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Updated: Friday, 01 Jun 2012, 10:52 AM EDT
Published : Friday, 01 Jun 2012, 10:52 AM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An Indianapolis-based producer of school yearbooks is turning to an online product in hopes of boosting sales and shoring up the industry that has struggled in a digital era.
The new venture from Herff Jones is called Stitch and provides a platform for schools to create an online version of a yearbook.
"This is a huge leap forward for yearbooks, and there's nothing else out there like it," Kim Green, a journalism adviser at Columbus North High School who has tested Stitch, told the Indianapolis Business Journal ( http://bit.ly/JQ6ZlE ).
Green called the platform "a living, breathing tapestry during the school year that turns into a time capsule after each school year ends."
Herff Jones hired Carmel-based MediaSauce two years ago to develop Stitch, which allows students to personalize an online yearbook throughout the year. Faculty advisers and yearbook staff can enrich and control the content.
Since February, Herff Jones has tested Stitch in 54 schools, including Columbus North, Greenwood and McCutcheon high schools in Indiana, and the response has been "overwhelmingly positive," Herff Jones Senior Vice President Tom Tanton said. A national rollout to thousands of schools is planned in July.
"We think this platform is ground-breaking," said MediaSauce CEO Bryan Gray. "We wanted to help create something that could be customized for each school, that is digital, yet has permanence."
The venture comes at a critical time for Herff Jones, which was founded in 1920 and started selling yearbooks in the 1960s, and the yearbook industry, which has seen little change in decades.
The economic downturn and the rise of the web have left sales of yearbooks, which typically cost students $50 to $60, down or slightly flat, industry sources said.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and the proliferation of camera-equipped cellphones that make it easy to send photos quickly has left students unwilling to wait until the end of the school year to see photos and stories of school events, high school yearbook advisers said.
"There have been some worries about the future of yearbooks," said Diana Hadley, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association. "I think it's significant that Herff Jones is first to market with something like this. If yearbooks are going to remain relevant, they're going to have to have these types of bells and whistles."
Stitch will mirror social networks but has some key differences, including capacity.
Schools will be able to upload more than 10,000 photos per year. The MyStitch function allows students to create their own photo archives and collages.
Students can create "badges" identifying them by grade, the clubs they're in, the sports they play and other activities or interests. Each time the student uploads a photo or is in a photo, other students can pull up the student's badge to learn more about them.
Photos and other information can be grouped by class, club, sport or other categories. Stitch also includes games, polling and other interactive features.
"You can engage entire groups, such as class officers or members of a class or club," said MediaSauce CEO Bryan Gray. "You can organize a senior class trip with Stitch."
Only students and faculty from a particular school will have access, and faculty or yearbook staff must sign off on posts to the site.
At the end of the school year, the site will be viewable by students who purchased a hard copy of the yearbook but will be closed to further manipulation.
Herff Jones will give Stitch to schools that buy its yearbooks at no cost. Students who buy a hard copy of the annual yearbook may get to use more features and will be able to view all the images and stories and their own archived information after the school year has ended.