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The Reporter

February 2000
Volume 4, Issue 5

Yearbook staff needs to look at price

Seeking Stability in Funding for the College Yearbook

The recent crisis in college yearbooks in the 1990's has been precipitated by a number of ill conceived economic notions, most of which have already proven disastrous:   zero-based budgeting, the Phillips Curve, downsizing, R.I.F.s, reengineering. The downsized yearbook is invariably a prescription for disaster.

Colleges that have "lost" or killed off their yearbooks are now struggling, at immense cost, to revive a tradition that , once cut, bleeds. Surely there is a better way to increase morale and straighten the traditional yearbook. It is called "unit pricing."


Before any explanation of budget realities, two budget myths must be exploded. Those are: to pump up the college yearbook with more advertising, and to launch an aggressive sales campaign.

Right off the bat, however, the astute observer will notice that both efforts will require a completely different skills mix in yearbook management, a shift from hard skills to soft skills. The hard skills of research, writing, layout, design, typography, photojournalism and budgeting in the old paradigm must give way to soft "people skills" in advertising and sales.

While a certain amount of soft skills are desirable in college yearbook management, the real issue is one of emphasis. Are we trying to teach/learn journalism, art, and business responsibility? Or, is the primary emphasis on selling?

Most educators in the liberal arts tradition would prefer deployment in the hard skills of communication. Marketing profs, on the other hand, may delight in the opportunity to provide ad and sales campaigns for their students or interns, presuming, of course, that the product is of high quality. The presumption, however, depends upon the hard skills of journalism.

1. Sell more ads
Asking student journalists to sell more ads to increase the budget is like asking Herman Melville to go out and do a story on the whaling industry - it is not a good use of their skills. However, asking business majors on staff to, say, double the college yearbook's advertising revenue, would seem laudatory - on the surface. The sad, ugly reality of yearbook advertising is one of fraud.

High school yearbooks thrive and depend upon pages of local advertising, most of it as a result of pleading or shakedown. The fact of the matter is clear: few if any of those "advertisers" in the typical high school yearbook ever receive a fair return for their ad dollars. Advertising, for them, is an act of coercion.

Coercion and fraud are not good principles to teach in college. Only a handful of college yearbook advertisers will ever see a fair return on their ad dollars, and some of them are repugnant to the college administration. Yes, about the only advertisers expecting a fair return from returning alumni will be the bars, hangouts, liquor stores and the occasional restaurant. All others are cheated out of a fair return for ad expenditures.

With the legitimate advertising market very limited, we can forget about doubling the advertising revenue stream.

2. Sell more books
The second simple solution to a very complex problem is to launch an aggressive sales campaign to sell the college yearbook. However, do strapped college students ever buy a pig in a poke?

Never. High schools can get away with copy sales campaigns in advance, usually in the autumn for a spring delivery book, because of peer pressure and pestered parents.

College students, on the other hand, appreciate the yearbook when it comes out, usually the next autumn, and then again all the more as the years go by.

It is hard, if not impossible, to sell a book before it is published. It is hard, but possible, to sell a college yearbook after it is published, but it has to be very good, and a lot of time and effort (premium, rare luxuries) are required on the part of the staff. Finally, it is easy to sell a yearbook to alumni 10 or 20 years after graduation, but few colleges have the warehousing capabilities and foresight.


So, the most sensible approach is unit pricing. Here's how it works.

Start with the amount of money allotted for printing, say $23,249. Then you ask two or three yearbook printers (Taylor, Walsworth, Jostens, Herff-Jones, etc.) what kind, size and quality of book they can provide at that fixed cost. Be sure to build in all basic specifications (number of pages, type of cover, color, etc.) plus any extras, such as type selection or tip-ins. Any other extras, such as an increase in the number of copies printed, would have to be paid for by cuts in other areas, such as color.

The unit cost of the yearbook is the printing cost divided by the number of books. At our college, each 244-page b/w book costs $24.73 ($23,249 divided by 940 copies). Nine hundred and forty books seem to service just about all our 1,300 undergraduates who want the yearbook. Any leftovers are sold at $25 to pay for postage to graduated seniors.

If we ordered the same book, but only 640 copies, the printing costs would dip slightly to $21,389, but the unit cost would jump to $33.44

If we ordered 340 copies, printing would cost $17,987 for a unit cost of $52.90. In other words, if we had to sell the yearbook in advance, one copy at a time, we would have to charge more than $50, more than the market could bear. Thus, the yearbook dies.

If we were to order only 200 copies of that same yearbook, printing would cost $16,695, but the unit cost would be $83.48, out of reach of most strapped college students and their strapped parents.

Why do unit costs soar when the number of copies go down? Elementary. The first copy is always the most to print. Whether you print one or a thousand, you still have to pay about $15,000 in typesetting, engraving, proofs, film, plates, press time and binding. The second and subsequent copies are cheap, just the cost of paper and ink, practically.

So, the whole idea is to keep the unit cost low, whether the yearbook is sold or given away. The most efficient and cost effective way is to provide everyone a free yearbook, paid for out of student activity fees.

This principle of unit cost is the secret of both our public school system and Social Security, whether we use them or not. Costs are kept low or free for all when everyone contributes . The college yearbook deserves no less.

Dr. William M. Lawbaugh is the President of SCJ and a member of the faculty of Mt. Saint Mary's University in Maryland.

Community college newspaper to resume publication after 8-day shutdown

The staff of a community college student newspaper will be allowed back into its offices Feb. 21, following an eight-day shutdown that resulted from the paper's publication of a controversial advertisement.

The staff of The Hudsonian was locked out of its office after the Hudson Valley Community College student senate objected to an advertisement for a strip club that the paper published in its Feb. 2 edition. The senate wanted the newspaper to agree not to publish another ad for the strip club, even though the establishment's owner had paid the newspaper $500 to run the ad twice.

An agreement was reached between the student senate and the owner of the strip club, without the newspaper's involvement. The owner, a former Hudson Valley student, accepted the senate's request that he not publish the second advertisement in the next edition of The Hudsonian , and the student senate paid him $250 -- the cost of the ad.

The full-page advertisement was a help-wanted ad for female dancers. It featured a color photo of a woman in a bikini, and it promised a $100 bonus after the first month of employment, said Hudsonian editor Tony Gray.

After the publication of the ad, the newspaper's adviser resigned, saying in his resignation letter that he did not want to be associated with a publication that would print an ad for a strip club.

Declaring that a student club could not exist without an adviser, the student senate locked the doors to The Hudsonian office, effectively shutting the staff members out and forcing them to cease publication of the newspaper.

The administration has "vociferously objected to editorials and news coverage for the last semester and are trying to use this for justifying shutting down the paper," Gray said seven days after the ad ran in the Feb. 2 edition.

After eight days, the student senate and the staff of The Hudsonian reached a compromise, which will allow the staff members to return to their office at around 3:00 p.m. on Feb. 21. "We still have issues to work out with the school regarding the proper relations and degree of oversight and/or cooperation allowed by law," Gray said. "We will reopen, get back to putting papers out the door and meeting our commitments to our readers and advertisers."

The Student Press Law Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing legal help and information to the student media and journalism educators.


Last Call - I'm waiting for a flood of registrations from the SCJ delegates - this is your organization and there is work to be done - besides, New York City in March is a splendid opportunity.

Your lodging and registration will be handled as usual for attending CMA/CSPA Convention; it's just that SCJ will do its business within that context. I have included our program schedule for NYC and another registration form.

And what business there is: The National Council recommended at its autumn meeting to amend the SCJ constitution, creating a new National Council position: Third Vice-President, whose charge will be Recruitment and Retention. I want this addition. We also must fill several National Council positions. The First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President, and we must recruit an editor for The Collegiate Journalist magazine and a new Contest Director.

While SCJ has strengthened in its position as a national honorary, especially in its active network, chapter losses erode our position. We need vigor in advancing our numbers. The National Office is leading the way with personal contacts at each active chapter, but that is only to consolidate our central core. We need chapters providing the leadership in recruiting new chapters.

The delegates will also be very busy assessing the move toward regionalization through zoning: College Press Days and RLCs - Regional Leadership Chapters.

I am personally committed to facilitating the growth of SCJ and this is the year to do it. We have an internship for the National Office, a Central office expanded to support local initiatives, our vigorous leadership at the chapter level. Now... let us work together toward mutual and standard goals; One hundred active chapters and two thousand members by 2001 - the real millennium.
      See you in Times Square.

Dr. Arthur Barlow is the SCJ Executive Director.

Chapter Notes 

Congratulations to our new members at...

Elizabethtown College, PA - 16 new members
Southwest Missouri State University, MO - 3 new members
Westark College, AR - 4 new members
Thiel College, PA - 7 new members


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