If you’re reading this post on a computer monitor that’s set to the recommended screen resolution, you’re probably viewing 13-point type. When you read a hardcover book, you’re looking at text that’s in 11- to 13-point type. Pick up a mass-market paperback, and you’ll notice the type is smaller, usually 10-point. If you have a low vision disability, none of these options will do you much good.
Low vision is decreased vision that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or surgery. Vision loss may be severe enough to impede everyday activities, but the affected person has some functionally useful sight. You might think of it as a problem that mainly affects older people (and you’d be right), but based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s report “Americans With Disabilities: 2002,” 189,000 children aged six to 14 years old have difficulty seeing words and letters in ordinary newsprint, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. Over 7.8 million Americans over age 15 are similarly afflicted. Many of these people would love to read YA books!
This is the audience that Thorndike Press targets with their large print young adult books. They market their own large-print editions and distribute those from other publishers. Hot series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson are available in these 16-point type editions. Other major publishers have their own imprints; for example, Hachette Large Print publishes James Patterson’s mega-hit young adult series Maximum Ride and Daniel X.
In general, if a YA book is a cross-generational hit, it will be issued in large print some time after the regular hardcover hits the market. The lag time seems to be directly proportional to the author’s prestige and track record. For example:
- The large print edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out just three weeks after the hardback.
- James Patterson’s regular font and large print books are published simultaneously.
- Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood came out in hardcover in August 2011, but the large print edition won’t be available until September 2012. However, given the success of the first book, the wait for the large print edition of the second book in the series, Girl of Nightmares, is much shorter (August to October of the same year).
I contacted librarians who purchase large print YA titles for public libraries. Their primary demand comes from adults who want to read popular YA books. Secondary demand comes from teens who just want to get their hands on a copy of a hot book, no matter the font size!
Beyond satisfying the urge to read a bestseller, research shows that large print books can benefit children and teens with learning disabilities, particularly those who have dyslexia. Reluctant readers, and those who are visual learners, also can benefit from large print books: the larger font and increased white space can help to improve word recognition, comprehension, and fluency.
Though one might need or want to read large print books for a variety of reasons, no one of any age or ability wants books that scream LARGE PRINT to the world. Their covers intentionally are the same as regular font editions. They’re roughly the same size and have the same page layout, so they fit in lockers and backpacks and track page-to-page with regular hardcovers.
What about if you want to read a book that’s not a top-ten bestseller? In 2010, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (headquartered in London) found that only 15 percent of the most popular 1000 books of 2009 were available in an “accessible format” (large print, Braille, or unabridged audio). This number jumped up to 54 percent when they added titles available as e-books. I think it’s reasonable to assume that similar numbers pertain to the U.S. market. That leaves 46 percent of popular books inaccessible to millions of people just because of the format in which they were published! Too many people who would love to read titles from midlist authors and smaller presses just do not have that option.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that e-readers and tablets may obviate the need for large print books in the near future. Lighthouse International, an organization devoted to vision rehabilitation and advocacy for the blind, notes that users can adjust print size up to 40 points on the Kindle and to 56 points on the iPad. E-books would give readers with low vision issues access to any title that’s available electronically, greatly broadening their choices. Still, until e-readers decrease in price and improve in battery life, and major publishers allow public libraries to offer more titles to their patrons, large print books will continue to fill a critical need.
— Suzanne Neumann, currently reading Tempest by Julie Cross