Call them the publishing industry's answer to wide-screen televisions.
In time for summer reading, publishers such as Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group, Harlequin Enterprises, Random House and HarperCollins have launched or plan to launch large-print lines designed to appeal to squinting baby boomers who are discovering that standard type is, well, impossible to read.
The new paperback and hardcover books feature bigger type, more generous spacing and the same cover art as smaller-print versions.
What they don't include is any suggestion that the "comfort-read" type has anything to do with getting older.
"More and more middle-aged consumers are looking for large-print books but don't want to admit that they need large-print books," says Marion Haugh, owner of the Large Print Bookstore in Englewood, Colo. "So they preface their order by saying bigger print is easier to read in bed or on the treadmill or on the beach. Which it is. But the truth is boomers just can't make out the type they used to be able to read. Publishers have realized that there is a whole new market for this format."
According to Lighthouse International (a group that helps people deal with loss of vision), 17 percent of Americans 45 and older have some form of visual impairment.
In 2010, all boomers will have reached that milestone birthday -- a group of about 20 million -- and most will be feeling the effects of presbyopia, the inability to focus on objects close up. (By the time we hit our 40s or 50s, the elasticity of the eye naturally decreases with age, and our close-up sight is affected.)
Those numbers add up to an expanding market for easier-to-read books, a category in the past limited mostly to seniors and individuals with serious visual impairments.
"Those consumers still make up the majority of buyers," says Haugh, who stocks about 2,000 titles in her inventory. "But publishers have noticed the growing demand and responded with more and more titles. It used to be that only the very best-selling authors made it into large print. Now lesser-known authors are being published in standard, audio and large-print versions. Large-print titles used to be more expensive than regular-print books, but that is beginning to change. Many large-print hardcovers are now priced just a few dollars more standard-print versions."
Haugh sells new and used whodunits, Westerns, romance novels, biographies, science fiction, cookbooks, crossword-puzzle books, political titles and inspirational (read Christian) fiction to customers as far as Japan, Australia and Greece. One of her most unusual requests was for a large-print version of Tolstoy's War and Peace.
"The customer said he wanted to read on the treadmill," says Haugh, who managed to track down the 14-volume set.
Among the new innovations in large-print books is the taller paperback. The tomes are about an inch bigger than standard versions to allow for easier-to-read formatting.
From such publishers as Simon & Schuster and Penguin, the barely-fit-in-your-pocket books run $2 to $3 more than standard paperbacks.
Harlequin Enterprises, the biggest seller of romance novels, has also joined the movement. Titles in its line of bodice-rippers for older women (featuring middle-aged heroines), called Next, are available in the larger format.
Amazon.com features a section on its Web site of large-print books.
Last November, HarperCollins introduced HarperLuxe, a line of full-sized paperbacks with 14-point size font and wider margins. The line has its own Web site, harperluxe.com, featuring large-print type and the tag line "Seeing is Believing."
Large-print books on shelves for summer reading include blockbuster best-sellers, diet books and nonfiction including: South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook by Dr. Arthur Agaston ($27.95, Random House), Innocent in Death by J.D. Robb ($33.95, Thorndike Press), The Overlook by Michael Connelly ($23.99, Little Brown & Co.), The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier, ($16.95, Harper San Francisco) and Marked Man by William Lashner ($7.99, Harper).
Korky Vann wrote this article for the Hartford Courant.