The words "large-print publishing" may never conjure visions of high-profile auctions with houses battling over million-dollar deals that set the heart pounding and the eyes gleaming, but most publishers in the category say that's just fine. In fact, the relative stability of the large-print format has traditionally been a major selling point in a tumultuous industry.
I wouldn't want to say that it's recession proof, but it's a popular niche," says Jamie Knobloch, publisher of category heavyweight Thorndike Press. The publisher releases more than 1,100 books a year in the large-print format, focusing on bestsellers and genre fiction, and also distributes large-print titles for Hachette Book Group, HarperLuxe, and Mills & Boon (sister company of Harlequin), among others.
HarperCollins couldn't have predicted the economic downturn when it launched the HarperLuxe line five years ago, planning to capitalize on the growing baby boomer audience. The imprint offers editions that discreetly feature the HarperLuxe name and logo, along with wide margins and 14-point type—easier on the eyes than standard 11-point type, yet smaller than the 16-point industry standard for large print.
Despite the difficult climate, the line has weathered the recession without a hitch. "Large print is a moneymaker," says Liate Stehlik, HarperLuxe publisher. "We haven't seen sales in the category fall off at all."
The picture isn't quite so rosy everywhere. The publisher/director of large print for Hachette, Anthony Goff, says the publisher's large-print business dipped 9% in fiscal 2010, after posting a gain of 16% the year before. Despite that hiccup, Goff says he's "feeling very optimistic about 2011, as we are already up 47% in quarter one over quarter one in 2010."
Most publishers emphasize that libraries play the largest role in determining the category's overall health, since they continue to form the core of large-print business. Particularly important are standing-order series, grouped around selections like mystery, romance, African-American interest, Christian fiction, or top-reviewed titles.
The Australian-owned Read How You Want launched in 2004 after the cofounder's sister developed trouble reading following an MS diagnosis. RHYW works with a host of publishers to make books available via POD in six different sizes of its trademark Easy Read large print, as well as in Braille and DAISY editions, and has more than 10,000 titles on offer. As a relatively new player still building library contacts, this period has been more difficult for RHYW than for companies with large numbers of standing orders from libraries, acknowledges publisher representative Bradi Grebien-Samkow.
"Sometimes it's difficult for libraries to add books not purchased through standing orders. Maybe in the next few years they will be able to add our titles," Grebien-Samkow says. "We are focusing more on direct marketing to libraries."
Severn House chairman Edwin Buckhalter is less optimistic, given a significant drop in the publisher's large-print sales in the past six months at the same time regular print numbers have improved. While Severn House has continued to do well with mysteries in both the U.S. and England, it has struggled recently with romance and other women's fiction titles, causing Buckhalter to question the viability of continuing to invest in the small print runs necessary for this market. He holds that large print's "traditional print format is threatened by decreasing library budgets and the necessary advance of e-books."
But publishers that have been able to maintain library subscriptions have fared better. Thorndike, for instance, has more than 40 standing order series. Knobloch cites this as a reason its sales haven't fluctuated greatly, despite a drop in trade business. "Librarians are protecting the large- print budget as much as possible," she says.
Check It Out
In January 2010 the American Library Association released "The Condition of Libraries: 1999–2009," a report demonstrating how libraries are "feeling the pinch of the economic downturn while managing sky-high use." The findings came as little surprise. The ALA has long predicted increased demand during tough economic times, and libraries across the country have seen budgets remain flat or be slashed due to state and local funding crises.