How Much Does It Cost To Make A Yearbook?


It’s no secret that schools are facing a budget crisis all across the country. Almost two-thirds of states have budgets below 2008 levels and one system, Chicago Public Schools, has an alarming $1 billion dollar deficit this year alone. What’s most astonishing is that schools are losing money on things they shouldn’t, like the yearbook.

So why is the yearbook costing schools money?

You can find a more extensive explanation of how to uncover hidden yearbook costs here, but  it’s rather simple — traditional publishers require schools to commit to a set number of yearbooks at the beginning of the year before they are sold to parents. If the school doesn’t sell all of the books guess who’s left with the tab? The school. This surely benefits the publisher, since they get to lock in revenue, but it’s simply ridiculous that public schools should be left with unneeded books in the age of on demand printing.

Sadly, many school principals and administrators don’t realize they are losing money, because it can be masked by fundraising efforts or the revenue from printed ads in the yearbook from local businesses. For example, a school that raises $3,000 from a yearbook fundraiser and ends up with 100 leftover copies of a $30 book, is perceived as “breaking even.” Imagine if the school doesn’t send a $3,000 check to their publisher for those 100 unsold books and instead keeps the fundraiser. How could they use that money? The question schools should be asking their publisher isn’t “how much does it cost to make a yearbook,” but rather, “what is my school’s financial commitment when choosing a given publisher”.

Dirty Little Secret

Farhad Manjoo wrote an engaging piece for Slate about the yearbook industry’s “dirty little secret.” Manjoo interviewed George Washington High School’s yearbook advisor, Ryan Novack, who revealed that his school’s yearbook had left them with a massive $50,000 debt. When I asked Mike Gridley, an alumni and the head of GW’s sports hall of fame, what $50,000 would do for the High School’s football program, he said, “It would fund the entire football team for 5 years.” Thankfully GW was able to break the vicious cycle and avoid piling on more debt from leftover books. Other schools are following suit.

Calculating Your Yearbook Costs

So how do you calculate your true yearbook costs? We’ve created a handy online calculator to help analyze your costs and show your potential savings. The important takeaway is: don’t commit to books up front and avoid long term contracts with publishers. It’s an on demand world and you should only pay for what you need.

Is your school losing money on the yearbook program and if so, do you care?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.