The future of college yearbooks appears uncertain

Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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Shown is the covers of the the 2003 Tower Yearbook. nthe image was taken form the official Web site of the University of Florida Yearbook

UF/Special to The Sun
It began with the dinosaurs and then continued with the typewriter.
Now university yearbooks face the all too familiar problem: extinction.
Of the nearly 50,000 students at the University of Florida, only about one-half of 1 percent - or 278 people - bought a yearbook in the 2004-2005 school year. This year, only about 200 people have bought a 2005-2006 yearbook. And while UF has no immediate plans to close the book on its Tower Yearbook, some universities nationwide are doing just that.
"The old notion of the coffee table yearbook is going away," said Steve Orlando, associate director for UF's News and Public Affairs. "Here at UF, I think the numbers reflect that. Thirty or 40 years ago, I think it was much more popular than it is now."
Industry experts speculate students are finding it easier to cherish college memories using online communities by sharing their photos and interests in music, sports and such with others without having the yearlong wait for the yearbook to be published. Besides, those exchanges are free. Yearbooks - a book often filled with people students don't know - can cost more than $50.
A decrease in demand has spurred the University of Idaho and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale to discontinue their yearbooks, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
"While no one can name one factor as the cause of current college yearbooks' struggles, the digital generation's maintaining of contacts through sites like Facebook and Myspace certainly plays a role," said Mary Kate Erickson, critique coordinator at the Associated Collegiate Press.
The popularity of online Web sites even has yearbook editors and advisers looking at ways to tap those online resources to increase interest in their annual books, Erickson said.
At the University of Florida, a Facebook group was created called "I Want to be in the UF Yearbook!" It has a membership of about 490 students and allows them to use their Facebook photo as their yearbook picture as a means to get more people in the 2005-2006 Tower Yearbook.
Leslie Veiga is creator of the group and editor of Tower Yearbook, which was called Seminole Yearbook up until its last volume in 1971.
"I think the Facebook group that we created has had an impact on spreading awareness that there is a yearbook at UF," Veiga said. "We used this group to get more people into the book than ever before, and to include people who otherwise may never have been in the yearbook."
UF freshman Venita Popoca said she joined the group because she was on the yearbook staff but never bought a yearbook. She said she thinks buying a college yearbook is pointless unless you're a senior.
UF freshman Anna Tang said she joined the Facebook group randomly but never bought a yearbook and probably won't buy one in the future because she said she doesn't know where to buy it.
Mike Spegele, 19, said he joined the group even though he was not a senior. He did not buy a yearbook because he didn't know when it was on sale, which according to responses by other UF students seems to be a recurring problem.
UF students can purchase books online at www/ But editions must be reserved in advance. The last day to order a 2006 yearbook was Dec. 15, according to the Web site. The books are delivered in August to home addresses.
Although Spegele said he might buy a yearbook in the future, he does think Facebook poses an obvious advantage.
"It is such a great way to communicate with all of my friends," he said. "A yearbook simply does not have that."
To connect with tech-savvy students, Orlando said the yearbook staff is selling CDs and considering selling DVDs along with yearbooks to increase sales.
Other new features to the book are being considered, as well. The 2005-2006 yearbook includes a "Senior Ads" section where family and friends can express their affection to a graduating senior, and there is a section about the perks of playing varsity sports, Veiga said.
"People love picking up their yearbooks years later, flipping through the pages and reliving their memories," she said. "They can't have that same experience with a Web site."
UF archivist Carl Van Ness sees value in the publication as a chronicle of history through its informative documentation and well-preserved images.
But he isn't sure yearbooks can survive in the age of technology. Besides, he said, students identify less with their graduating class these days, which might be a reason for poor yearbook sales.
"I'm not very optimistic about the future of the yearbook," Van Ness said. "I think the whole concept just needs to be changed."

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