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Digital vs Print–A Question of Staying Power

Graduating Seniors from the Class of 2021 at Baldwin Park High School show off their favorite page at the yearbook signing party
Autographing Party for the Class of 2021 at Baldwin Park High School

In one of the teacher FB groups I follow, the adviser posted that she got permission from her administration to “abandon” the traditional yearbook format in favor of a digital model. The problem, it seemed, stemmed from the lingering aftermath of Covid. Staff were uninvolved and not committed to the process. The adviser expressed frustration because she felt she was the only one who cared about making the book. As comments were pitched back and forth by the group members, the larger consideration appeared to be economical, that the cost of a hardcover is too expensive for some students, combined with dismal marketing used to drive sales. Comments continued around cobbling various online platforms together to create a digital product. One yearbook company was mentioned who’d print on demand; however, the base cost per student for the ebook was still higher than the adviser could afford. And then there were the questions of longevity and privacy when the books are online. Warehousing digital formats and guaranteeing access to those formats as technology evolves begs consideration.

And shouldn’t the yearbook be a venue to generate an excitement to reconnect and develop stronger, more significant connections across the school population?

The adviser was still going to teach layout design and journalism necessary to document the school year. And certainly that can be done. I wonder, would generating more screens via a digital yearbook really create more meaning for the student staff and their peers? Especially, since there is an obvious disconnect the adviser is already facing with her staff. Isn’t part of the apathy the staff is experiencing a factor in the loss of connection with each other? And shouldn’t the yearbook be a venue to generate an excitement to reconnect and develop stronger, more significant connections across the school population? How does a yearbook invigorate a sense of belonging?

More specifically, how does a traditional yearbook grab that energy? Pat Conroy, a well-known American author, wrote eloquently about the power of a yearbook to capture the essence of the energy that belonging brings. He wrote,

Students showing off their favorite yearbook spread at the yearbook signing party
Students from Baldwin Park High School enjoying themselves at the yearbook signing party

“A yearbook is a chronicle of life. The very best ones have a snapshot of every student and teacher in the school. The great yearbook never overlooks the shy kids or the kids who hold back or keep to themselves. It embraces everyone and everything because it will serve as the history of this one year of the singular school which exists beneath the shadows of your buildings and all the roads and highways that have led inexplicably to your school. You will devour this book because it tells one complete version of your life and the life of your school better than anyone or anything has ever done before or will ever do again. But here is the secret of your book. Its heartbeat will start again and its eyesight will be restored whenever you pick it up. It is one of the most important books you will ever own because it contains all the memories and dreams and anxieties and sorrows and triumphs of this single year of your life. This book will be deathless, one of a kind and you will reach for it a thousand times in the future.”

“Excerpts of text from Pat Conroy, used by permission.”

Never underestimate the power of signing yearbooks.

Students want to see themselves on the page. They also want to see themselves with their friends on the pages. They want to write notes to their friends. They want to have a written record of how their friends felt about them. Never underestimate the power of signing yearbooks. The power of a book held in your hands is palpable. It is tangible. It occupies space in the here and now. A digital book is ephemeral. It is easily forgotten along with the many other digital windows launched on our screens.

Dawn, the yearbook manager from 2008-2009 at Garden Grove High School proudly shared the autography signed by Sarah Tse, our yearbook representative for their school for over ten years
Class of 2010 Yearbook Manager at Garden Grove High School

So, how can a yearbook generate excitement to reconnect, develop stronger, more significant connections and invigorate a sense of belonging? Digital yearbooks lose two things: personality and innovation. When you partner with United Yearbook Printing, we start at the beginning with the cover case, continue with page spreads strategically designed to gain as many faces on a page as possible, and end with spirited, successful marketing strategies! We are this ally for you!

There’s authenticity in having your own personal book that carries you from the memories of school into the future.

Sarah Tse, United Yearbook Printing CEO, states, “With digital yearbooks, you lose so much personality and innovation. We specialize in these aspects. The kinds of yearbooks that we do are one of a kind. There’s still a need for what we do because it’s marketing and its presentation. Schools that crave innovation can’t move over to digital because they won’t ever get the ability to push those boundaries and create something truly special. We encourage students and advisers to push the limits. They won’t be stuck by the inability to do something that they want to do, and they will see it come to fruition in a physical form. There’s authenticity in having your own personal book that carries you from the memories of school into the future. It brings students from the past and present together and memorializes them in the school’s history. Literacy is needed, and as we grow as a society, our need for literacy will continue to grow.”

I can speak from experience as an adviser to the personality and innovation United Yearbook Printing provided my staff over my tenures as a yearbook adviser. My staff designs for the cover case and end sheets were brought to life! The student artists were thrilled. Special customizations were applied, and each cover case was a one of a kind experience. My staff enjoyed designing gatefolds and growing the number of signatures needed for a bigger, more professional looking yearbook. United Yearbook Printing listened to my staff and brought their creativity to reality. I couldn’t have asked for a better partnership.

Mia, Yearbook manager of Garden Grove High School 2008-2009, is smiling while reading the messages left by her fellow classmates in her yearbook
Yearbook Manager of Garden Grove High School at the yearbook distribution

Finally, I talked with my granddaughter who is now in 9th grade. She is considering signing up for the yearbook class next fall. She’s excited about possibly being a part of the yearbook staff. I asked her whether she thought she’d prefer a digital or traditional yearbook. She didn’t hesitate. She said, “I like the traditional yearbook better because then you always have a hard copy with you. Yearbooks offer kids something to remember their high school experience with photos to look at!” I think, like Pat Conroy, my granddaughter will reach for her yearbook ‘a thousand times’ to fondly remember her coming of age years.

Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.

Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.

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