Increasing Book Pickup Requires Creativity

Increasing Book Pickup Requires Creativity

Distribution day. Those words combine excitement and dread among my yearbook staff. It’s particularly difficult for my campus, because we don’t sell the book in the traditional sense, (and we create a college yearbook). Students must “opt-out” to a fee in the fall semester if they don’t want a book, and then the staff schedules pick-up points around campus to distribute the books to the students who either chose not to opt out, or simply neglected to do so.

When I was hired to advise the Tower Yearbook at Northwest Missouri State University five years ago, distribution was a weeklong affair that took place in the Student Union the week after books arrived on campus in April. The problem was only about half of the books were picked up. All of these students who purchased the book either didn’t come by the Union to get one, or they got mad when they found out they had paid for a book they said they never wanted. It was a dilemma. Our solutions have continued to evolve with what I consider excellent success.

My first year here, our storage facility was housing about 1,200 leftover books from each of the previous five years of distribution (books older than that were recycled, due to lack of storage). My first distribution as adviser saw about that same number left over at the end of the week. I didn’t want that to happen again. The problem? How do we get students to pick up something for which they’ve already paid, but say they don’t necessarily want?

The second year, distribution was about visibility. In addition to distribution in the Union, we set up distribution points in a campus building called The Station, which is where all campus residents go to get their mail, plus additional dining options. We also distributed at the library. We had 400 more books picked up that year, leaving us with just 800. Still too many, but better. While visibility increased, we still had students who didn’t see any value in the book, even though they had paid for it. Those had to be our next target.

The third year we spent the entire academic year promoting the book. We began publishing “sneak peak” photos of students on social media who were in the book, tagging them so they knew they were going to be in the yearbook in the spring. We shot promotional videos that were pushed out via social media as well. But the biggest change? We sent a personalized email to every student in the Index of the book, letting him or her know what pages they were on in the book, and where to pick it up if they purchased one, or how to buy it if they had opted out of the fee in the fall.

The result? Pick up increased by another 300 books. Still, that’s 500 leftover books, but fewer than half of what we had when I started!

This past spring was year four. We continued the previous year’s activities and, in addition to emailing everyone in the book, we sent reminder emails to everyone who had paid the fee. That resulted in some ugly, rude responses from students who were mad they had bought a book, and that’s an issue we’ll probably always have with students who don’t bother to read their fall bills and check all of the boxes. But, we also had students who said they had no idea they had bought a book, who then showed up to pick one up. We also added distribution points in two high-traffic academic buildings. This year, we have just 200 books remaining from last year, our best distribution yet!

I would love to run out this year. One thing I neglected to mention above is that we do a final distribution each year on graduation day, in the lobby of our arena. The problem is that area becomes exceptionally crowded before and after the ceremony, meaning a lot of new graduates probably don’t even see the table. This year, we are negotiating to have yearbook distribution next to the same room where the students must return their cap and gowns after the ceremony. We are hoping that will increase senior pickup of the book (and it’s also a day when seniors who get the book often ask for all four books for their time here — it would be nice reduce that inventory even more as well!). Check back with me in May and I’ll let you know how that new idea worked out.

Steven Chappell
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