Time Machines

May 01, 2002 3 min read
Graduates look back with futuristic yearbooks.

High school yearbooks have always spoken across the decades metaphorically, reminding alumni of football games won, plays performed, and hairstyles later regretted. But now, with the advance of multimedia technology, some yearbooks also talk for real.

Take the yearbook at Antioch Community High School in Illinois, for example. It consists of a traditional hardcover edition plus a supplementary CD-ROM that readers slide into a computer to view. The disc contains clickable links to recordings of conversations and popular songs as well as videos and photos of sporting events and dances. Some pictures are interactive: Viewers can turn the images with a cursor for a 360-degree view of a room or an object, such as a statue. There’s also a search function, and every photo is indexed. Click on the name of the prom queen, for instance, and a list of all the other photos in which she appears pops up.

The CD supplement, which the Antioch yearbook staff has produced annually since 1997, is a big hit with students, says yearbook adviser Mark Thompson. “That first year, we occasionally got calls from people just to get the book and not the CD,” he says. “After the first year, the only calls I got were, ‘Make sure I got the CD.’ ”

According to multimedia yearbook companies, more and more schools are going digital. Representatives at OpTech, a Naperville, Illinois-based interactive yearbook company that works with about 75 schools, say their sales have doubled over the past year. And at least five other firms across the country specialize in producing multimedia yearbooks for schools.

The cost of creating a CD yearbook, which most schools package with a traditional version, is much less than creating its print counterpart. OpTech CD yearbooks range from $3.50 to $12 per CD. (The more tasks—such as scanning photographs and entering information into a database—students do themselves, the cheaper the cost.) Antioch High, which works with OpTech, estimates that its expenses average $9 per CD—roughly one-third the cost of their print yearbook—which the school then pairs with the traditional volume and sells for the break-even price of $41. Another company, the Salt Lake City-based Yearbook Interactive, produces CD yearbooks with an optional link to an Internet bulletin board where classmates can leave notes for each other, much like signing a real book, for $8 a disc.

While the technology is impressive—CDs can store up to 10,000 pictures without felling a single tree—not everyone is enticed by the idea of computer-based yearbooks. “Reps call me and say they’ll send a sample CD. I say: ‘I’m going to throw it in the trash. Don’t waste your postage,’ ” says Lynn Strause, the yearbook adviser at East Lansing High School, in Michigan, for the past eight years. “It’s a neat supplement. But I’m busy enough. My students are devoted to print.”

However, converts say producing a multimedia yearbook is not a lot of additional work. At Antioch High, the yearbook staff simply treats their CD supplement like another section of the print book. The CD has its own editor and adheres to the same deadlines and theme (this year, it’s “Random Thoughts”).

In fact, says Noelle Foat, a senior and editor in chief of the 2002 yearbook, “the CD is the easier part of the book.” That’s because there’s little writing to do beyond photo captions, she explains. With OpTech scanning all the photos, customizing graphics, and replicating the CDs for the school, “we spend our time doing the fun stuff,” says Thompson.

So, will CDs eventually force print yearbooks into extinction? Not necessarily, say educators. Mike Lung, yearbook adviser at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, reckons print yearbooks are only in danger of disappearing if books disappear, too. In fact, he points out, CDs may become obsolete before print yearbooks do. This year, Lung’s students are creating a DVD supplement; it contains about two hours of video produced to look like a television newsmagazine. “The CD became like a slide show,” explains Lung. “You look at it once and say, ‘That’s cool,’ but that’s it. I think the DVD will be far more popular.”

—Katharine Dunn