I Can See Clearly Now
Lucinda Dyer -- 7/31/00
With major houses seeing the bigger picture, large-print publishing is
experiencing significant growth and renewed importance
What do publishers envision as they peer into the future? These days, what many of them behold is...16-point type. With one American turning 50 every seven minutes and 13.5 million Americans over 45 already having trouble reading the small print on everything from menus to the yellow pages, the large-print book is finally coming into its own.
According to a 1999 survey published in USA Today, adults over 65 spend the most time reading of any age group--more than an hour and 15 minutes a day. When The Lighthouse National Survey on Vision Loss asked Americans to cite the most severe problem resulting from their poor vision, 25% reported it was an inability to read books, newspapers and magazines with standard-sized type.
Even the federal government is responding to problems created by hazy vision. By 2012, road signs must boast new 6-inch-high letters, an increase of two inches--all the better to help you find your way to the local bookstore for a large-print book.
My, How You've Changed!
Once a sleepy backwater in the world of publishing, large print looks to be the next fast track to new markets. Rights to the most sought after large-print titles are now being auctioned for as much as six figures. Gone are the days when customers searching for a large-print book were lucky to find a handful of outdated titles shoved to the back of a dusty shelf. Today, bookstores carry an ever-increasing selection of large-print titles, many of which are released simultaneously with the trade editions.
Thorndike Press, which takes its name from the Maine city in which it's based, has been publishing large-print fiction and nonfiction since 1978. The company's first list offered 48 titles, primarily bestsellers and literary classics. In 2000, Thorndike will publish more than 1,000 titles that range from New York Times bestsellers to SF, romance and westerns. One of the most significant changes publisher Fred Olsen has seen in recent years is the sheer number of titles finding their way into this format. "It's gone from less than 100 titles a year in the early '80s," he tells PW, "to 1,800 per year. For the reader, it's not 'what's available in large print,' but 'is this title done in large print?' In fact, of the 3,500 or so hardcover fiction titles published in the U.S., more than a third will be available in large print. One in three--that gives the reader a tremendous selection."
In the last 15 years, Walker and Company, which publishes large-print books for the Christian and inspirational market, has seen its list grow to more than 150 active titles, including works by such heavy hitters as Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis and Max Lucado. During that time, sales director Christopher Carey has watched the large print market "grow at a steady pace in both chains and independents." He notes, too, the tremendous increase in online sales "as people discover large print for the first time and take advantage of the ease of online ordering."
Mary Wheeler, publisher and co-owner of Wheeler Publishing, has also seen major changes in the seven years since the house began a large-print program. One of the most significant, she says, has been the timely availability of bestsellers--no longer must consumers wait six months or even a year to find the large-print editions of those titles. Wheeler also is positive about the expanding nature of large print. "Large-print publishers are now creating genres--inspiration, religion and classics--to meet customer demand."
One change within Wheeler, adds its publisher, was the creation last fall of Large Print Press. Six months after a book's hardcover publication, it will bring out tradepaper editions of Wheeler's hottest titles at an affordable $10.95-$13.95.
But perhaps most importantly, large print is not just for seniors anymore. "The large-print reading community," says Jennifer Hufford, editor of the Doubleday Large Print Book Club, "has expanded to include a substantial number of people who read large-print books simply because it's easier. They appreciate being able to relax with a good book at night without having to wear their glasses." Then, too, note some players, there's the fact that more and more Americans have gotten accustomed to increasing the type size on their computer screens--why shouldn't they enjoy the same readability in their books?
Enter New Players at Large
Until very recently, most publishers viewed large print as an awkward stepchild. Last year, however, Random House decided to give its 16-point titles the Cinderella treatment and made a dramatic shift in its approach to the format, and backed up this shift with a marketing budget that topped $1 million. Formerly part of Random House's audio division, large print had never been "a high priority," admits associate publisher Christine McNamara. "But we saw a huge potential market with the graying of America--a market that was not being serviced or explored."
The publisher is well into the first year of a massive relaunch of its large-print program, which has included advertising, special promotions and specially created point-of-purchase materials. It's been money and effort well spent, reports McNamara: sales in the first six months of the program are nearly three times that of the previous year.
|Bestsellers and classics|
from three major players--
Random House, Simon &Schuster
Random House Large Print now lists more than 80 titles, and anticipates adding 15 to 20 new titles in each upcoming season--all to be published at the same time and at same price as the trade editions. "From the beginning," says Jenny Frost, president of Random House Audio and Random House Diversified Publishing, "we knew there was a tremendous untapped market for good-looking, comparably priced large-print books that has never been served through the retail community. And with the support of our retail partners, we are positioned to capture this market. We also felt that if we were truly successful with the relaunch, other companies would join in and the market would be even stronger. The more of us working together, the better off we will all be."
And "more" seems to be happening, as Random House isn't the only publisher taking a new and aggressive look at large print. At Simon & Schuster, "We've been taking shots in ones and twos," says Dennis Eulau, trade division general manager, "but fall 2000 is our real volley into large-print publishing. We're sticking with bestsellers and what accounts like Borders tell us is selling--memoirs, romance, thrillers and mysteries. And we feel that women's fiction will be big for us. We're always looking for growth, and large print is a natural extension for our bestsellers."
Among the bestsellers for which Eulau has high hopes are Stephen Ambrose's Nothing Like It in the World (Aug.), David Hays's Today I Am a Boy (Oct.) and Tina Sinatra's My Father's Daughter (Oct.). He, too, notes the importance of simultaneous publication: "All our large print titles will be available at the same time, at the same price, and in the same format."
Just in 'Time'
Currently available only by subscription, a large print version of Time Magazine will soon make its way onto newsstands and into bookstores...
Click here for more!
In September 1999, HarperCollins debuted Harper Large Print Editions with nine trade titles and the Harper Large Print Classic series with six. HC had never before published large print, reports associate publisher Carrie Kania, so the venture was "unexplored territory." The 15 titles have now become 57, all selected, hopes Kania, "to give retailers' large-print sections life and variety." One selection that was an immediate winner is Sidney Poitier's Measure of a Man. Kania credits its success to the fact that it speaks to an older demographic as well has having a spiritual element. "Of course," she adds, "it didn't hurt that he was on Oprah."
HarperCollins has chosen to publish its large-print editions in trade paperback, with all new titles to be published simultaneously with the trade editions. Kania sees "10 to 15 new titles per season if we continue at this pace. With the acquisition of William Morrow and Avon, we're thrilled to be able to publish Kathleen Woodiwiss and Elizabeth Lowell, both of whom we feel are perfect for large print."
Still More on the Horizon
Also coming on board in 2000 with their first large print titles are Perseus Publishing and Johns Hopkins University Press. In December, Perseus, which had previously licensed its titles to other publishers, will publish a large-print edition of Dr. James Fries's 400,000-copy seller, Living Well: Taking Care of Your Health in Middle and Later Years. According to senior editor Marnie Cochran, this initial venture was a result of feedback from readers and HMOs who encouraged the publisher to bring the book out in large-print format. "We'll be carefully watching the book's performance," Cochran tells PW, "and if it d s well, we'll seriously consider how other books on our backlist might translate."
For Johns Hopkins, the decision to begin publishing large-print editions of its consumer health series fit easily into the house's belief that neither language nor type size should be a barrier to readers. Due in December--and marketed under the slogan, "The Biggest Name in Consumer Health Just Got Bigger"--are The Eye Book by Gary Cassel, M.D., et al. and The 36 Hour Day by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, M.D. In print since 1982, the latter title, says marketing director MaryKatherine Callaway, is "the bible for families caring with anyone with Alzheimer's."
|Spirituality and self-help|
are widely popular; these two
are from Walker &Co.
and Johns Hopkins
The decision to keep the cost for the series--trade paperbacks priced at $19.95--moderate was also an easy one. "That price," says Callaway, "d s not cover our costs, but as a nonprofit university press, one of our goals is to make information available and affordable to as many people as possible."
What's Selling Big
With the flames now being fanned for large-print titles, what's hot? Just about everything, say retailers. From biographies and thrillers to romance and reference, readers of all ages and interests are now embracing large-print books.
In this era of specialty stores, it should come as no surprise that there's at least one devoted to this area of publishing--Denver's The Large Print Book boasts customers from 20 to 90, stocks more than 2,000 titles and d s a brisk mail-order business through its catalogue--in, of course, large print. Owner Marian Haugh says that mysteries, particularly cozies, are her #1 sellers: "Our customers are not looking for blood, gore or explicit sex." Classic titles by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are a strong second.
At Hastings Entertainment's 143 stores, the large-print bestseller last year was Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation Speaks, followed so far in 2000 by John Grisham's The Brethren. Buyer Chris Evert reports steady sales in health and reference, as well as fiction. "Christian titles are becoming strong for us, and we are actively looking for more--we routinely have five or six inspirational books in our top 20," he says. Evert is also both surprised and pleased by the field's "growing diversity--there are now an increasing number of titles that appeal to readers under 50."
Leading the way in sales at Barnes & Noble are the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, The Greatest Generation Speaks and titles by Patricia Cornwell and Danielle Steel. Director of corporate communications Debra Williams tells PW that the chain currently stocks "500 large-print titles and growing," with stores devoting from two to seven shelves to the books. At Davis-Kidd Bookstore in Nashville, which typically shelves 350-500 large-print titles, general manager Tony Mize singles out biography, history and literary fiction as bestsellers and gives special mention to The Greatest Generation Speaks, Katharine Graham's Personal History and Jan Karon's Mitford series.
Laura Crutchfield, marketing manager for Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Ky., sees brisk sales across all categories but notes that dictionaries, Bibles and biographies as particularly strong. Recent top sellers included The Greatest Generation Speaks and Andrew Weil's Eat Well for Optimum Health. In Sarasota, Fla., Circle Books co-owner Eric Lamboley reports that it's legal thrillers and beach reads, with "a few Harry Potters sold to adults."
While women's fiction and romance have been traditional favorites at the Doubleday Large Print Book Club, Jennifer Hufford reports "a shift in member buying habits, which we are acknowledging by diversifying our selections. We're seeing a strong positive response to thrillers and male fiction by authors like Nelson DeMille, John Jakes, Tom Clancy and Ken Follett, and we're also offering more spiritual and inspirational titles, including books from Sylvia Browne and Max Lucado. We've seen a significant rise in sales for Christian fiction--Janette Oke and Beverly Lewis are two very strong authors for the Club." Current Featured Selections are Anne Rivers Siddons's Nora, Nora and Rosamund Pilcher's Winter Solstice.
Amazon.com's bestselling large-print categories are health, aging, religion (Bibles), classics, mystery, romance and biographies. As for individual bestsellers, large-print buyer Rob McDonald mentions both Tom Brokaw books and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
McDonald also sees a new trend in kids' titles, which he thinks "reflects kids with learning disabilities finding the big font easier to work with."
Three years ago, Mitchell Lane Publishers, in Bear, Del., inaugurated its Real Life Reader Biographies, a series of multicultural life stories that are each 32 pages in length and are written at a fourth-grade reading level. They are, says president Beverly Mitchell, "serious biographies for elementary-level young and adult readers that profile people they really want to read about." The first list of six, which included Mariah Carey and Tommy Nunez (the only Latino referee in the NBA), has now expanded to 53. Mia Hamm topped the list in 1999, with Christina Aguilera and Drew Barrymore due to follow in September. "The books have been so well received," says Mitchell, "that we plan on releasing at least 20 titles a year." Booksellers are not only stocking the Mitchell Lane series: for many, the books have become an important tool for community involvement. Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Ky., regularly donates books from the series to Kentucky's Operation Read, which focuses on adult literacy and ESL students.
In the fall of 1999, Thorndike expanded its list to include the younger reader. Following what Olsen calls "feedback from impassioned parents," the publisher launched its Young Adult Large Print Series with The Sorcerer's Stone. Olsen plans to publish 24 titles in 2000 and 40 in 2001 with a focus on "Newbery Award-winners and PW YA bestsellers."
Spreading the Word
Now that the large-print ball is in active play, how do publishers and retailers plan to market the format and keep the game lively? One obvious answer would be to determine where the large-print reader lives and concentrate marketing efforts in those cities. True or false: the Sun Belt leads the way for large-print readership.
False, says Random House's McNamara. The publisher has found that the stores with the strongest large-print business are, quite simply, the stores that pay attention to this area. "Accounts who are doing extremely well are in areas as diverse as Seattle, Sarasota, Dallas and Washington, D.C. Stores that worked on merchandising these titles in high-traffic areas saw improved results. Special table-top promotions and cross-merchandising with the trade editions were also highly successful in increasing sales." RH helps all this high visibility with a spinner rack that holds up to 60 large-print titles--all the better to display such hot forthcoming releases as Liz Smith's Natural Blonde and Nicholas Sparks's The Rescue.
HarperCollins has concentrated its marketing efforts on introductory brochures directed to booksellers, in addition to publicity mailings for each new title to radio, TV, print and senior-citizen media. And when authors such as Sidney Poitier make appearances, the publisher makes certain that their large-print editions are ready and waiting to be bought and autographed. "The better booksellers get at selling and merchandising large print titles," believes Kania, the more new customers they will draw. This is a whole new untapped market--the possibilities for large-print publishing are endless."
Walker and Company offers to booksellers shelf talkers and special window posters that read "Large print books sold here." One such title that the company is bullish on is Tracey Stewart's bestselling memoir of her husband, Payne Stewart, due in September.
Johns Hopkins Press, says Callaway, "prides itself on being very resourceful in getting the word out--we'll be marketing online, linking to various Web sites and seeing that the books are featured in a variety of newsletters." Perseus will also take its large-print debut online, marketing to health and medical advice sites, as well as those that serve the senior market.
Amazon.com launched a special "Search by Large Print Format" feature on May 26. It has also integrated search mechanisms into various category pages so that anyone browsing the mystery page will find a link to bestselling large-print mysteries. "We've been prepping for large print for over a year," says McDonald. "First and foremost, because of all those aging boomers who shop the Web frequently and have plenty of expendable income. And, secondly, publishers who also recognize this trend are increasingly adding large-print editions to their mix."
How Can Publishers Help
So what can publishers do to encourage booksellers to expand their large-print sections? Evert at Hastings is pleased to see the Harry Potter large-print editions and encourages publishers to provide a broader range of fiction that would appeal to the 20- and 30-something crowd. He also hopes that "prices will be more in line with hardcover editions." Haugh at The Large Print Book is happy to see an expanding roster of classics, but would like to see publishers do more history and science--often requested, she says, but very hard to find.
Williams at B&N suggests that publishers "may want to consider adjusting font sizes. E-books are becoming increasingly popular because consumers can adjust font sizes." For Circle Books' Lamboley, simultaneous publication is key: "Customers are looking for a book when it comes out--six months later, and you lose sales." Davis-Kidd's Mize suggests that publishers actively promote large-print books during a wide range of holidays, from Mother's Day to Christmas.
Looking to the Future
Fifteen years ago, the audiobook was the new format on the publishing horizon. There were endless debates about who would buy them and fears that readers would give up a lazy afternoon with the newest hardcover bestseller for the ease of popping in a cassette and listening to Sidney Sheldon on their daily commute. But today, the audiobook is a thriving adjunct to a publisher's list, bringing in new "readers" to bookstores across the country.
for S&S's Collins title; Hopkins's newest
fits the format
And so, most believe, will be the future of the large-print book. It won't be long, says Thorndike's Olsen, "before every book is available in alternative formats such as audio and large print." Random House's Frost also sees nothing but a positive outlook: "Ultimately, with the development of print-on-demand--not to mention e-books--we'll be able to have every title published by Random House available in large print. This will be a tremendous boon for consumers and will redefine the large-print business as we know it."
So for the millions of us who have seen our insatiable appetite for books waning as our vision d s, the large-print book means a chance to curl up again with authors from Tom Clancy to Thomas Hardy--even if we can't remember where we left our glasses.
Back To Features
Just in 'Time'
Late every Saturday night, after Time magazine has closed its latest issue, a staff of editors and art directors arrives to begin transforming the news magazine into Time Large Edition. The large-print edition contains 80% (soon to be 100%) of the magazine's original content and all of its regular departments--including, of course, the book reviews. Currently available only by subscription, plans call for Time Large Edition to soon make its way onto newsstands and into bookstores.
The idea for a large-print edition had been in the works, says Time president Bruce Hallett, since 1996. "Time for Kids, which we started in 1995, was our first foray into providing the magazine to a distinctive segment of the population. Its success proved that we could make an exceptional magazine tooled for specific consumers."
Launched in January 2000, Time Large Edition has earned rave reviews from readers. "The satisfaction level," reports Time marketing manager Debby Lowenstein, "is off the charts. I'm used to subscribers calling to complain, but with Time Large Edition, we've received so many amazing calls from longtime subscribers who are thrilled to be able to read the magazine again."
Time Large Edition also found a devoted readership in some unexpected segments of the market--fitness buffs who discovered that large print was easier to read on their exercise bikes, teenagers who found world news in 16-point type far less intimidating, and enthusiastic teachers in adult literacy and ESL programs. Such new markets come as no surprise to Hallett, who believes that "we have not begun to patrol the borders of what the large-print market can become."
As with any new venture, reader devotion must be followed by an equal measure of devotion from advertisers. And one of the first on board was Random House Large Print. In May 1999, Time ran an article on large-print publishing, which included an interview with Random House associate publisher Christine McNamara. The news about an upcoming large-print Time couldn't have come at a better moment. "It offered us a really targeted consumer base," says McNamara. "They were in launch mode and we wanted to get in on the ground floor. Time is a solid magazine with a great reputation and we felt it would be a natural partnership." Random House Large Print signed a three-year commitment with the new Time edition that will see its titles featured on full-page ads 12 times a year.
And it looks as if Random House will not be the only publisher taking advantage of the magazine's rapidly expanding readership. "We're currently in discussions with Time Large Edition about cross-promotional opportunities," says HarperCollins associate publisher Carrie Kania, "and hope to have an agreement worked out in the near future."
Time is looking forward to partnering with an increasing number of large-print publishers. "Consumers are voracious for more intelligent large-print reading materials," says Lowenstein, "and working with these publishers will open up new opportunities for all of us."