By Heather Leiphart, Student Reporter
Students who want to purchase a book filled with photos and stories about classmates, teachers and significant events from the year 2008-09 are out of luck.
Because of a steady decline in interest, the Prickly Pear, ACU’s yearbook since 1916, will no longer be printed. Sales dove from 1,400 books in 2001 to a meager 443 in 2008, the last edition.
“When we made the decision, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if anyone will ask where the yearbook went?'” said Cade White, instructor of journalism and mass communication. “I think, sadly, and not surprisingly, at this point I’ve only had two inquiries. None were from students.”
White, who served as adviser of the Prickly Pear for eight years, said the decline in sales is a national trend in university yearbooks, and ACU was another inevitable victim. He said a lack of group identity among students within a particular class presents the biggest challenge. Today, it is not abnormal for students to spend more than four years in school or delay attending, so not all students in a college class will be the same age or from the same region. Another reason students do not feel the need for a yearbook is the rise in social networking Web sites, such as Facebook, which can achieve some of the same effects in students’ eyes, White said.
“I’m not blaming the students for this; it was an inevitable situation that occurred over a long period of time,” he said. “There were years where there were some profits. We used to sell more books per capita to students at ACU than UT did, even as recent as 10 years ago.”
The yearbook began completely self-sufficient, paying for the operation through book sales, but when the book went almost $30,000 over budget several years ago, which had to be absorbed by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, something had to change, White said.
“Our expenses were becoming completely unmanageable,” he said. “With sales declining and operational costs staying essentially the same, we just continued to see that downward slide.”
The yearbook staff invented a “long and creative list” of solutions to try and keep the Prickly Pear alive for a few more years. White said these solutions were “made necessary by financial realities.”
The main attempt was to change the operational model. Taylor Publishing, the company used by the Prickly Pear staff, created a new system of yearbook operation called the milestone program. Under this program, Taylor Publishing took on all production, promotion and distribution costs, and the yearbook staff received a stipend, around $17 from each book sold, which was used for staff salaries and operational expenses. This decision raised the price and ultimately extended the Prickly Pear’s life by a few years, but only “delayed the inevitable,” White said.
“Looking back, I think the real disadvantage to us was that it created more of a disconnect between the students who produced the book and the student body because we were no longer involved in the marketing of the book,” he said.
Another attempt to save the Prickly Pear from extinction occurred many years ago, when each student’s account automatically was charged for a yearbook. This was met with a significant negative response from the students and was not done again, White said.
The department also stopped having separate staff between the Optimist and the Prickly Pear because of the added expense and job overlap.
The last challenge faced by the Prickly Pear was to overcome issues with student photos. The average span of a photographer or company working with the yearbook was about two years, White said. The photographers would shoot student portraits, expecting to sell print packages, which is where they make the most money. But students were not buying them. Optimist photographers then took over the job to save expense, but too few students chose to have their pictures taken. The department resorted to using student ID photos, which could be retaken multiple times at no cost.
“Book sales were tied to the number of students who got their portrait made, but each year fewer students wanted to have their picture taken,” White said. “When you have fewer students in the book, it becomes less significant to the study body as a whole.”
Mallory Edens, 2007-08 Prickly Pear design editor, said the staff made every effort to get the word out to students about the yearbook sales. Postcards also were sent to students’ home addresses announcing the arrival of portrait time.
“We spent days getting the list of all the student e-mails and sending each and every one an e-mail saying it was time to order the yearbook. All students got multiple reminders throughout the year,” said Edens, junior advertising/public relations major from Rockwall. “It’s sad that when you put forth all that effort and students just don’t respond and aren’t interested. For so many students to not even know that we have a yearbook is kind of pitiful.”
Because fewer students were involved, the book became less significant to the curriculum. This, in addition to the steadily increasing cost, led the department to decide that 2008 would be the last edition.
“Sadly, to use the same words that I’ve heard other administrators use, the yearbook is a dinosaur that has outlived its purpose to the students,” White said. “The big schools that have the big yearbooks are typically the product of another department on campus that is an extension of recruiting or alumni relations. The yearbook is seen as a cost of doing business. It’s not meant to be self-supporting or profit-making.”
posted 5/01/09 @ 7:49 AM CST
This is a sad story. I’m sorry to see that the Prickly Pear will no longer be in print, but I can understand why. It makes the yearbooks that we still have precious to hold on to.
posted 5/01/09 @ 8:15 AM CST
Sad day…….when the DVD players, ipods, MP3 players are no longer the lastest technology….you will not have the Prickly Pear in print to go back and look at. I’m glad I have all of mine, especially come reunion time.
Have a safe summer…..
Dr. Lawrence Ray Smith
posted 5/02/09 @ 1:55 PM CST
Sorry to see the Prickly Pear go the way of other such publications (including magazines, journals, newspapers). Certainly, it is the technology that has contributed to this. A day will come when students as old as I am will be disappointed no chronological record of their years is in print. My copies of years gone by are now much more meaningful to me. Thanks for trying hard. I know progress is sometimes not the best for history. Lawrence Ray Smith
posted 5/06/09 @ 11:10 PM CST
Sigh… another sign of the times and the ongoing slow death of print culture, I suppose.
I met my wonderful wife of 21 years (hard to believe, huh, Cade?) while taking her photo for the Prickly Pear in 1986. I wonder if we would have ever made the same instant and everlasting connection if we’d only had Facebook?