Print-On-Demand Yearbooks: Taking Control

Yearbooks. They’re a tradition that runs deep; whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a student, or just someone who went to school (I think that covers most of us), you’ve had some experience with yearbooks. Even if they’re packed away in a bin in a closet, you still have that book. Today we’re going to consider how print-on-demand yearbooks can save your school money and offer more control over the design.

What does this mean for you? Well, let’s start by looking at the long-standing methods of yearbook creating and printing that many, if not most, schools have used for years: traditional yearbook publishers.

Unfortunately, whenever a product becomes so universally accepted and basically required, industries will rush to capitalize. Yearbooks have long been such an industry, run by companies that specialize in extracting massive profits from schools and parents. We pay—we being parents and students and schools—because the yearbook is a vital keepsake from our time at school. And it’s a one-time cost, so spending $50+ on a yearbook doesn’t offend as much when you know it only happens once or maybe twice a lifetime.

Why Do Yearbooks Cost so Much?  

A lot of factors can contribute to the cost of yearbooks. But two stand out above any others:

  1. Yearbooks are expensive to print
  2. Yearbook makers can get away with charging a lot

I’m oversimplifying this a bit, but as the more notorious yearbook publishers have shown over the years, the above two reasons account for a large portion of the cost. Let’s look at each just a bit closer.

Yearbook title image

Yearbooks are expensive to print

This is true on the surface. A yearbook is almost certainly going to be full color and demand sturdy paper stock. Some will even be coated hardcover. And because these are custom made books, the printing most likely uses an on-demand, digital method.

Which is cool, because as a writer for Lulu (the premier digital print-on-demand company) I’m in a pretty good place to talk about the cost and efficiency of this method.

The highest of high end design would cost $24.75 to print with Lulu (for 100 pages). Double that page count and the cost is $33.40 to print.

The average cost of yearbooks can be hard to ascertain. I mention Lulu’s pricing simply as an example of how much a print-on-demand company would charge for printing yearbook. Getting a clear price from the large yearbook publishers can be a challenge, making it difficult to perform a fair comparison. But sources around the web indicate starting prices as high as $100 per yearbook. That’s a lot more than the $33 price point Lulu can offer.

And to be clear, Lulu isn’t the only option. There are numerous services around the web that offer alternatives to the big and expensive publishers. What is important to understand is that there are alternatives to the costly and cumbersome options many schools have used historically.

Yearbook makers can get away with charging a lot

A quick look around the web will reveal numerous accounts of price gouging and dishonest practices by the most well-known yearbook printers. Even if these printers stayed entirely on the level, their profit margin is substantial.

It’s not surprising though. The consumers here (school students and parents) are a captive audience. Most will buy a yearbook regardless of the price. If adding an additional fee or two and bumping the print cost up doesn’t deter any buyers, why wouldn’t they continue to raise their prices?

There is good news. Print products are more readily available and accessible than ever before. Online digital printing is a potential long term solution to the inflated prices yearbook printers currently charge.

Print-on-Demand Yearbooks

Utilizing print-on-demand isn’t some magic solution to saving money on yearbooks. I have to be really clear on this. Based on the number of students your school (or district) has to accommodate, a traditional model might still be the best option. Not likely, but the important thing is to do your homework.

Minions Laughing - from Giphy

Okay, bad pun. Sorry.

Seriously though, there’s a strong argument for considering print-on-demand. The cost is one factor. Another is the control you’re able to exert over the content. When you use a more traditional yearbook creator, you’re locked in to using whatever methods and tools they offer.

The Known Publishers

I’m going to pick on Jostens a little, but only because they’re a well known printing service and they already have established themselves as one of the leading providers of yearbook services.

Just looking around on their website (jostens.com) reveals a very cleverly put together system designed to ensure you use their tools. Custom made apps for photo sharing. Layout and design software. They make the process easy (so long as you can manage their apps and software) but they also lock you into their services in the process.

The balance here is this: a paid plan that is more expensive and all inclusive, in exchange for full control (of the content and costs).

Self-Publishing and Print-on-demand

Okay, so let’s say you’d like to more than halve the price of yearbook printing. You’re entertaining the idea. What does it mean for you?

First and most important to recognize is that using a print-on-demand service will entail more design on your end. Services like Jostens offer a range of templates and tools to prefill pages and layout your yearbook. If you opt to use a strictly print-on-demand service, you likely won’t have access to those same templates and tools.

There’s a potential silver lining. If you’re a high school or elementary school advisor, you can use this as an opportunity to introduce new skills to your students. Learning the ins and outs of software like InDesign is the kind of knowledge that can propel students to new creative and career opportunities.

When it comes to templates, you’ve got some resources out there too. For a basic design, Canva offers some simple cover, table of contents, and interior page designs. If you’ve got past yearbook designs to reference, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to design a template from those as well.

It all amounts to a balance; you have to do more work on the actual files and designs if you want to unchain your school from the contracted and expensive yearbook companies.

Taking Control

Let’s recap and try to bring this into perspective:

Yearbook Publisher Pros:Print-on-Demand Pros:
– Templates and tools provided
– Security of a known company
– Lower costs
– Content control
– Faster printing and delivery
Yearbook Publisher Cons:Print-on-Demand Cons:
– High costs
– Less control over content
– Contracts
– More design work required
– Less support when creating

If you have the skills to design the yearbook and the students interested in having a hand in creating, then using a print-on-demand service is likely to save a great deal of money for your school. Alternatively, if you have the budget and lack the designer, using a corporate publisher with lots of plug-and-play tools might be the right course.

What’s important is that you have a choice. You have control. The decades long monopoly on this industry is gone. Software like Photoshop and InDesign offer opportunities to create templates and book interiors with relative ease. And on-demand printing offers easy means to get the books created.

Take advantage of these options and make the best choice for your school, your students, and your budget.

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