May 7, 2009 / Consider This

Increase Revenue by Selling Yearbooks, Not Gummy Bears

Written by Jan Hensel

Let me guess what your yearbook cover looks like. How about quarter-bound leatherette with a four-color photo, two applied hot foils, debossing, embossing, and three applied colors? No, not yours? Well, I honestly cannot imagine one that elaborate, either, but even if I could, cost would definitely play a role in whether it could be done or not.

For most of us, yearbook choices, such as cover design, are driven by cost. If you find yourself saying “no” to your staff more than you would like, it’s time to increase the cash flow.

First of all, consider the price you charge per book. Each book you sell provides you with the greatest potential profit. Too many staffs undercharge for their precious volumes.

We keep our book price near the cost of a good pair of name-brand jeans. When school started, I bought my son Silver Tab Levis, his favorite, knowing those would only last one school year – if he did not grow too much. And I was grateful to find them on sale for $40. Now, is not his high school yearbook worth at least that in terms of value?

Of course it is. Yearbooks last nearly forever; contain vast information; preserve important memories of classes, teachers, friends, and activities; and are fun to read and own. You must charge as high a price as your market will bear.

Moreover, you should put more energy into garnering additional sales rather than organizing fundrasiers.

Making the yearbook irresistible to readers makes more sense professionally and journalistically than selling Valentine’s Day suckers or having a car wash.

If sales are not over 80 percent now, you may have to borrow a line from coaching verbage and call it “a building year.” But, it should not take long to build your reputation enough and increase sales in order to finance the special features staff members want for your yearbook.

My advice is to know your student body well enough to offer a product that is interesting, all-inclusive, accurate, trendy, and desirable. Our sales run over 90 percent, not counting yearbooks we sell to parents and local businesses. (Yes, our yearbook can be found in doctors’ offices, bank lobbies and other businesses all over town.)

Another popular and effective source of revenue is selling parent ads. These are not personal, student-to-student ads, which, by the way, is a practice I strongly suggest you never start at your school. (But, that is a subject for another column).

Anyway, we offer senior parents a chance to create special, personal ads for their graduating seniors. One-eighth page ads cost $35; these can contain about 30 words and one photo. Large ads, one-fourth page, cost $65 and can have up to three pictures. This year we sold over $7,000 in senior ads, so many that we added pages to the book! (Simple math will prove that the income from more ads is always more than the cost of adding pages.)

To be successful, you need to make parents want these ads – and at the same time provide excellent service.

Advertise the sale with plenty of time for parents to get ads composed, offer an easy way for them to turn in the ad, take care never to lose pictures, and proofread accurately to avoid the heartbreak of a wrong name or other errors. We mail cute samples home with an introductory letter to all senior parents in August. Included is a well-planned reply form with space for them to tell us all we need to know, including a phone number in case we have questions.

And, while Mom and Dad are getting teary-eyed over their little darling graduating from high school, we hit them up again for an additional $5 to be included on the parent booster page. This half-page ad, which congratulates the Class of 1998, brought in $225 this year!

Even a mercenary like me knows including these ads in your yearbook means more than increased revenue, though. Having them provides opportunities for learning, as students get practice on public relations, organizational, copyediting and design skills while preparing both senior ads and business ads.

Our business ads bring in thousands of dollars, too, despite the fact that we are competing for ad dollars with many high schools in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Last year we sold 129 business ads.

How? We got organized in mid-August at our back-to-school picnic and had the attitude that we wanted to beat other staffs to the punch. From our exhaustive list of prospects, we organized a campaign covering every business section in town – even adjacent suburbs – where teens shop. After we demonstrated various sales techniques to the whole group, groups of experienced and novice staff members hit the streets to sell.

Yes sir, inspire a staff to sell lots of books and carry out a productive advertising campaign and they will show you the money. But, please, take my advice, and leave the candy bars, gummy bears, candles, and all-occasion cards for band members to sell.

  • I want to sell yearboks from Dominican Commercial HS, In Jamaica, Queens, New York, Do you Know if anyone is interested (I’m 62 years old. Also , is there any interest in Archbishop Molloy High School also in Queens, New York. My husband is 654 years old). Would someone be interested in buying them and at whst cost?

Jan Hensel

Jan Hensel is the former adviser at Liberty High School in Liberty, Mo., where she taught yearbook, newspaper and photography.