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Updated 10:00 AM June 22, 2009
 

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U-M yearbook surviving the online communications boom

The faces in this book are worth preserving on paper, even as Web communications and social media surge in popularity.

That's the assessment of those who oversee and produce the Michiganensian yearbook, as they start to plan the 2010 edition this spring and summer.
Recent Michiganensian staff members Eileen Hengel and Peter Andrews work on the 2009 yearbook. (Photo by Eric Crabb)
A photo of The Negro-Caucasian Club was presented in the 1927 edition. (Photo courtesy Kaleidoscope Books & Collectibles)
A photo of the 1912 Chinese Club was displayed in the 1912 edition of the yearbook. (Photo courtesy Bentley Historical Library)

"A yearbook is something you can keep for the rest of your life to look back on. I see it more of a keepsake than anything and having it online does not seem to fit that," says Aileen O'Toole, a senior and English major from Kalamazoo and yearbook editor.

"Some students say, 'If I have Facebook, why would I want a yearbook? But I think the majority of students realize that Facebook will most likely fade with time, and be replaced with other technological advances, while a hardback book can truly last a lifetime," says Chris Kokoczka, yearbook business manager and a senior honors communications student from Jackson.

Their comments come at a time when reduced sales of college yearbooks are being reported around the country. By one report, annual sales at Bowling Green State University have fallen from a peak of 3,600 yearbooks in 1986 to around 300 per year today, causing that school to plan to replace the traditional yearbook with a magazine published twice a year.

Robin Stephenson, consultant to the vice president for Student Affairs and a Student Publications board member who serves on the committee overseeing the Michiganensian, says it has remained popular despite the national trend.

"Certainly these are trying times for all publications. So far they're still doing well," Stephenson said, adding the yearbook's finances remain strong. "For the first time this year, yearbook staff made a slideshow presentation at commencement exercises. They're trying to stay current and trying to stay modern."

Kokoczka says Michigan's yearbook sales reached a peak in 1996, when sales were around 4,000 books. Over the next 10 years sales decreased to around 2,000 books. That number has remained stable the past few years. O'Toole reports that while yearbook sales are down at residence halls this year — "We're going to work on that this summer," she says — sales were up in other areas, including senior portrait signups.

Also this summer, the yearbook staff plans to discuss promotion strategies to boost sales and other financial support of the yearbook, including wider coverage of club sports and student organizations, requests for photo downloads to the yearbook's Facebook page, and more closely tying graduation photo orders to yearbook orders.

While the growth of online communications has been blamed for yearbook woes around the country, Kokoczka suggests the Michiganensian staff can also use the Internet to increase awareness.

"Web sites like Facebook are often perceived as only having a negative impact on demand for the yearbook, but Facebook can be leveraged in the favor of yearbooks, as we can use sites like this to increase awareness about the Michiganensian," he says.

O'Toole says she's grateful for the experience of working on the yearbook, saying it's preparing her for a career in publications, and she's made close friends. "Working for the yearbook has been a wonderful creative outlet and a place to develop leadership, communication, and organization skills," she says.

First published in 1897, the Michiganensian has been produced yearly by students ever since. "Knowing students have the opportunity to buy a book that incorporates college experiences from the past four years is satisfying," Kokoczka says. "I take a sense of pride in continuing on the tradition of the Michigensian, which is over 100 years old."

While both agree that some students just aren't interested in a yearbook, evidence suggests they won't always feel that way.

"We get calls every day from adults who graduated years ago and are hoping to purchase a book from their graduating year," O'Toole says. "Unfortunately, we don't have books for sale from years before 2000 or so. Our challenge is to convey to students that they should buy a book now because it is likely that they are going to wish they had one someday."

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