Death of a Tradition?

Icon-LHS-76-77-yearbook-photosTechnology is changing many of of the traditions we associate with school. Yearbooks, prom photos, and other traditional items high schoolers generally purchase are getting replaced by photos taken on iPhones and digital cameras. Can you blame students? The choice is $60 for a yearbook versus easily recording memories themselves in an album on Facebook for free, and in a matter of minutes. Yearbook publishers have taken note and are trying new ways to entice customers. Book/DVD combos and access to online materials are becoming more popular and keeping some students interested—for now.

I don’t think memories should cost anything,” Paul Tee, a senior at Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, told the Dallas Morning News. Only half of his school’s population shelled out money for a traditional yearbook. Tee plans on getting his photos from prom online from a friend.

“I have issues with kids saying they can’t afford it and then buying a pair of $100 jeans,” said Linda Drake of the Journalism Education Association. “I don’t see the school spirit. I don’t see the school camaraderie.”

Does diminished interest in yearbooks and school photos signal a drop in school spirit, bad news for the yearbook club, and/or less revenue for school fundraising? How might schools take advantage of this evolution in school culture?


  1. It’s hard to see it when you’re 18, but the yearbook serves to organize at least a version of your high school life, which many of us enjoy later in life. Digital, fine. Random snapshots and video from friends’ cellphones? Perhaps satisfying now, but not later.

  2. As a mother of four, including a set of twins, purchasing yearbooks for $50.00-$60.00 a piece is expensive. Especially when coupled with the other expenses often occurred at the end of the school year. I have spent the money for each one during their senior year, only to not have them opened much over the years.
    I can understand the argument that it helps to organize, but we already have so many professional team pictures. I am not sure it is really necessary. At least if the kids are taking their own pictures, they are probably of those people closest and most important to them.

  3. This is why we should train our kids to think ahead and save up to purchase their own yearbook. Yes, it is parent’s money but kids should earn it by doing chores or giving up purchasing expensive shoes or clothing. Yearbook is a school tradition, consisting of the whole school effort not small groups of friend. But then again, everyone can create his/her own lounge on the internet and invite friends of their choosing.

  4. As a yearbook advisor who runs a non-profit, self-supported business/yearbook class, I believe that advertising and including the student body in developing the book are the only ways to insure that the tradition of the yearbook doesn’t die.
    Of course there will always be students who do not purchase – maybe their parents didn’t purchase or they don’t have that “whole school spirit,” but as it is still easier to pick up a book to peruse the memories of a specific time period from our past than to look through possibly thousands of pictures stored on memory cards, flash drives, CD’s, etc., traditional books, I believe, must never die out.
    I remember a news story from a few months ago that reported the eventual degradation and obsoleteness of much of the technological equipment we use today, and that in the near future when we wish to look at all those pictures we’ve saved to our hard-drive, our “new” technology from today will have been replaced by something else that will not allow us access to our digital memories. I personally am happy with the many boxes of pictures I have compiled and the many shelves of books I have cherished and added to over the years.
    I believe that with research and teaching, the public will come to see an “old-fashioned” yearbook as an easier, more organized, and safer way to store school memories. Maybe for those of us with the expertise, it is our responsibility to ensure that the yearbook tradition “lives.”

  5. I think it is very important to keep the yearbook and school picture tradition alive. While I was on yearbook staff and had a lot of school spirit, I was always excited to see the final result! Even my friends who weren’t so involved with school had enthusiasm when they got their books signed or flipped through the page to find themselves in pictures.
    I think it would be beneficial to provide the technology piece as an option to entice more students to purchase. Although, I agree that it is still easier just to flip through a yearbook, then through thousands of photos.
    Also, I agree that this would be a great opportunity to teach the value of a dollar and the concept of saving. I think it is never too early, or too late to learn that lesson. Students could work to earn money to pay for their own books. Then, they may hold some personal bond to the book since they worked to earn it, rather that just have it handed over.

  6. I too was a fellow yearbook staffer when in high school. With technology changing so many things for student population, I think that it’s important to try to think along their terms. It’s fun to look back at what people may have written in your yearbook, so this idea may need some modification, but I think that an electronic yearbook might be a way to go. An electronic yearbook would considerably lower the costs of production. The only initial costs would be to make sure that your school computers the yearbook staff would be using have the programs needed for such an effort. It also would considerably help the students with their computer skills to create such a document. I think the electronic version would appeal more to our students since it’s presented in a format that they are more interested in.

  7. I don’t feel there’s a drop in school spirit due to lack of interest in yearbooks. Even though some yearbooks are expensive, students will find a way to buy one if they really like them. Wheteher it’s persuading their parents to buy one for them or doing chores to make extra money, most students like yearbooks for school memories. Some students have camera phones to take pictures but it’s not the same as pulling out a yearbook years down the line.

  8. I still have my high school yearbook. It’s really old. I am a teacher and I also have two children, one a junior in high school and one in college. Both of my kids like to have the tangible year book because it holds the photos from their whole year in one place including clubs, academics, and most importantly, photos of their friends that didn’t make it into Facebook. In our instantized world, it’s nice to remember a time when pulling a book off a shelf gave you a good feeling. Personally, I like the smell of the yearbook pages. That never goes away.

  9. Perhaps this is more a sign of the current economic situation impacting our students, more than a lack of interest in school pride/ spirit. It’s hard to say without talking to the teens themselves.

  10. As a Middle school yearbook advisor I can see how the cost of a yearbook can be overwhelming for parents that have more then one student in a middle school or high school. I am also a twin so my mother had to purchases two. As the advisors I have worked very hard to make the cost affordable for everyone. My yearbook members even did extra fundraising to bring down the cost of the book.
    I hope that yearbooks do not fade out because of cost. I still loving sitting down every few years and looking at mine. I don’t feel that looking at pictures online has the same feeling.

  11. Although yearbooks may be somewhat expensive, they should not go away. Yearbooks are a record of not only important activities that happened throughout the year, but they are also a way to keep track of even those that you don’t really remember much from school. Sure, Facebook and MySpace are great ways to keep in contact and post memories, but are you really going to remember every single person that tries to add you as a friend and do you want everything posted? Yearbooks keep track of not only who you went to school with and what happened, but they also serve as a place to record memories as well. All students look forward to the day they get their yearbooks and are able to have their friends write all over them. Writing in yearbooks is personal and enjoyable. I’m sure that if you asked any student in school today as to whether or not they treasure their yearbook, they would say “yes”.

  12. I hope that Yearbooks continue to be a part of school. I have shared my Yearbooks with my own children through the years and they have really enjoyed seeing the “old times” as they called it. There are valid reasons for both the online and traditional versions of the Yearbook, but my favorite is the traditional “book” version. It is such a piece of my history.

  13. Although I agree that yearbooks are a good record and we often find them enjoyable in our later lives, I think that we could easily adapt to today’s economy. Could we not evolve our own definition of a yearbook to meet our student’s halfway? Why not have a virtual yearbook site, a video/DVD yearbook (definitely less expensive) or a yearbook on CDrom? All of these would serve as organized memory keepers (and fundraisers), but would be a less expensive choice, and would possibly appeal to our students… Just a thought!

  14. I don’t see technology being a bad thing. I’m completely against paying $60 for a yearbook. Prices are ridiculous. Why would you pay for something you can get for free?
    I think if schools/yearbooks want to stay with the times, they need to update! I agree with Mary (June 01, 2009 at 01:30 PM). Have a virtual yearbook site. Create a website! Join any number of the social networking sites and have the whole school contribute. (Chances are they are probably already on Facebook.)

  15. I am torn with regard to the yearbook/technology issue. I really feel that as time goes on, though, DVDs and websites are going to be the wave of the future. We oldsters (I’m 37) can’t continue to hold on to the past forever, we’ll begin to look like we’re trying to hang on to 8-track tapes. Costs are too high for many kids, and a $60 yearbook can’ compete with the free memories and easy connections provided by Facebook, MySpace, etc. Our school just recieved their yearbooks. My homeroom has 22 kids and only 5 bought yearbooks. Kids just don’t see the point of spending the money on something they can get for free in other places. I have connected with so many of my old friends via social networking sites, I think that yearbooks will likely go the way that newspapers are going, the way of the dodo.

  16. I am on the fence with whether the tradition of yearbooks is dying due to technology. I see both pros and cons of having a yearbook available via the internet rather than in hard copy. A pro for having the yearbooks online would be the amount of money you would save on making the yearbook. A lot of paper and ink goes in to the creation of a single yearbook and if the yearbook were to be uploaded online, this would be environmentally better and the cost per student would be minimal if any cost at all. In addition, people would be able to view and print pictures as they please. A con would be the wonderful tradition of ‘signing yearbooks’. I still look back in my high school yearbook and see all of the funny comments that my classmates wrote. Also, as Simone Diaz stated above, in the future we may not be able to access these files because of a new technology and we will no longer be able to view have these cherished memories. I see both sides of the argument, but I am leaning toward keeping the tradition of the good old fashioned yearbook.

  17. I agree with many of you in that you state a ‘book’ of memories such as a yearbook is easier to reflect upon than loking for captured files on flashdrives, online accounts and on Cd’s. I was also in yearbook in my high school and I still after 13 years refer to it from time to time. I think many kids today do not see the value in books to begin with, let alone a book that captures memories from school. It seems to be the kids with the interest in books and keeping memeories alive will always be the ones to want a formal text that stores those memories, but the ‘in the moment kids’ (the one’s that have short term goals, the video gamers and such) will not see the value in a yearbook.

  18. As a young woman, recent college graduate, and first year teacher I see technology slowly taking over everything. I do own a fancy cell phone, a digital camera, and a laptop but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy tangible items. I have had so many things go wrong with my technology that tangible things seem so consistent and right. It kills me to hear that schools are having problems selling yearbooks and other photos. So many of my friends participated on the prom committee and in journalism classes that would be missed out on in some aspects if these items were gone. I hope that students soon realize that technology is important but not everything.

  19. There are many students that cannot afford yearbooks or school photos even if they were available to them. To some students all the yearbook symbolizes is a bunch of the “cool kids” getting his/her picture plastered on every page. Even if the number of yearbooks being sold is dropping, one cannot assume that the students are not proud of their school. The drop in sales means that students are not willing to buy a book that he/she might look at once and put on a shelf for twenty years. Ask yourself, where are your high school yearbooks? Does the fact that they are packed away in a box mean that you lacked school spirit?
    If all students were given the opportunity to contribute to a virtual yearbook or a student created website perhaps more students would want to take part in the experience of capturing school spirit and high school memories. Granted, some students would still choose not to participate but, that will always be the case. The more students who are allowed to have a voice, post comments, or share pictures proves to the students that their opinions do matter. As more activities and events are included on the webpage, more students will be able take part in capturing his/her high school experience.
    Having a virtual yearbook could also help students learn about web design or the importance of grammar and punctuation when writing in a public domain. The virtual yearbook could also be used to educate and bring to life concepts for students in graphic design or photography class These are “real-world” skills that are needed when entering higher education or the workforce. The students involved in this project may also begin to explore future jobs in the field of technology, find areas of interest for college, or develop better understanding of communication skills in the twenty-first century.
    Another wonderful advantage of the virtual yearbook is that the community would be able gain insight into the happenings at the local high school. People could see the photos and read the posts describing what students are doing or learning in the areas of academics, extracurricular activities, etc. A new avenue of communication throughout the community could also improve the support of activities or events, boosting school spirit to a whole new level. A virtual yearbook could be the answer to creating a new wave of school spirit and pride in the high school.

  20. I am a high school teacher. From my perspective yearbooks are still as popular as ever, but I definitely envision a day when they will meet their demise, probably in my lifetime. I do not think yearbooks will be very popular when my one year old son graduates high school. Technology is improving lives. Facebook has helped me keep in touch with my high school friends better than my yearbook has. Yearbooks hold high school memories, but often those memories are incomplete and slanted to whoever is working on the yearbook. In a large school, how many pictures is the average student in? Probably not too many. The biggest value is the in the messages left by friends, but a yearbook is not needed for those generic, often rushed sentiments. I have my yearbooks, and I will enjoy looking at them years from now, but they are not a necessity, and this and future generations of digitally proficient learners are finding new ways to make and keep memories. I am doing my entire Masters degree currently online. Who would have thought you could do that 25 years ago? In 25 years, most of the books we read may be digital, just like the movies we watch, and the music we listen to. This is not a bad thing, it is a natural progression in our pursuit of happiness. People will still read and will still communicate we are just finding different (and possibly better) ways to do it.


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