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What to look for in a yearbook publisher

It can be overwhelming when it comes time to accept bids for your yearbook contract. Representatives from multiple companies will often reach out to schedule meetings, and that can be stressful for an already-so-busy adviser. Additionally, pricing will very A LOT because there are so many options. It can be tempting to go with the cheapest proposal, but you need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples.

First – an important note.

Talking vendor preferences can sometimes be a touchy subject. The yearbook world isn’t too terribly big, and there are often precious personal relationships and friendships that hang in the balance.

At Organized Adviser, we are “publisher agnostic.” We have worked with most publishers in some capacity and it’s our priority to be adviser-first. We strive to serve advisers everywhere, from all publishers. We do not offer exclusivity for any sponsored content from yearbook publishers for this reason.

The advice below and perspective is from me, Katie Moreno, as founder of Organized Adviser and is 100% my personal opinion. I have never been a yearbook publishing company representative, only a yearbook student and yearbook adviser.

Questions and topics below are in no particular order.

What to consider when looking at deciding on a yearbook publisher

Overall company questions

  • Where is the printing plant? Can you go on a tour? Can you bring students on a tour?
  • Is the company in good financial standing?
  • Do they primarily print with very small or very large page counts or quantities?
  • How many award winning books have they produced recently? (Take this one with a grain of salt, since it’s super subjective. But, it may be a good indicator of a strong support system they provide that has helped the adviser and staff produce a high quality book.)

Production questions

  • What is the average turnaround time from final proof to delivery?
  • When is the final copy count due?
  • What if we need to add more pages?
  • How do we produce a supplement?
  • Is there a minimum amount of books that need to be ordered?
  • What happens if we don’t sell all the books?
  • How are deadlines decided and broken down? How many deadlines are there?
  • When are the cover and endsheet designs due?
  • How do we approve proofs – digitally or printed?
  • What are estimated shipping/freight costs?

Ordering options

  • Can parents order personalization, and how is it done? Foil stamping or name plates? Stickers? Are any images or icons available?
  • Are accessories available such as stickers, gel pens, bookmarks, dust covers, etc.?
  • What paper options are available?
  • What cover treatments are available?
  • What trim sizes are available? (Final finish size, typically 8.5×11 or 9×12)
  • Are custom trim sizes available?

Print quality

With some exceptions, most all publishers produce pretty equitable products – ink on paper. But print consistency is important, and sometimes the reason advisers decide to switch. Smeared ink, crinkled pages, upside down covers, missing signatures, etc. can cause huge delays during distribution season, so it’s important that your publisher has quality as a priority. Ask for a few copies of sample books to see their print quality.

That said, mistakes happen. Be sure to ask about a correction policy and compensation in the event that happens.

Corrections

Speaking of mistakes – sometimes it’s not the printing, but the content. Whoops! What’s the process, price, and turnaround time for ordering correction stickers?

In the event of a big mistake, what is the process to handle a reprint? Make sure your admin knows that reprints are VERY uncommon and should not promise reprints to upset parents. Be sure you know the publisher’s procedure for big mistakes, and your admin is made aware of it, too.

Sales representative

“Great salespeople are relationship builders who provide value and help their customers win.”

Jeffrey Gitomer

Sales is all about relationships. Consider what types of support you need from your rep and ask questions. Some advisers like their rep to visit often and be very hands-on in the production process. Others, once they know the ropes, prefer more autonomy and don’t need or want their rep to visit as often.

I once had a rep stop his car on the side of a freeway, pull out his laptop, and walk me through a process over the phone. I was not at all expecting that level of service and quick response, but it blew me away.

  • Are the reps local or remote? Do you have one dedicated rep or a team of customer support staff?
  • How many other accounts are they responsible for?
  • Are they independent contractors or employed by the publisher?
  • What is the turnaround time when issues arise?
  • How available are they for questions? via email, phone, in-person?
  • What are the hours of operation for the rep, and for the plant staff?
  • How often do they come visit the adviser, yearbook staff, admin?
  • Do they help edit the book if needed?
  • Do they upload or flow portraits?

Software & hardware

If your staff uses the publisher’s design software (vs Adobe InDesign), this is typically one of the biggest deciding factors. Be sure to ask for a demo, to ensure that it will meet your needs.

INDESIGN USERS

  • Does the company support InDesign users with resources and educational materials?
  • How do you submit pages?
  • How do you install publisher-specific fonts?
  • Can we work from Google Drive for Desktop (or similar storage methods)?
  • How can we access files from home?

DESIGN SOFTWARE

  • Is the software desktop or browser based? (Being able to access it at home is a huge benefit!)
  • How do you setup your book and grant access to students?
  • How user-friendly is it? How long does it take the average user to learn the software?
  • How customizable is it?
  • Can you edit photos (brightness, contrast, cropping, cut-outs, etc.) within the program, or do you need to have a separate program for that?
  • How do you upload photos?
  • What are the font and color selections?
  • Do you offer integrations (such as Canva) for art and imagery?
  • Does it include templates that you can customize?

SALES SOFTWARE

  • How are orders collected and how do I monitor them?
  • Can you take orders online and in-person? Is there a difference in fees?
  • Is student tracking available? (who purchased, who hasn’t, who is already in the book, etc.)
  • Is email marketing available?
  • How do I prepare for distribution?

CONTENT COLLECTION SOFTWARE

  • Is there an easy way for parents/faculty to submit photos?
  • Is there an easy way for parents to submit senior ad photos?
  • Can parents design their own senior ads using provided templates?

HARDWARE

Do you need new cameras? Ask about an equipment allowance to be included in your contract. This is sometimes helpful if ordering equipment through your district is cumbersome or has limitations.

Pricing

There are a LOT of factors that determine the cost of your book, and every school is different. Things like page count, copy count, paper weight, cover treatments, ads sold, software used, etc. are all considered to determine the final cost of your yearbook.

Support resources

  • Curriculum – scope & sequence, ready-to-teach lesson plans, practice activities, videos, etc.
  • Workshops – for new advisers, experienced advisers and students at all levels
    • Do their workshops also cover other journalism staffs such as newspaper and broadcast?
  • Expert consultations – help improving spread design, writing, photography, etc.
  • Promotional materials – free, digital, and for purchase. Do they offer flyers, email designs, order forms, yard signs, banners, posters, social media graphics, etc.
  • Planning guides

Discounts & additional fees

  • Inquire about multi-school or multi-year contracts to maximize your incentives.
  • Are scholarships available for adviser training and student workshops?
  • Is there a discount for meeting deadlines?
  • What’s the fee for not meeting deadlines?

Final advice

Even if you have a long-standing relationship with your current company and love everything about your rep, school districts often require the yearbook contract to be bid by at least three companies.

Think about what is most important to your program and what you need out of a publisher (robust design software, resources, support personnel, curriculum, etc). When you meet with reps, you can articulate your priorities and evaluate what publisher is best for you.

It’s important to go into the process with an open mind and entertain all offers. You may go right back to what you know and love, but you may also be introduced to something you didn’t know was available. The transition process to switch publishers can be difficult, but ultimately worth it to do what’s best for your students and community.

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