As the University administration faces budget shortfalls and
tuition increases continue to strain students, one student
publication is experiencing the pressures of operating in the
red.

Over the past few years, the Michiganensian yearbook has
continually accumulated financial losses, failing to amass enough
revenue to cover its costs. For Fiscal Year 2003, the yearbook
acquired a deficit of about $40,000. The yearbook in the past three
years has produced losses ranging from about $20,000 to almost
$100,000. The bulk of the Ensian’s revenue arises from book
sales, with earnings ranging from about $150,000 to $180,000 per
year.

Most agree that the primary problem is poor book sales —
possibly resulting from a lagging economy — increased tuition
and a lack of knowledge or interest in purchasing the Ensian.

“The preference would be to sell it more effectively, and
I think the students believe that too,” said Alan Lenhoff,
Board for Student Publications chair. The board’s job is to
ensure financial solvency, guaranteeing that its three student
publications — The Michigan Daily, The Gargoyle and the
Michiganensian — stay in business for generations to
come.

To rectify the problem, Ensian staffers met with members of the
board Monday to discuss ways to improve the yearbook’s
business model. This year’s budget will focus on cutting
losses and expenditures in order to break even, said Lenhoff, who
is also an executive at Detroit Newspapers. But Student
Publications Manager Sam Offen said the yearbook would most likely
run another deficit this year.

For Fiscal Year 2005, both the board and Ensian staffers
resolved to develop a “loss-proof budget,” which Ensian
members will create using this year’s revenue figures. In a
few weeks, the yearbook will propose this budget to the board for
approval.

Ensian business manager Lindsay Norris said the yearbook will
cut about $15,000 out of its book production price, $5,000 out of
the marketing budget — which includes printing, mailing and
advertising — and $5,000 out of staff commissions and
stipends.  Additionally, some staff members will take pay
cuts.

“We’ll be cutting a little bit design-wise and also
cutting our book count — the number of books that we actually
order,” Editor in Chief Melissa Mariola said.

With a reduced marketing budget, staffers will be working to
expand awareness of the yearbook, Norris said. They will maintain a
continued presence on the Diag and in Angell Hall using low-expense
promotion.

Searching for innovative ideas, editors plan to advertise with
companies and, in return, request corporate sponsorship. Currently
accepting bids for new printing contracts, they are requesting that
printers include marketing funds and strategies in their proposals.
They also require staffers to sell a certain number of books, a
strategy Norris said has increased staff involvement.

“We’re learning what works and what
doesn’t,” said Norris, noting the difficulties in
developing marketing strategies while the Ensian lacks the
resources to hire consultants or conduct its own research. The
editors recently applied to a Business School program in which
marketing students assess a business strategies and offer
recommendations.

But board members acknowledged that the solutions only address
the yearbook’s short-term problems.

Long-term solutions include improved marketing and advertising
to increase book sales. For board member Marlene Goldsmith, more
“publicity awareness” is needed.

Other, less desirable options include making the yearbook
shorter or less colorful. Drawing from her past experiences with
the publication, Goldsmith mentioned that certain aspects of the
yearbook have been cut over the years. “The book has gotten
down pretty tight,” she said.

“I think generally you need to resist the urge to diminish
a product when you’re trying to sell more of them,”
said Lenhoff, who also agreed that selling more books, not cutting
costs, was a more sustainable business model.

A better economy, however, could also alleviate the
publication’s budget concerns. Administrators cited the
tenuous job market, state budget losses and possible increases in
tuition as probable culprits in declining book sales. These factors
make it less likely for students to spend on luxury items such as a
yearbook.

“It’s no one person’s fault, it’s partly
due to the economy,” Goldsmith said.

But Goldsmith, who was a senior copy editor at the Ensian as an
undergraduate, added that the Ensian is the only student
publication that maintains its value over long periods of time.

“You may not be particularly interested right now, but
five to 10 years down the road you’ll wish that you had (a
yearbook),” she said.

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