Yearbooks are 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. Now, as you take the lead budgeting for and creating a yearbook for your institution, the many costs associated with printing come into sharp relief. The problem is so pervasive, an entire industry of print-on-demand yearbook providers is on the rise. For good reason too; using print-on-demand to create yearbooks can save your school money while offering more control over the design.
How? The logistics are pretty simple really. Print-on-demand providers can offer services, pricing, and quality to match or beat any offset printer.
How Are Yearbooks Printed?
Most printing today is done from a PDF file. For either offset or on-demand printing, the PDF is used to create the printed design and then is transferred to the page before binding. Yearbook printing is generally done through digital print-on-demand methods, which rely heavily on a well formatted PDF to print the materials to the page.
If you’ve handled yearbook creation and ordering for your school in the past, there’s a good chance you’ve used an all-inclusive service like Jostens or Lifetouch. These services usually employ an online template or designer. You drop your images and text into the template and send it off. A few months later, boxes of printed yearbooks arrive.
The template method is good for simplifying your work, but also restrictive. What if the template doesn’t allow you to layout a page the way you’d like? Or if the text boxes don’t include the font you want to use?
What are your alternatives?
The most popular tool for doing complex page layout is InDesign. While InDesign and similar tools can be challenging to learn, once you know how to use them, the versatility is unparalleled. And for a yearbook, getting a fully customized layout can be vital to giving your students the unique look and feel they expect.
And if you’re thinking using design software to layout your yearbook might be the way to go, there’s an added benefit: you could save a lot of money on the printing.
Free Yearbook Template
Download this free template bundle with everything you need to layout your yearbook.
Why Do Yearbooks Cost so Much?
A lot of factors can contribute to the cost of yearbooks. But two stand out above any others:
- Yearbooks are expensive to print
- 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.
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 determine. I mention Lulu’s pricing 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 a Yearbook
Utilizing print-on-demand isn’t some magic solution to saving money on yearbooks. I have to be really clear about this. Based on the number of
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 into 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 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 half 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.
Pros and Cons of Print-on-demand yearbooks
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 the
|– More design work required|
– Less support when creating
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.
Elementary School Yearbooks
When I was twelve, a yearbook was a long way from the top of my mind. But for parents, these books are a piece of living history. And decades later you’ll have the opportunity to look back at rich memories.
Printing technology offers so many way to make elementary school yearbooks better. First, creating a saddle stitched book (the most common design for elementary schools) is incredibly affordable. We’re talking about yearbook prices under $10 for schools with smaller classes.
Best of all, thanks to print-on-demand, so long as the school retains the files the yearbook can be reordered for years to come.
Middle School Yearbooks
Just like with elementary school yearbooks, middle schools can use print-on-demand to cut costs and make sure the yearbooks are available for years to come. Plus, with print-on-demand you only have to wait a few weeks at most to get the printed yearbooks in hand. There will be plenty of time to get spring sports and events into the yearbook and still have them ordered before school breaks for the summer.
High School Yearbook
This is it. The yearbooks that everyone remembers. The ones we cherish for years and years. High school yearbooks are often the ones that cost the most to produce too. Using a yearbook service, the cost can reach well over $50 and even approach $100 for the hardcover, glossy paged yearbooks.
But there’s no reason it has to cost that much. Again, print-on-demand services offer printing for as low as $25 per book! That’s for the hardcover, high-quality printing in rich full color you want.
That’s the common thread that I think deserves repeating: print-on-demand providers can print and ship your yearbooks for a fraction of the cost traditional services charge. Unless you’re using Josten’s yearbook creation software and templates, there is absolutely no reason to pay their print and fulfillment costs.
Not when you can get the same quality at a fraction of the cost.
There’s another point that stands out here. The little details. Lulu prints orders in three to five business days, and with most domestic shipping options you’ll get the order in less than five additional days. Even if you estimate on the conservative side and allow three full weeks for fulfillment, that means you can order yearbooks in May and get them well before the end of the school year.
That gives ample time to get pictures from Prom in the yearbook. Or other spring sports or events.
Here’s an even crazier scenario: Imagine finishing the yearbook after graduation? You could get those incredible graduation pictures in there and the yearbooks can ship direct to the student’s (parent’s probably) home address!
Okay, maybe that scenario isn’t ideal since it would make it tough for students to scamper around getting their friends to sign their yearbooks. But you get the point.
You’re in Control
That’s what Lulu is all about. Giving creators the creative control. So, at the risk of coming off like a broken record, I’ll end by saying this one more time: If you create your own yearbook files, print-on-demand has the potential to be a huge money saver for your school.
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.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.