Over the past year, Peter Hildick-Smith, founder and CEO of the Codex Group, and Kristen McLean, director of new business development for Nielsen Book, have been following several industry developments that could well shape book sales going forward.

When McLean initially looked at sales data for adult nonfiction titles and saw a significant jump in unit sales, which were up about 6% in the year-to-date period ended December 6 compared to the same period in 2014, she thought that the signs seemed to point toward nesting. After drilling down, she found that “the big story” in nonfiction is adult coloring books. Certainly adult coloring books helped boost holiday sales at bookstores, craft stores, and big-box retailers—and they show no sign of letting up.

“Adult coloring books are key factors in three of the top four adult nonfiction categories,” McLean says. “They make up 14 out of the top 20 for games/hobby/activity, including the top three slots. They are 40 out of the top 50 in art/design. There are even three in the top 20 in self-help.”

It’s no surprise that Johanna Basford’s Lost Ocean, which sold nearly 200,000 copies between its October pub date and the beginning of December, leads the pack. Her coloring book Secret Garden sparked the trend. Two other top sellers in games are: Dover’s Art Nouveau Animals, part of its Creative Haven line, and Detailed Designs and Beautiful Patterns from Lilt Kids Coloring Books. Coloring books for adults have gotten so popular that they now share a BISAC code with activity books in the Games subject heading.

Hildick-Smith takes a multichannel approach to evaluating book trends. He calls the media’s emphasis on the softening of the e-book market throughout 2015 “a distraction.” For him, the real news is the increase in online and mobile shopping, In 2015, he says, for the first time more people shopped online than in physical stores over Thanksgiving weekend. “Online is the dominate force,” he says. “Nobody has the customer focus [Amazon] has.”

In his talk at WI 11, Hildick-Smith will look at different channels and online buyers. He says the fact that so much bookselling has moved online should be particularly worrisome for traditional publishers. “The whole underpinning of publishing is physical retail,” Hildick-Smith says, adding that “otherwise authors can go directly to Amazon.”

Although many bookstores have websites geared toward retail, few do much of their selling online. And some booksellers choose not to sell online at all. Hildick-Smith calls this a mistake. “If you only offer an opportunity to buy with you in one channel, you are missing an opportunity,” he says. “You’re competing against a very powerful online retailer.”

See Hildick-Smith, McLean, and Book Industry Study Group executive director Mark Kuyper in the panel “Overall Trends in Book Retailing” on Monday, January 25, 4:30–5:30 p.m., Plaza Ballroom D.

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