Monday, November 1, 2010

Blog, A Virtual Unknown - A New Kind of Memory

A new kind of memory
Posted by Jim Willis

Indelible memories of those innocent years of grade school, awkward years of junior high, the posturing years of high school, and the challenging years of college are found between the covers of your old yearbooks.
You remember: those are the tomes filling that 60-pound box you’ve been hauling around all your life, transferring unopened from one attic the next, defying you to actually set them out on the curb on trash day.
The rituals
One of the annual rituals of school days was the yearbook signing when you passed the books around to sign and be signed, getting back the most intimate comments from people you didn’t even know you knew, and getting rather bland sentiments from friends you thought were intimates.
Later, as a parent, you were eager to see the book that set you back $25 or more, only to find your Valicia had forgotten to have her class mug shot taken and was seen only once in the book in the blurry background of a pep rally shot.
And, of course, you hoped if young Terrence were voted something like “Most Likely to Succeed,” that he wouldn’t wind up disappointing American society and becoming a Charles Manson later in life.
Economic victims
So school yearbooks can be anxiety-provoking, but they can also be a lot of fun. Sadly, however, yearbooks are also among the victims of shrinking school and family economies. The good news is that help has arrived from the digital era of communications, which we are calling the Virtual Unknown.
At the university where I teach, Indiana’s Ball State, the award-winning Orient yearbook has been gone for several years now. At my former university, California’s Azusa Pacific, the Student Government Association would like it dropped and for student money to go elsewhere. Only a president nostalgic for a past era, is keeping it alive.
For awhile, many schools tried shifting from the expensive hard-cover books to video yearbooks. Some still are using that and publishing books digitally on CDs or DVDs, choosing to forego printed yearbooks altogether. The thought is that videos, sights, and sounds are better — and save more trees — than printed books.
But a lot of schools are taking digital to another level and letting students customize their own books.
Print on demand
Some of these schools, like the Chahta-Ima Elementary School in suburban New Orleans, are going to a new kind of print-on-demand yearbook to save costs. Companies like TreeRing Corp. , based in Redwood City, California, use Internet-based technology that saves schools money by letting them print only as many copies as needed while letting a wider group of students, faculty and parents collaborate in the process.

Other companies offering these print-on-demand services include ones like Lulu, Ziblio, and Lifetouch.
Casey Gleason, principal of Chahta-Ima told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We wanted the school to be able to have a yearbook for its historical significance,” said Gleason, whose school has served several generations in Lacombe, La. “We wanted to do it at a reasonable cost, but not sacrifice instructional funds for the school.”
Online publishing
TreeRing is a start-up company featuring a publishing model that is catching on in the book industry of printing only the number of books needed by a customer.
It’s too early tell if this model will challenge the traditional school yearbook market, in which publishing companies like Taylor and Jostens dominate. But with more schools abandoning traditional yearbooks, it could.
The publishing of the yearbooks is done entirely online, with students, faculty, and parents able to contribute elements to the book. The class mug-shot pages and student organization pages remain pretty standard, but much of the rest of the book uses the “crowdsourcing” technique of having individuals upload pictures of themselves involved in school or family activities to other pages, for which templates are provided. They can even pop in pictures of news or cultural events during the year that were meaningful for them.
Personalized books
The result is a kind of personalized yearbook that insures your kid doesn’t have to lay out money to buy a book in which he/she is only pictured once or twice. So each book may be somewhat different from the next, but you pay for only your personalized book; not someone else’s. Another plus is that TreeRing pledges to plant one tree for every yearbook printed.
Very Californian and very cool.
No unsold books
It’s also cool for the schools and their budgets, because instead of being stuck with a couple thousand dollars of unsold books at the end of the year, there are no unsold books because a book doesn’t get printed by TreeRing until they receive payment from the student or family. The books are actually printed by an Indiana company contracted by TreeRing. Most of them are done in soft cover and costs can vary from roughly $10 to $15 each, which is cheaper than most traditional hard-cover yearbooks.
With these new publishing options available, yearbooks will hopefully be around for many years to come.
A silent prayer
But you still hope that “most likely to succeed” will refer to your young Terrence doing well in an endeavor that is considered legal and, who knows, maybe even ethical.