September 28, 2011 / Fall 2011 / Marketing

No death knell for yearbooks

Written by Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Yearbooks are alive and well, no matter what you have heard.

And you hear it, especially every spring: Yearbooks are going away – because no one is interested in them, or because Facebook or DVDs will replace them.

But listen closely, and you will hear the sound of thousands of students across the country enjoying their yearbooks.

“I got goosebumps when I saw students hanging out in the hallways to sign each others’ yearbooks, and they squealed with delight,” said Betsy Lazo, yearbook adviser at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury, Mass.

Lazo, in her first year as adviser at O’Bryant, fought apathy and the school culture of a senior-only yearbook to help her staff create a publication that students wanted to buy. Sales increased amid the controversy that the yearbook would include coverage of every grade. The 2011 yearbook was the first to deliver on time in decades. And the students enjoyed a great time at their spring signing party.

The staff at Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Ga., also worked to improve their yearbook, changing up the look with a modular design. The students loved the design and colors of the 2011 book, Erica Pitts, adviser at Southwest DeKalb, said.

The new look combined with several marketing methods increased sales by 139% over the previous year at Southwest DeKalb, leading the staff to win Walsworth’s Promotion Commotion contest.

The students at these schools wanted a well-produced yearbook. Evidence shows that if a good yearbook is produced that covers the entire school and is marketed in a variety of ways, students and parents will purchase it, even in communities of lower to average income.

“The yearbook at our school is one of the most anticipated items, especially at the end of the school year,” Pitts said. “There were some sad moments (at the distribution event) because the seniors thought, ‘it’s really the end – but I’m glad I have all of these wonderful memories to take with me.’”

A yearbook is a lasting, tactile object that people can hold to look at. That physical connection is a valuable, potent selling point. Facebook is not a replacement for that experience. Yearbooks and Facebook have different purposes, and actually complement each other. Facebook is great for the immediacy of being with friends, but it is difficult to go back to a specific time, much less year, to see posts and photos and relive those moments. That is what the yearbook is for.

“With the growing use of Facebook and other digital forms, people often comment, ‘What do you need a yearbook for when Facebook is free?’” Lazo said. “To that I can only say that any record that can be edited and doctored as easily as Facebook cannot be taken seriously.

“Also, Facebook will never be able to capture the magic, the wonder and Zeitgeist of a school year in the way a yearbook staff can,” Lazo said.

Yearbooks allow you to access your memories at any time without technology – no computer, no internet. Some schools produce CDs and DVDs with their yearbooks. The problem is, within a few years those disks are inaccessible because the playback media keep changing.

Lastly, do not let a sour economy lead you into thinking no one wants yearbooks. Even if they cannot afford them, students want them. Joy Wood, who advised yearbook at a few Texas schools, said she found a box of old yearbooks, from 1905 to 1935. She and her staff had no trouble selling them.

So every spring, when the “yearbooks are dead” story pops up, know that millions of students across the country are enjoying that new yearbook smell and the time spent signing their friends’ books.

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Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Elizabeth Braden, CJE, is the former editor of Idea File magazine. Before retiring, she was a copywriter for Walsworth Yearbooks for more than 15 years, writing articles for various marketing materials, and proofreading copy for the Yearbook and Commercial divisions. Her career included reporting and editing for United Press International and editing for Knight-Ridder Financial News. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Media News from the University of Tulsa.