How to Produce a School Yearbook Cheaply Through Createspace


I just finished my fourteenth year of teaching English at the high school level and look forward to a fifteenth.  I think back to when I started, and how I was roped in to teaching a yearbook class because I really needed the job and thought that if I took on some electives, it would go well toward keeping me on for at least three years until I earned tenure (back when tenure existed).

Today I don’t teach yearbook.  I’m too busy to do that.  My career has taken more satisfying turns, but I remember how stressful yearbook could be.  I also remember that the yearbook companies who produce school yearbooks like Jostens, Life Touch and the like seemed to charge an exorbitant fee to produce a book which usually was full of mistakes and photographic errors that were not our fault.  I remember doing billions of fund raisers to pay for the books, and many times barely broke even.

Every yearbook teacher (and administrators as well) would ask the same question: Is there a way for us to produce a yearbook for our school that is cost effective and will teach our students the ins and outs of publishing?  The answer is most certainly “yes”.  Below is a step by step guide to producing a yearbook through Amazon Createspace.

1.  Ditch the Yearbook Company – The beauty of working at a public school is that we hold only an annual contract with our yearbook companies.  We do not have to continue working with them if we choose not to do so.  Yearbook companies work like vanity presses, charging bloated fees for everything from page counts to cover design.  Get rid of them.  You don’t need them.

2.  Get the Right Software – If your school uses PC’s, they probably already have Microsoft Office, and they probably already have a license to use Publisher.  This program is all you need to produce a yearbook.  The newest version of the program has templates built in for class photos and several other layouts for your convenience.  If you are a yearbook teacher who does not know how to use this, get the “for dummies” book and learn.  It is not that hard to become familiar enough with it to share with students how to create pages.  You may find them more adept at using it than you think.  I have seen many YouTube tutorials by students who show viewers how to create yearbook pages using Publisher.   Secondly, talk to your system administrator about downloading GIMP.  GIMP is a free photo editing program that can do anything that Adobe Photoshop can do.  There are tons of YouTube tutorials out there and it is very user friendly.

3.  Hire a Photographer – You will need a professional photographer for student and faculty portraits (unless you just happen to have all the equipment).  Some of these photography companies are tied directly to yearbook companies, and according to contract will be sending their pictures to the yearbook company your school has contracted to produce your yearbook.  However, there are plenty of smaller photography companies around your area who will be glad to get your business.  Many of them will work for the cost of selling portrait packages to students.  Many of our seniors go through their own photography company for their senior pictures because the photography company chosen by the yearbook company is too expensive for their budget.  Get the photography company to put all of the student portraits on a disc.  Use this disc to access student portraits and then place them in Microsoft Publisher on the pages you created for portraits.

4.  Get a Createspace Account – Go to Amazon.com and sign up for a free Createspace account.  Your school probably already has an Amazon account anyway, so go through your school accountant to get this done.  You will want to set up any royalty payments to go directly to the school via check, and make sure that the contact information contains your school e-mail address.  You can even set the percentage of royalties that will go to the school.  Once you produce your school’s yearbook through Createspace, your school will only have to write a purchase order for the first yearbook to get the publishing process started.

5.  Publish the Book – Once you have created all of the pages for your yearbook using Publisher and GIMP, combine all pages into one file.  Convert this file to a PDF using Publisher (File–>Export–>Adobe PDF).  Upload this file to Createspace after making sure that your book size is 8 1/2″ x 11″.  Upload your cover file as well using your own image, or use Createspace’s cover designer.  You can find a complete run-down of features and instructions for creating a book here.  Createspace has several cover design options, and will create a cover for you for a fee, but at a minuscule fraction of the cost of producing a book through a yearbook company.  Your students will want to design their own cover and Createspace allows you to do this for next to nothing.  Once you have sent the necessary files, you will have to purchase a proof copy for review.  If you do not like the way it turned out and want to make changes, simply re-upload the file with the necessary changes and order another proof copy.  The only drawback to this is that you will have to allow enough flex time in your deadlines (which you will set yourself) to account for shipping the proofs from Createspace to you for review.  You also have to purchase each proof separately.  If you follow Createspace’s careful step by step guidelines, you should get the finished copy ready for students and parents to order within a few tries.

6.  Market Your Book – With this method, fund raising is practically on autopilot.  Sell senior vanity pages for a modest fee to raise money for any out of pocket costs or bells and whistles you want to pay Createspace to do.  Yearbook cost to the student will be much lower than what yearbooks have cost in the past and will be easier to sell to students of low income families.  People can pay for yearbooks with a credit card and online from anywhere in the world.  Your yearbook is printed on demand, so there are no left-over yearbooks lying around your classroom that you have to mark down to $10 the following school year to liquidate.  Parents and students can pay you directly for a yearbook which you can then deposit and purchase a bulk order for them at author cost (which is nearly half of the cover price).  This feeds money into your account to publish next year’s book at a lower initial start up cost.  Sell ads to businesses, keeping all of the profit for production of your yearbook without paying those greedy yearbook companies a dime.  

The biggest problem you will face, I think, when publishing a yearbook this way is that some administrators fear change.  They may not be very tech savvy might be leery of producing a yearbook in this manner.  My advice to you is to stick to your guns, reminding your administrator of three things:

1. This yearbook will require 1/8th of the money required to produce a yearbook by the previous methods.

2.  This yearbook will be easily accessible to students, parents and future alumni for years to come.

3.  This yearbook will teach our students real world skills in publishing through the use of Pagemaker and photo editing.

If you do this, I don’t think it will be a hard sell for the administrator or for your prospective customers.

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