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Nati Harnik/AP
Andrea Cranford, adviser to The
Cornhusker, the University of Nebraska
-Lincoln's yearbook, displays the last
three yearbooks published.

Could Facebook Kill the Yearbook?

October 08, 2008 08:58 AM
by Christopher Coats
Reliance on technology and online social networks threatens one of high school’s most tried and true traditions: the yearbook.

Out with the Old

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With students turning to services such as Facebook and MySpace to collect and share their photos and memories, not to mention stay in contact with friends long after the last day of school, the comparatively dated format of the yearbook has been a harder sell with each passing year, reports the Toledo Blade.

With sales dropping, some schools have been forced to either provide abbreviated, more compact versions of the yearbook to save money, or go in the opposite direction and provide a multimedia experience to compete with the flash and excitement of online services.

In Missouri, one high school decided to offer a three-pronged approach to the traditional yearbook: a physical copy of the book, a DVD version of the volume complete with video, and a Web site with additional photos and information that could be accessed by students who purchased the package.

The “Click. Read. Play.” theme marked a significant step forward in the production of yearbooks as editors realized that something dramatic needed to be done to attract a new generation of students.

“I never had to work to sell a book before,” adviser Debra Klevens told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Kids today don’t see the value in a $60 book they’ve never seen before. An iPod or a cell phone is more important to them at the moment.”
Another approach taken by yearbook publishers was to reach out to the students’ parents in an effort to appeal to their appreciation of nostalgia and hopefully convince them the yearbook offered something social networks could not.

“I think one of the reasons it still matters is because with things like Facebook and MySpace, it’s ephemeral,” Laurie Sauble, an English teacher and yearbook advisor at Osceola High School in Seminole, Fla., told the St. Petersburg Times. “It goes away. It changes. But when you look at the senior section in their drapes in the more formal pictures, you have frozen in time the way you were this year.”

So far, the most successful argument for keeping physical yearbooks in light of their digital competitors is the ability to write personal messages in them at the end of each year, though the advancement of communication technology has made it easier for students to stay in touch long after the books are distributed.

Others blame the downturn in yearbook purchases on financial limitations rather than the threat of technology.

On the college front, the forecast for yearbooks is even more desperate, with several colleges scrapping the publication altogether after sales dwindled away to almost nothing. This year, the College of Charleston faced a significant drop in interest in their student yearbook, dropping from 145 to only a third of that amount over the last three years.

Publishers blame increased use of social networking sites, the ease of taking and sharing photos with digital cameras, and the larger, less connected communities found on college campuses for the decrease in interest.

Some college yearbook programs are surviving just like their high school counterparts are—by embracing the very technology that threatens their existence.

“We have evolved by going digital,” Brandi Moss, a representative for Herff Jones publishers, told The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C. “We allow schools to create their pages online and we supplement their yearbooks with CDs filled with images. It keeps things modern.”

However, some schools have found their efforts ineffective. After 100 years of publication, Purdue University published its last yearbook earlier this year. According to The Economist, “a generation that has never known a time before the internet is losing interest.”
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