Between Facebook (s FB), umpteen other private social networks and ubiquitous smartphone cameras, you’d think students wouldn’t want the traditional school yearbook anymore. And, increasingly, it turns out, they don’t.
But, Aaron Greco, co-founder and CEO of TreeRing, a social yearbook service, argues that doesn’t mean they don’t want any yearbook at all.
“People still want to capture their memories and they still want a way to print them,” he said. “And they don’t only want it to be about themselves and their own memories.”
Digital cameras and social networking may make it easier than ever to document and share photos and updates in real time but it seems that students (or at least the parents who pay for the books) still want to preserve shared experiences and hold on to a moment in time.
Since launching in 2010, San Mateo, Calif.-based TreeRing said it’s signed on more than 1,200 schools in 49 states and Canada. And, on Tuesday, the startup is set to announce that it’s raised $3.6 million in Series A funding led by its angel funder Flipboard CEO and co-founder Mike McCue, Second Ave Partners, Cedar Grove Investments and other angel investors, including Expedia and Zillow founder Rich Barton. With the new funding, the company said, it plans to expand its team and ramp up marketing.
It’s been a while since Greco and his co-founders (and, admittedly, this writer) posed for an awkward yearbook picture. But he said the idea emerged when one of his co-founders noticed his daughter flipping through her unevolved school yearbook.
“[His reaction was] This is depressing. There has to be a better way,” Greco said.
So, TreeRing came up with its better way, which is this: Using the startup’s social software, school yearbook editors, as well as students and teachers, can maintain collections of photos and memories that can be added to the final yearbook. Just as they have in the past, school editors select the images that populate everyone’s books, but each person also gets two pages to personalize with their own pictures, updates (such as their favorite vacation that year or their best friend) and notes from friends.
Traditional yearbook companies like Jostens and Herff Jones have launched their own modern enhancements, including personalized pages and virtual time capsules. But Greco said TreeRing additionally offers schools a pricing model that takes the risk off their plate. To fund traditional yearbooks, schools have historically had to place a minimum number of orders and pay publishers upfront. But schools don’t need to pay for TreeRing’s software, nor do they need to play middleman, as families can purchase their books directly online.
Given all the options for storing, sharing and displaying digital images, it’s interesting to note that people still care about printed books. Greco said consumers feel very strongly about tangible books and pointed to Shutterfly (s SFLY), which continues to post revenue growth, as evidence that the printed book continues to have a place.
“It’s a great bellwether for where the industry is going,” he said. “With all of those pictures on their smartphones, [consumers] want to do something with them. “