You wouldn’t know it to look at the products, but the school yearbook business is kind of shady. There’s a good chance you and your kid’s school are paying way too much for yearbooks…
When Aaron Greco, a young tech entrepreneur, started sniffing around the yearbook business a few years ago,…he realized, was that big yearbook providers were producing their books using offset printing—an expensive printing system that’s great for books with large print runs but that leads to high costs and little flexibility for yearbooks, whose print runs number in the hundreds or low thousands. Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of digital on-demand printing, which is now commonly used for photo books (the sort you order from Shutterfly or Blurb) and self-publishing. Greco had a brilliant idea: Why not use the same printing process for yearbooks?
Thus was born TreeRing, Greco’s four-year-old yearbook startup, which now serves 2,000 schools across the country and will produce about 200,000 yearbooks this year. By printing yearbooks on demand, TreeRing beats traditional yearbook companies in pretty much every way….
“When we go out to talk to schools and tell them what we do, there’s only one question we get,” Greco told me when I met him at TreeRing’s offices earlier this month: “ ‘What’s the catch?’ ” I wondered the same thing. At first, I suspected that TreeRing’s yearbooks might not look as good as those produced by offset printing. But Greco showed me a sample yearbook that looked great—the paper and print quality was fantastic, and the hardcover was glossy and substantial. It looked just as good as any school yearbook I’ve ever seen….
Greco managed to convince me that TreeRing’s model was better than that of traditional companies. But I did wonder one more thing—was his business doomed in the long run? As more and more of our kids’ lives move online, they no longer need printed books to remember what happened in school. You can always just flip back on your Facebook timeline—and Facebook has the added benefits of including just your friends and making you the center of attention. So why buy a yearbook?
Predictably, Greco believes there’s a big future in printed books, despite Facebook’s intrusion into our lives. He points out that even though we all take pictures on digital cameras, photo-printing companies like Shutterfly are experiencing huge growth. “People still want printed things, but they need to be curated—they need to be valuable,” says Greco.