Print-on-demand yearbook blog graphic

Yearbooks: A Print-On-Demand Primer

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. 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. 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 design. Digital printing is increasingly popular as a low-cost, efficient method of printing books. Lulu prints yearbooks (and all of our books) with digital print-on-demand. This method relies heavily on a well-formatted PDF.

If you’ve handled yearbook creation and ordering for your school in the past, you’ve likely used an all-inclusive service like Jostens or Lifetouch. These services employ an online template or designer. You drop your images and text into the template and send it off. A few months (and hundreds or thousands of dollars) later, boxes of printed yearbooks arrive.

The template method is suitable 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 layouts is InDesign. InDesign and similar tools can be challenging to learn. But 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.

If you’re thinking of using design software to layout your yearbook, there’s an added benefit: you could save a lot of money on the printing.


Lulu & Memento Yearbook Designs

Build an original, custom, and low-cost yearbook with Memento Yearbook and their web-based designer. Paired with Lulu’s on-demand printing, you can’t go wrong!

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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, 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 determine. I mention Lulu’s pricing as an example of how much a print-on-demand company would charge for printing the 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.

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 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 into using whatever methods and tools they offer.

Hardcover Yearbooks

The most luxurious and durable yearbooks use a stiff, hardcover binding. But purchasing hardcover yearbooks from one of the traditional yearbook providers can quickly break your budget.

Fortunately, Lulu is one of the few print-on-demand providers offer hardcover books at affordable prices.

US Letter Hardcover Yearbook

For as little as $24.75, you can create a 100 page, full-color yearbook with our hardcover binding. And with our volume discounts and bulk ordering, that price could be even lower! If you’re looking for affordable hardcover yearbook options, look no further!

Saddle Stitch Yearbooks

Maybe your school or class is smaller and you don’t need a large yearbook? Saddle Stitch books use a single, large sheet of paper folded and bound on the spine with staples to make the book.

A 48 page, saddle stitch yearbook with full-color only costs $10.66 per book! The saddle stitch option is another binding style rarely offered by other printers. For small classes or budget-conscious schools, the saddle stitch binding is a terrific option that saves money without sacrificing quality.

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 clever 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).


Lulu & Memento Yearbook Designs

Build an original, custom, and low-cost yearbook with Memento Yearbook and their web-based designer. Paired with Lulu’s on-demand printing, you can’t go wrong!

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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, you have to allow 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 print-on-demand service, you 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 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 content
– Contracts
– 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 makes producing your yearbook easier than ever.

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.

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.

The Details

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.

May!

That gives ample time to get pictures from Prom in the yearbook. Or spring sports and other 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 can save a ton of money for your school.


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