Corvallis

Oregon State yearbook may have digital future

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — After more than 100 years, the future is uncertain for continued publication of Oregon State University's yearbook.

Beaver Yearbook sales are on a downward trend, as social media gains popularity and ever-increasing enrollment makes the publication less of a must-have for students. Most don't even bother to get their photos taken for it, much less pay the $50 price.

An external review last year recommended the demise of the yearbook, which first was published in 1894 as "The Hayseed" at what then was Oregon Agricultural College. Sporadic at first, the yearbook has been continuously published since 1908.

The director of student media is resolute that plans for transitioning to a digital-only version will move ahead. But dedicated yearbook staff members assert that the demand for a physical yearbook still exists, and that the real problem is just that not enough people know about the yearbook.

The student-run Educational Activities Committee granted preliminary budget approval Wednesday to publish a yearbook next year as usual. The budget will move through the Student Fees Committee and the branches of student government before it is finalized.

Additionally, however, yearbook staff will work with OSU's Library Archives next year to host an online version of the yearbook.

Julia Sandidge, OSU's director of student media, sees next year as a transition into what will become a completely digital yearbook in coming years. She points to dwindling yearbook sales and the emergence of the digital era as the main reasons. She noted that while its format might change, the yearbook will continue.

"The information is still important," she said. "There's just been such a decrease in the demand for yearbook as a printed volume."

Under the current contract, the university must order a minimum of 400 yearbooks. In the past five years, yearbook staff reached the sales goal only in 2008 and 2010.

In 2011, the number sold dropped to 266 copies, compared to the 413 copies sold the year before.

Last year, only 168 yearbooks were sold.

Professionals from the College Media Association performed an external review in 2012 in an effort to update the university's student media.

"One suggestion was that the yearbook had really run its course and that it should be eliminated," Sandidge said, adding that no one at OSU is pushing to end the yearbook.

The publication in any form is a valuable resource for researchers, university archivist Larry Landis explained, because it offers a glimpse of the year's events, athletics, clubs, students and faculty from the perspective of students.

Sandidge sees a future yearbook as a searchable document in PDF form that would be available for free on the university's website and eventually converted into electronic book form using page-turning software.

"It isn't without a lot of worry and collaboration that we have come to the decision that we can't just keep becoming a storage space" for yearbooks, she said, "or we can't keep destroying (unsold) books."

So far, however, a decision has not been made.

Yearbook editor-in-chief Samara Simpson believes the physical yearbook still is relevant, and she is pushing to keep it. She attributed low sales to the fact that the majority of students and clubs on campus are unaware of its existence. She said that she didn't learn OSU had a yearbook until last year, her third year at the university.

The paid staff consists of three students who work part-time. Remaining contributors are volunteers or practicum students. It's a colossal task to produce a yearbook that reflects the experience of OSU's 26,000 students with such a small staff, Simpson said, let alone to market the book to them.

Midway through the fiscal year, however, pre-ordered books are at 130, inching up to where sales were at the end of the last fiscal year. In addition, Simpson said, she has not even begun planned marketing campaigns to target Greek houses, clubs that have not participated in the past, and others.

"I don't see any reason why we won't make it to 400," Simpson said.

Back in 1908, when the OAC yearbook was titled "The Orange," a portrait of every student and faculty member was published in the yearbook.

The Beaver Yearbook stopped including student portraits last year because only 60 students stopped in to get their picture taken two years ago, and at least eight of them were contributors to the yearbook.

Simpson said that staff is taking steps to reach out to students and to make the yearbook a more personal experience. Most people would prefer a tangible keepsake that can be pulled off a shelf and shared with their children, she said, rather than an electronic format that will become outdated.

"You can put it on your bookshelf," she said, "and you don't have to find an old file that won't be compatible with your computer at that point."

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Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press