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Yearbooks in the Age of Cloud Computing

Now that they can use social media to instantly share pictures, achievements, and other important milestones, do kids even want paper yearbooks anymore? And, at a time when anything beyond instruction is an extravagance, what about the cost?

A company by the name of TreeRing is addressing those questions with a customizable and on-demand printing model made possible by cloud computing. The process is rather simple. A teacher or parent yearbook administrator builds the pages by choosing from electronic templates and then dropping pictures and text into each page. The books include two customizable pages per child, with two more available for an extra charge.

Parents can work with their children to select pictures and text to commemorate important events from the school year. The bulk of the pages in every book are the same, just as in a traditional yearbook, but the customized pages will only appear in the designated child’s book. If a parent doesn’t choose to create custom pages, then the book will be made up only of the pages created by the school.

Taking a Tradition to the Cloud

Chad Hudelson, principal of Jefferson Christian Academy in Birmingham, AL, believes the yearbook is an important school tradition. In recent years, though, escalating costs meant that the school was losing $4,000 a year—and many families didn’t have the budget for purchasing books.

Hudelson said that, to keep the price at a decent level ($50 to $55) for students, the school was required to buy a certain number of yearbooks. “We have boxes of unsold yearbooks from previous years,” he said, adding that, ““Our traditional yearbook company offered no solutions. We had to do something, but we just didn’t want to do away with yearbooks.”

The school chose TreeRing, which does not require it to buy a certain number of books. According to Hudelson, “The students purchase their own yearbooks. The school has no financial obligation and does not deal with any money. The ordering and paying for yearbooks is all done online.”

Hudelson also likes that a cloud-based publishing resource gives parents the opportunity to submit photos and copy (such as poems or other material) for the yearbook staff to use. In addition to greatly expanding the content beyond photos taken by students, this approach involves the entire school community in compiling the annual book. Students can sign each other’s yearbooks online and add customized messages personalizing individual books in a new way.

“At a small school like ours, where we do one yearbook for pre-school through 12th grade, the yearbook tends to be dominated with high school pictures and events, since those are the kids doing the yearbook,” Hudelson said. “The two free custom pages allow every parent to choose pictures they want in their child’s yearbook.

“They also love the ability to share photos of their students that the yearbook staff can use in the yearbook. The ability to interface easily with social networking sites such as Facebook makes the custom pages easy to do.”

Since making the switch, Hudelson said, “We have increased our yearbook sales in the last couple of years. With the traditional yearbooks, we were selling 50 to 75 a year. This year we sold 136 yearbooks at a cost of $22 to $29 a book.”

Mom in Charge

Melissa Mihok is a member of the PTA at Apollo Beach Elementary School (FL), and serves as the historian/yearbook liaison. She doesn’t have an IT department to back her up, but said that TreeRing makes it easy to work on pages from any computer. After downloading custom software free of charge to one computer, she can access templates and other resources via a user login. Mihok said the students don’t work on the yearbook, so ease of use was crucial.

“It can take some time to get used to the commands,” Mihok said, but after three years of working with TreeRing, she believes the yearbook is better than it was. “It's much easier to do a yearbook in electronic format than the old way of taking/developing photos and laying them out on graph paper,” she said. “Pick a template, background, etc. and upload photos to drag and drop. You can also add graphics and text wherever you want.”

Pages are due to TreeRing by early May, and the yearbooks purchased by the school and individuals are delivered at the end of the month, with free shipping to the school. Each child’s name is printed on the cover of the book so there’s no confusion about who gets which customized book. The on-demand printing means that if a parent misses the deadline, she can still order a book and have it delivered to her home with shipping the only additional charge.

The Finished Product

Jacqueline Soccodato, a teacher at Hutchinson Elementary School in Pelham, NY, described yearbooks from TreeRing as “excellent quality in comparison to other books.” And, she added, “The yearbooks are more affordable. Therefore, most families purchase yearbooks.”

Hudelson agreed. “We actually expected the quality of yearbook to not be as good as the traditional yearbook,” he said. “We thought, ‘How could it be, at half the cost?’ So we prepared ourselves for that the first year. We were pleasantly surprised that the quality was as good as the traditional yearbook. 

“I know I sound like I am on payroll for TreeRing,” he said, “but I just really believe in their product and have seen what it has done for our little school.  We just signed up for another year.” 

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