla Kiely Colouring Book at the beginning of March (Conran Octopus £10) in time for Mother’s Day. The book is a thing of beauty, even if one never coloured in a single petal, and our hunch is that there’s a large crossover of Orla fans with those already caught by the grown-up colouring bug (and it has cats).
We are also very proud to be publishing the first book by emerging fashion and lifestyle brand, David David, with the David David Pop Colouring Book in February (Conran Octopus, £10). David Saunders, the artist behind the brand, began his career in the YBA scene, including a stint as Tracey Emin’s studio manager, and is now creating dazzling patterns for t-shirts, umbrellas and homeware. His book manages to combine the intricate patterns much-loved by hardcore colouring fans with a certain urban cool and the cover is a riot of strong, jewel-like colour which, like that of Vogue Colouring Book, will stand out on the shelf.
Like everyone else who is enjoying the benefits of colouring for grown-ups, Octopus has no firm idea of the how long the trend will last but in the meantime we’ll focus on working with strong brands, creating covers that stand out on the shelves and making the most of events that provide a good sales hook – from Vogue's year of centenary events to the display opportunities that Mother's Day provides. And of course I am having more fun at work than I've had in almost three decades of illustrated publishing.
Alison Starling is publisher at Octopus Publishing Group.
Picture of Starling: Michael Newington Gray