Boise State Student Media Director: ‘Total Change in Yearbook Landscape is Needed’

Are yearbooks dying?  Boise State University student media director Brad Arendt isn’t buying.  Instead, he simply thinks a reinvention is needed in how they are distributed and produced.

This past week, a CNN Money report  became the latest in a long line of to-hell-in-a-handbasket stories concerning the fate of print yearbooks.  (My most recent post on the subject– “Duke Chanticleer: ‘Portrait of a Yearbook’ as an Old Man.”)

The CNN piece says yearbooks face three main problems: a drop in school funding for print costs; a drop in disposable incomes among families of students seeking extra cash to buy a copy; and, of course, the rise in digital and social networked alternatives.

In response, on a popular college media advisers’ list-serv, Arendt rejects the prediction of a yearbook takeover by Facebook, but does confirm a “a total change in the business model and Yearbook landscape is needed.”

In his words:

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I have thought about the notion of Facebook replacing the yearbook as the article mentions and I go back to a [student journalism] convention around 2005.  A bunch of us advisers were walking and talking about this company that had just exploded and how it *might* replace yearbooks because of many of the photo-sharing and community features it offered.  That company was MySpace.  While still around, clearly it isn’t the force we thought it would be in 2005/06.  I’m not saying Facebook WILL suffer the same fate, but it COULD and it has greatly changed over the past many years.

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Whatever the “social” site, they are all about the *NOW* and the– at-best– last 72 hours.  I recall reading a recent report stating the lifetime of the average Facebook post is a few hours at best, greatly diminishing after 24 and almost completely dead after 72.  How can this “life” of a post or some page last more than a year?  Sure, you can create pages but WHO owns them?  Who will update it when the “main” person or people no longer care to– something likely to last at best 1-2 years AT BEST.

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Compare this to what is I’m sure similar at many of your libraries.  One of the most common requests is for the yearbook (often next to the student newspaper).  I think WE as college media advisors MUST come up with a better long-term solution.  Some of these tech companies are great short-term stopgaps, but the digital age is here and a total change in the business model and Yearbook landscape is needed.

Why can’t we create e-books?  Most of us already have the computers, the software (Quark/InDesign), gear (cameras), and staff. . . . Why can’t we partner with a digital printing company to do print-on-demand?  As advisers, we are already familiar with contracts and meet companies that come to our conventions. . . .

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Why can’t we change the business model of yearbooks?  Perhaps instead of selling to the must-have-it-now generation we focus on selling to them in a few years?  It will take awhile, but we have been having this conversation for the past five+ years.  That means most of those students who graduated five years ago are now in their late 20s/early 30s and likely settling down and maybe ready to think about getting their yearbook on their iPad.  In the meantime, could we also incorporate social media and things like in-app purchases to subsidize current financial needs?

I’ll get off my soapbox for now, but I think many stories like this chase the wrong angle.  The old hard cover model is no longer financially viable because it isn’t wanted by enough people.  That isn’t to say it isn’t wanted at ALL.  Also, the social media/web solution I don’t think replaces the true “book” form of the printed version.

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