The History of Large Print Books and Frederick A Thorpe

Large print books (LPBs) barely cross the mind of most readers, or so I thought. A more accurate statement would be that LPBs barely cross the mind of most readers until later in life. That’s because the major cause of vision impairment around the world and in Australia is ageing. If you think that this won’t be a problem for you, it might be wise to think again. The hard truth is that in excess of 161 million people worldwide are visually impaired (A Guide to Australian Eye Health, 2009) and 52% of the Australian population report eyesight problems (ABS National Health Survey, 2007-08). Put simply, 1 in every 2 Australians will suffer from visual impairment of some kind at some stage. For a large percentage of us the minor visual impairment we will encounter will not result in having to read LPBs, but there is still a decent chunk of the reading population that will have to. Having to read large print books isn’t the end of the world. In fact, I’m sure most people who read LPBs are just grateful they exist at all. What is a little disheartening is the availability of titles in large print format. According to the Availability of Accessible Publications study, only 4.4% of titles published in the UK between 1999 and 2003 were reproduced in an alternative format (LISU Occasional Paper No. 35, May 2005). This figure is just a drop in the ocean and it includes other alternative formats, like audio books. It would be easy to focus this piece on the availability issues surrounding large print books, but I’d much prefer to dwell on the positive. Given that quite a few of us are, or will be, the target market of LPBs, I thought it might be nice to provide a brief history and introduce you to the pioneer of the format, a little known Englishman by the name of Frederick Thorpe.

My research on when the first large print book was published yielded some confusing results. There were some sources that stated the first large print book was published in 1914, but none provided actual evidence to back-up their claims. What most historians seem to agree on is that the first LPBs produced in the English language in bulk were published in 1964 in Leicester, England. The publisher was a former book and magazine printer and publisher by the name of Frederick A. Thorpe. Thorpe wasn’t the first person to recognise the need for a larger format book for elderly readers with poor eyesight. In fact, the book industry had been talking about the need for such books for almost 20 years, but nothing had come to fruition as most felt that LPBs wouldn’t be a financial success. Thorpe came at the idea from a different angle and decided that though there were risks involved, the best way to make the idea commercially viable would be to produce the books for libraries. Thus, Thorpe became the founder, and subsequent world leader in large print book publications with the formation of his non-profit organisation, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited.

In the early years, Thorpe produced large print books that were about twice the physical size of a regular book and the type inside was also about twice the size of the original publication. The books were colour coded according to their genre and had very simply designed dust jackets. However by 1969, after realising that the format of his books were too bulky for his elderly readers, Thorpe began to publish the books in regular sized bindings and came up with a standard 16-point type. This change in design marked the real take-off point for Ulverscroft. The new formatting made the books user-friendly for readers, but more importantly from a business perspective, the new format made the books more durable and shelf-friendly for libraries all over the world. Since these humble beginnings, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited, now known as the Ulverscroft Group, has purchased many other large print companies around the world and has diversified their product line to include talking books as well. Whilst many readers now buy Ulverscroft LPBs themselves, libraries were the prime buyer of the Ulverscroft product back in the 1960s and they still are today. The non-profit side of Thorpe’s business is still alive today under the name, The Ulverscroft Foundation, a charity based in the UK that aim’s to provide help and support to the visually impaired.

Many other large print companies exist across the globe today and whilst the plain dust jacket that characterised the original Ulverscroft publications in 1964 are still the standard, increasingly many more publishers are giving their LPBs the same look and feel as their originals with more elaborate cover art. In terms of inclusion, this seems like a positive move, but what interests me the most about the future is the impact of e-book technology. The ability for the reader of an e-book to increase and decrease type size at will makes them almost indiscriminate. From a publisher’s point of view, one could argue that large print books are becoming redundant. Why go to the trouble of publishing them and catering for a niche market, when the e-book supposedly caters for all? With the existence of libraries themselves also under threat, it makes me wonder what kind of future is in store for the large print book. What I do know is that for almost 50 years, the pioneering work of Frederick Thorpe has meant that the world of books has remained open to many a visually impaired reader, and that ain’t bad.


Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey (2007-08)

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, A Guide to Australian Eye Health Data, 2nd edition (2009),

Loughborough University, Availability of Accessible Publications, LISU Occasional Paper No. 35, May 2005,

The Ulverscroft Foundation Website, How the Ulverscroft Foundation Began.


Hiring an Expert Book Or Magazine Designer

There are a myriad of logo designers and website designers and general print designers out there, but Book and Magazine Design experts – now there’s a specialised breed that are worth knowing if you’re a writer, publisher or editor.

You’ve slaved and sweated over your content to make it as wonderful, readable and worthwhile as you can… so why throw it all away with a non-specialist designer who can’t produce the same quality in their work?

An expert book / magazine designer will be asking these questions when they design to ensure the optimum outcome:

– What message is your book/magazine sending?

– Is it reaching out and touching your prospective customers/clients and readers?

– How does the cover and internal pages make them feel?

– Is it an unforgettable publication?

If you want a truly incredible publication, then it’s clearly worth hiring an expert in unique, professional and memorable book and magazine design. So here are a few tips to get you started on the right track…

Hire an expert book/magazine designer, not just any graphic designer

There are a million general graphic designers out there, but book/magazine designers are few and far between.

A designer with the specific skills, knowledge and experience for designing books and magazines is well worth paying good money for… whereas, it is often a waste of money hiring a designer who doesn’t have such experience and knowledge.

Hire a designer that consistently delivers beyond client expectations

There are lots of designers out there, so pick one with client references that clearly indicate the high quality of their work.

Make sure those references have a personal name and a company name to prove they’re legitimate.

Hire a designer that charges full rates

This may seem odd, but from my experience, designers who don’t charge full rates (which are normally between $60-120+ per hour) often take twice as long and with half the quality outcome. This means you are effectively paying twice as much as you should when a non-specialist or non-professional designer is charging half the amount!


Non-Specialist = $50 x 10 hours = 50% quality outcome @ $500

Specialist = $100 x 5 hours = 100% quality outcome @ $500

To get Non-Specialist to improve quality will cost more but without the guarantee.

Paying full rate for a specialist book/magazine designer will not only SAVE you money to get a great visual outcome BUT ALSO make more money from your product – as a specialist will know how to “connect” with your audience and produce designs that sell more copies!

If you want the best book or magazine, then hire the best book or magazine designer – simple as that!

Harnessing Modern Media – Audio & Video Promotion For Books and Authors

Even though books are available in new formats (audio books, downloads, portable for the Kindle…), they’re still made up of words – so how do you make the book format cutting edge by leveraging modern media formats? There are plenty of ways!:

1. Podcast Promotions. Whether you’re creating the podcast yourself, being interviewed by a podcaster, or offering your book as an award for a podcast promotional contest, you’re bringing a huge targeted market to your book.

If your book is about something practical, creating a podcast to accompany the book is a huge way to connect with your audience. Many times podcasters go on to be authors, but authors can also move into podcasting! For example, if your book is a how-to guide to training puppies, a podcast that offers tips and tricks is a great way to spread your message around. It will bring a new audience to your book, and sustain/enhance your relationship with your readers until your next project is ready. Just like Rachael Ray started with a cooking show, moved into cook books, then into affiliate marketing, then into her own TV show, magazine and cooking-related products… you too can span the venue boundaries to make yourself an expert!

There are existing podcasts, some hugely popular, and cover just about every subject. So, send some emails to podcast hosts that target your niche (also works for blogs)…

  • Write a quick introduction
  • Offer a free copy of your book
  • Offer up yourself to talk about it/set up an interview
  • Then offer to help them setup a promotion for free copies to give away to their audience.
  • Don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t work right away, they likely get lots of similar emails, but will jump at the ones that make sense for their audience. It’s still worth it to make the offer to gain exposure to the right people.

2. Book Trailers. It’s less expensive than you think to create a simple book trailer. Some people go all out and create Hollywood-quality shorts, but even an animated slideshow set to music, or a video of you being interviewed about the book is a step in the right direction. Help your readership understand the tone of the book in a new way, and bring some life to what would otherwise be left to the imagination. (Note: there’s nothing wrong with leaving a book’s content to the imagination, in some cases that may even be the desired outcome.)

3. Television (?!). Did you know there is a new, dedicated TV show for authors? Open Book TV, in their own words, “focuses on the writers and other storytellers living and working in a different spot on the planet each week.” Their episodes are even embeddable in websites (just like YouTube).