The Paper Trail: Paper’s Epic Comeback

by • July 28, 2016 • Merchandising + TrendsComments Off on The Paper Trail: Paper’s Epic Comeback2007

It’s a digital world, indeed — we’re all just living in it. But paper products, office accessories, and adult coloring books have made a strong resurgence with Generation X and millennials alike. Find out which items are leading the way and how “analog” products are staying uber relevant.

We’re living dual lives: in one, we’re keeping track of our appointments and to-do lists with the help of apps and electronic planners; in the other, we’re doodling in our colorful paper agendas and writing reminders on fancy Post-it-inspired sticky notes. We’re playing with Pokémon and collecting different colored highlighters for our desks. And we’re snapping videos on Snapchat, then unwinding with an adult coloring book — which have become so popular that two adult-centric coloring books landed on Nielsen’s Top 20 “cross-genre bestseller” list in 2015 (Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden and The Enchanted Forest). 

How have paper-based products emerged as popular items in such a digitally-charged world? Well, not only have they managed to hold their own in the face of our increasing digital dependance, but greeting cards, agendas, and other office accessories are among the popular “lifestyle” items displayed at gift shops and bookstores.

These products are high-margin Gift & Novelties items that are easy to add and display in your shop or online store as “trend” items. (They can also boost your units per transaction as they are easy, impulse buys.)

So get ready to take notes…

Want to get started adding “lifestyle” wholesale merchandise to your shop or site? Get your free ticket here to ASD Market Week here.

Coloring Books Grow Up

Adult coloring books have been a trend since the beginning of 2015. They’ve been spotted everywhere from bookstores (both national chains and indie shops) to museum, hotel, and airport gift shops.

According to Nielsen, about 12 million copies of coloring books for all ages were sold in the United States in 2015 (compared to one million sold the year before).

Here are some more stats from Nielsen BookScan data to illustrate the magnitude of this trend:

-The holiday period of 2015 was the sales peak for that year, with more than 3 million units sold between mid-November and mid-December (clearly adult coloring books make for great holiday and hostess gifts!).

-During the period of April 2015 to April 2016, Americans spent $128.2 million on colored pencils. That’s a 47% spike from the same period during the previous year.

-According to Nielsen’s Books & Consumers data, a December 2015 survey showed that primarily younger women — aged 18-29 — are leading the charge.

-71% of buyers of this genre are women.

-Millennials overall are 29% more likely to buy an adult coloring book.

Touted as a way to help reduce and manage anxiety as a “mindfulness tool,” coloring books are also highly “shareable” on social media.

We spoke with Katharyne Shelton — Amazon FBA expert, eCommerce consultant, speaker, and founder of online masterclasses such as “Bundles,” “Treasure Hunting,” and “Blue Sky” — to help explain the paper phenomenon:

“The Scottish artist Johanna Basford really spearheaded the resurgence in adult coloring books. Her books Secret Garden and The Enchanted Forest are absolutely beautiful, with gorgeous tactile paper, high-quality print, and intricate designs that really capture the imagination…Coloring books serve some serious purposes, too. They are a fantastic tool for learning. For example, The Anatomy Coloring Book is extremely popular with medical students, and of course, coloring books are recognized for being therapeutic. Art therapy has been popular in formal medical settings for many years but the new wave of coloring books has given everyone a way to relieve stress.”

All the colours! #pastels #staedtler

A photo posted by Johanna Basford (@johannabasford) on

Coloring Books Led to Other Products

Shelton continues: “Coloring provides adults with tactile stimulation and the sense of having ‘treats’ and ‘toys’ that we otherwise miss in the grown-up, digital world. Handling glittery gel pens and watching bright-colored ink seep into paper is very pleasing and there’s even a wealth of scented markers and pens available. There’s a trending sense of nostalgia for the eighties — for those glittery Lisa Frank notebooks and scented stickers and pens.”

Basically, where there is a trend, there are companion products and creative ways to monetize. The coloring trend means colorable wallpaper, coasters, postcards — and of course all kinds of creative art supplies.

Shelton recently taught a back-to-school product class: her research showed that Trapper Keepers (those three-ring binders that hold folders and close with a flap) and Lisa Frank products are flying high in popularity with Millennials. (And Generation X is secretly — or not so secretly — indulging, too!)

Speaking of Lisa Frank, the company recently announced it will be releasing a line of adult coloring books. Color us happy!

Online Coloring Book Classes

Katharyne Shelton honed in on the adult coloring book phenomenon and saw an amazing opportunity: leveraging Amazon’s CreateSpace service to not only publish professional quality books at zero cost, but also launch them on the world’s biggest marketplace. Shelton and her partner, Isaac, figured out how to market these books with the niche-targeting they had learned with their other programs, Bundles and Create. Today, they offer a successful online course that emboldens users to create and sell the products of their dreams.

The Influence of Social Media

Monogrammed via @thedailyedited #flatlay

A photo posted by @deskgoals on

Adult coloring books aren’t the only paper-inspired items making waves. Stationery, agendas, and office accessories are important pieces of the Gifts & Novelties pie.

And we’re crediting social media for boosting this trend even more.

Shelton observes: “Coloring fits the current social media generation because we have such a strong urge to share and people love to share their colored pictures, photos of their art supplies, and also just talk about their hobbies. The rise in coloring Facebook groups and Pinterest boards is astonishing. Many artists give away downloads of individual pages to promote their physical books, and art supplies are always a popular prize in online contests.”

Thanks to Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest, the workspaces of bloggers and creatives are on display, always featuring an aspirational setting.

On Instagram, you’ll find hashtags such as #deskgoals (which has over 9,600 posts), as well as an Instagram account by the same name with over 6,000 followers, dedicated solely to showcasing desk decor. And the hashtag #desksituation boasts more than 11K posts!

51++rnCAHWLDesks are decked out with accessories like file folders, paper mousepads / notepads, pencils, pens, and highlighters. These items serve as social media material, but they’re also fun ways to decorate and personalize your workspace. As I look at my own desk while typing away, it’s accessorized with a rainbow assortment of colored pens, sticky note pads, and a professional highlighter “recharger” by Faber-Castell. Do I need this “textliner refill” bottle? Not really. But it looks mighty fancy on my desk!


Meet the Popular Brands

A fun and fresh brand taking the stationary world by storm is It got its start in 2008 as a high-end line of vintage floral halos and headbands, with average prices of $165 per item. Celebrities like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry even caught on. soon evolved into a fashion & lifestyle brand, known for eye-catching agendas and notebooks with quirky taglines, pens, pencils, office accessories, and homeware.

Their most recent line of agendas boasts more than 10 custom designs; some are collaborations with more renowned illustrators and designers. Each page features fun graphics and quotes (like “Write down some reasons to party” and “Do whatever, be weird, it’s OK!”), and the agendas even come with a sheet of stickers — for when jotting down notes isn’t enough. isn’t alone in the stylized notebook and agenda category. Kate Spade has offered agendas in its accessory line for years now, and other brands like May Designs and Blue Sky are also producing designy notebooks.

La Vie Este Belle!! ☀️? Photo and lettering by the mega-talented @_hibrid!

A photo posted by may designs (@maydesigns) on

The story behind entrepreneur Mica May of May Designs is one for the books. The tweetable version: “Mica was sick of using ugly notebooks, so she made some pretty ones.”

Desk Accessories, or How to Inspire #deskgoals’s “serious about fun” motto extends to a long line of desk accessories — but these aren’t the run-of-the-mill supplies you might be expecting.

We’re talking 2-in-1 pens & highlighters, tape and tape dispensers (black cat and “cloud shaped” tape dispensers for the win!), paper clips, pencil cases, sticky flags, and sticker bundles.

For more expert tips, check out the Insider’s article on Crossover Buying and Why It’s the Key to Your Retail Business.

Merchandising Inspiration  

If you’re searching for further inspiration on how to merchandise your stationery items, look no further than U.S. retailer Paper Source. founder-turned-creative director Jen Gotch explains in her interview with Stationary Trends:

“I have seen so seamlessly integrated into gift and stationery shops. Paper Source is one of our biggest customers, and they have a great strategy, creating themed displays — often letting color and pattern lead the way. I also think the messaging on some of our bobbi pins and tech products work well with (what) you see on cards and stationery as a whole. For instance our HOORAY girl talk headbands and ‘I am very busy’ iPad sleeves [work well with cards and stationery].”

Words of wisdom!

If you decide to add some lifestyle items to your product assortment, don’t be afraid to mix up your visual presentation and merchandise the items as they would be laid out in someone’s home.

The Takeaway

Can it be that paper products aren’t in the midst of a “comeback,” since they never really went away? Although there’s so much talk about digital devices and e-cards making paper obsolete, maybe there really is room for both worlds, where one complements the other.

At the end of the day, despite all the typing, texting and snapping, there’s nothing quite like the tactile, emotional feeling of a handwritten card, or the sensory effect of scented pens.

So while paper products and desk accessories continue to make waves as “trend items,” consider trying some of these out in your shop — it might be your ticket to rewriting your store’s success!

Looking to source on-trend, high-margin stationery products and gifts + novelties for your shop or site? ASD Market week is a B2B trade event featuring the largest variety of consumer goods in 19+ categories. Effectively nine shows in one at your fingertips. July 31 – August 3 in Las Vegas!

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