Originally created 05/10/04

Colleges join forces with publishing company to boost yearbook sales



Andrea Cranford is trying for the second time to revive The Cornhusker, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's student yearbook.

But this time Cranford, the school's yearbook adviser, has help from a Dallas-based publisher whose goal is to revive a college tradition that began dying decades ago across the nation.

Last spring, Taylor Publishing approached 22 colleges and universities about helping them produce their yearbooks. Taylor would do the printing, marketing and distribution - and take on those costs. The schools would do the writing, editing and photography. If profits exceeded costs, the schools would get a portion of the sales.

The idea came about after watching the number of yearbooks decline for nearly four decades, said Alan Heath, Taylor's vice president of collegiate sales. In the 1960s, students became more involved in extracurricular activities and took on jobs to pay for tuition; they decided they didn't need the additional expense of the keepsake, he said.

The schools on their own simply couldn't market and sell the books at a cost that would cover expenses, Heath said. Taylor has priced each book between $75 and $85.

Nebraska's last attempt at reviving its book, which began in 1999 and failed after three years, left Eileen Chalupa convinced that she and her fellow Cornhusker staff members simply weren't able to put enough effort into marketing to make the book successful.

"Our sales were really bad, our costs were pretty high," said Chalupa, who was editor in 2001. "There was just no way for students to market it to other students."

At some schools, Taylor is even going beyond marketing by offering computer equipment or small stipends to the editors.

A spokeswoman for Jostens, best known for selling class rings but which also produces yearbooks, class rings and other school memorabilia, said Taylor's program is unique. Jostens is also open to the college market but isn't interested in starting a program like Taylor's, said Julie Goetz.

The University of California, Los Angeles, thinks having Taylor market its Bruin Life could lead to more of its 25,000 undergraduates buying a copy, said Arvli Ward, director of student media. In the past, fewer than 2,000 yearbooks have been sold each year.

Ward said he didn't hesitate to take Taylor up on its offer.

"I basically get a risk-free yearbook," Ward said. "After a while, people are going to think that this is the only way to produce a college yearbook."

Taylor is now approaching an additional 400 colleges and universities for the program's second year, Heath said.

The company uses direct mail and telemarketing to pitch the yearbooks to parents of college students. Taylor targets parents, Heath said, because they may be more aware than their children of the future sentimental value of yearbooks.

Taylor asks parents to update their children's personal information - hometowns, majors and activities - to be included in the yearbook's index. The company then asks the parents to order a book.

"We haven't found that parents balk at the price because they ... realize the long-term value of the purchase in the first place," Heath said.

Linda Cross, of Falmouth, Ky., recently bought a yearbook for her daughter, Kara, who is a senior at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. Kara, who is in a sorority and the school band, had wanted the book to remember her senior year.

Cross thought the book's price was "a little steep," but figured buying it was just another senior expense, like a graduation cap and gown.

While final sales numbers were not yet available, Heath said in nearly every case, the number of orders at participating colleges have exceeded previous years' orders.

Heath said it's too soon to tell whether Taylor has made a profit on the new program. He said he expects the company will spend more money in marketing this year, as a test year, than it would need to spend next year.

Transylvania is saving about $10,000 over last year by using Taylor's services, said Katherine Yeakel, adviser to the university's Crimson.

Just the thought of breaking even has Nebraska's Cranford breathing a sigh of relief.

"There are a lot of people that feel strongly the university needs a yearbook," Cranford said. "I guess the bottom line is - do the students feel that way? I guess we're going to find out."

On The Net:

Taylor Publishing, http://www.taylorpub.com