USA Today: College Yearbooks Retain Relevance in Print

College yearbooks retain relevance in print
By Jacob Hawkins
The school yearbook is an institution for middle and high school students, summoning eager requests for signatures, crushes surrounded by red-penned hearts, and — if you’re really into it — dotting your “i” with a heart on the yearbook of someone you absolutely adore.

But that’s kid stuff, right?

In college, the yearbook’s role isn’t as well defined. In an age where everything from your morning eggs to last Friday night are instantly documented — sepia filter and all — on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, the yearbook is something of an enigma.

The Associated Collegiate Press (ACP), a national organization providing support and recognition to college newspapers, journals, and, yes, yearbooks, holds the need for college yearbooks in high regard.

“Yearbooks document a school year in a permanent, accessible way that social media can’t,” said Logan Aimone, the executive director of ACP.

Aimone points to campus libraries that devote entire sections to preserving the annual tomes.

ACP considers the yearbook a form of journalism and holds annual competitions to critique and reward yearbook submissions. The ACP bestows the Pacemaker award, regarded by many as the highest honor for college journalists.

And unlike some journalism outlets, the yearbook doesn’t seem like it will transition to a strictly digital presence.

“I have not seen an online-only college yearbook, period,” Aimone said.

But that doesn’t mean yearbooks are ignoring the online world altogether.

Treering is an online company that bridges the gap between the digital world and a print edition by offering personalized, on-demand yearbooks.

In addition to offering print versions, Treering offers a free online yearbook that allows peers to view and digitally sign friends’ pictures.

“At large universities, you are often buying a yearbook that isn’t about you at all,” said Treering Co-founder. “For us, it is all about inserting those personal memories.”

Treering said that while they offer a digital-only version of the yearbook, in every instance the schools they work with opt to print. The publishing practices of a yearbook vary, but the content is likely to remain the same.

Rachel Wisinski, a junior at Indiana University – Bloomington and editor-in-chief of her college’s yearbook, the Arbutus, says a yearbook’s role is clear and unwavering.

“I don’t think yearbooks need to change,” she said. “A newspaper has to get the news out as soon as possible, but a yearbook doesn’t have to rely on that. … It is evergreen.”

The customer doesn’t seem to demand content change either. The ACP has reported that, at least since 2007, it hasn’t seen a decline in the number of college yearbooks being produced.

And for Treering, the business has grown steadily since it opened its doors.

On the front lines, Wisinski said that while sales of the Arbutus haven’t necessarily declined significantly, tactics have had to be beefed up to ensure students continue to find yearbooks worth their money.

“It is more of a push now. Before, the yearbook may have been seen as a more prominent media, now you just have to work harder to hook them,” Wisinski said.