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Book Printing: Digital Yearbooks Are in Vogue

In a world that is increasingly digital, it’s comforting to see that some things will still live on: say, printed photos, for instance.

I just read an article about a commercial printing firm (a printing broker, actually) that specializes in photo books and that has just expanded into digital yearbooks. It’s called Picaboo, and I just read about it in an article by John Lippman entitled “Picaboo, I See a New … Yearbook.” (Valley News, September 20, 2015). This Redwood City, California, vendor, as quoted in the article, notes:

“…the preservation and organization of images, especially ones that mark life passages, on paper remains a strong desire among consumers.” (Kevin McCurdy, chief executive and co-founder of Picaboo)

With all the hoopla about digital databases of images and digital frames that cycle through a whole series of images, there apparently is still a market among all ages of consumers (even the young) for photos printed on paper. Perhaps this is because we have fewer and fewer rites of passage in this culture, and images on paper feel much more permanent than the evanescent digital-only images. This lends a sense of importance to those photos we choose to make permanent from those events that shape our lives.

Kevin McCurdy is also quoted in the article as saying that “people value simplicity and accessibility. Paper is simple and accessible for preserving memories, and gets your attention.”

The Value and Challenge of Yearbooks

Based on the success of photo books (and the belief that customers would cherish images in yearbooks that document important experiences), Picaboo expanded from photo books into digital yearbooks for both high school and college students.

The firm has noted the problem with traditional yearbooks as being the long turn-around time. Many activities in the last months of the school year (such as the senior prom and graduation) cannot be included in yearbooks due to the often 90-day turn-around from submission of print book layout files to delivery of bound volumes.

Particularly in an environment in which photo sharing applications have taught people to expect their images immediately, long book printing schedules have become a problem. Digital printing can be the solution, according to Picaboo. Picaboo can deliver print books in three weeks instead of three months.

In addition, orders for yearbooks in many cases must be submitted up to 12 months prior to publication, so there is often an overabundance of books the school must store or discard at the end of the year. Picaboo’s digital printing capabilities can solve this problem, too, since schools can order the exact number of books they need.

John Lippman’s Valley News article goes on to say that Picaboo considered a number of options when expanding outward from photo books, including wedding books, group sports books, and adoption books, noting that “all three involve deeply personal events in people’s lives that they document on their smartphones and for which preserving the memories in a paper-bound format is suitable.” (Kevin McCurdy)

What Picaboo does (and this includes both photo books and yearbooks) is provide an easy way for clients to create something both lasting and accessible using digital photos shot with cameras and smartphones. Even if digital photography has made taking pictures easier, and even if you no longer need to buy an envelope full of photo prints, there still is the problem of choosing, organizing, and presenting selected images in an attractive and useful format—rather than just shoving the envelope of photos in a drawer.

Picaboo has created online, cloud-based software that makes it easy to produce either photo books or yearbooks, which can then be digitally printed and shipped to clients in a timely manner.

What You Can Learn from Picaboo’s Success

I think there’s a wealth of information here to consider and apply to your own work.

  1. Certain things are primal. People seem to need paper copies of at least some images. They may not print all of their photos, but they want to print some of them. They want something physical and permanent to hold in their hands. This means photo books will be around for a while.
  2. I think it also means print books in general will be around for a while, for the same reasons. There may not be as many, and they may be more focused and expensive, with higher production values, but they will still be in demand.
  3. People need ways to document important transitions and experiences in their lives. Picaboo has identified high school, college, adoption, sports, and weddings as fitting this description. I’d also include religious occasions such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We may not have as many rites of passage as we once did, but we still have the need for order, permanence, and even celebration of some key events.
  4. Personal occasions such as these often, if not usually, dictate small print book press runs. The books have a high emotional value but a limited audience. Digital printing is ideal for such products, particularly as digital output quality improves in leaps and bounds year over year.
  5. Applying all of these concepts and observations to your work will help you determine what products to commit to paper and what products to keep in digital format. In addition, this approach will help you determine which jobs lend themselves to offset printing and which lend themselves to digital output, whether due to their schedule or the shorter length of their press runs.

6 Responses to “Book Printing: Digital Yearbooks Are in Vogue”

  1. Jordan says:

    Interesting points here. I always like having physical copies of things as well as digital, though I do understand the appeal too. Thanks for sharing this!

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. Like you, I prefer to have both physical and digital copies of important documents. I think that the question is less about “digital” vs “physical” and more about when to choose one or the other. Different people will have different preferences. It’s good to have options.

  2. Alex says:

    3 months is way too long is this modern world for any turn-around. Producing a top quality product in a matter of days or weeks is absolutely vital and is what the customer is going to want to see.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. Customer demand has spurred the development of new technologies, and the availability of new technologies has increased customer expectations. Overall, I think this bodes well for the entire printing industry. I’m even seeing new developments in offset printing (allowing traditional printers to stay relevant) as well as a resurgence of the older crafts of letterpress and such (for those who want an alternative to the ephemeral nature of the digital-only world).

  3. Alberto says:

    With the pass of time, digital goods are becoming more popular and people tend to need them more and more, as the digital yearbook among others are taking their part, for some reason, printed yearbooks are gaining an extra value, it is now more special, unique and even a luxury compared to the digital presence.

    Digital is good for practical use, physical still my personal favorite.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I think people realize that digital is transitory and ephemeral. You can’t touch it. You can’t scribble notes on it as you can with a physical yearbook. I think that for books you will want to keep forever and refer back to in ten years, twenty years, having a physical copy that no power surge can erase is important. I think people are realizing this. I think more and more people are making decisions in their own lives as to which products will need to be physical books and which can be digital only. That said, I do think that digital printing (laser or inkjet) is a great way to speed up the production process of a physical, printed book.

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