Not Just a Pretty Keepsake

Posted on January 1, 2014 by

How to make sure your studio’s recital book is a healthy profit center

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Studio owner Robin Dawn Ryan vividly remembers putting together her first program book: Restricted to bed rest during a pregnancy, she had to manage the production long-distance, fielding calls from her studio manager, who had inadvertently created a bidding war between two mothers who both wanted their kids to be the book’s cover star. “One mom would be writing another check,” Ryan says. “Then my studio manager would go to the other mom, who’d say, ‘Well, wait a minute. I’ll do another full page.’” Ryan eventually decided to put both kids on the cover, raking in impressive revenues and instituting a profitable studio tradition. Now, 23 years later, she can report that she’s never not made a substantial profit from her Cape Coral, Florida, studio’s recital book. In fact, it’s not unusual for her to net upward of $25,000—which Ryan says can pay for her entire summer studio expenses.

A souvenir recital book typically includes students’ photos and ads and the program of dances for recital night, of course, but also faculty and class assistant portraits; a photo and short bio of the studio owner; a list of any competition team title winners; group photos of competition team divisions; and a photo collage of studio events, master classes and conventions. Plan to budget between $5,000 and $10,000 total (depending on the size of your book—last year, Ryan’s book was 80 pages and fell nearer the $5,000 mark) for cover shoot, photography, design, production, printing and distribution expenses. Here’s a timeline for creating a successful and profitable recital book.

Countdown to Recital Day

8 Months Before Recital
Contact designers and publishers to get price quotes. Some printers offer design services, or you can hire a designer independently. Look for someone with experience designing and shepherding similar projects through production. “Get a quote per page of design from the designer, as opposed to per ad,” says Carrie Nelson, Ryan’s studio manager and recital book guru. When getting your per-page quote from the printer, keep in mind that color pages will cost more to print. Estimate how many books you’d like to print, and ask the publisher the cost per copy for that number. Check to see if there are savings for particular quantities.

7 Months Out
Sign contracts with your designer and publisher. These should outline deliverables, costs (what’s included, what’s not), deadlines and payment schedules. Together, you’ll establish a production schedule for your book.
Set prices for each ad size and establish the guidelines for submission. You don’t necessarily need a lot of cash up front to produce a recital book. Once you’ve arranged fees with the designer and printer, you can set your ad prices accordingly to cover your costs. Students at Robin Dawn Dance Academy can purchase ads in full-page, half-page, quarter-page or business-card sizes. A full-page color ad and photo costs $280, a full-size black-and-white, $195. The smallest size ad, which is about an eighth of a page, costs $45.

Arrange a contract with a photographer. Ryan covers the cost and time frame for snapping the cover and the competition kids, who are required to put a photo in the book. Recreational dancers also have the option to schedule and pay for a shoot with the photographer or have photos taken on their own. “Some might go to JCPenney to have their photos taken,” says Nelson. “Or parents may take their kids’ pictures.” She strongly suggests that the picture be professional-grade. Rather than stipulating digital resolution and backgrounds, she encourages parents to use the previous year’s book as a guide when planning their children’s ads.

6–7 Months Out
Send the necessary information out to the parents. Nelson and Ryan usually send parents a detailed description of deadlines and photo procedures right after the winter holidays. Nelson recommends giving your parents as much advance notice as possible, so they have plenty of time to plan and set aside money.

5–6 Months Out
Gather photos and ads, logging them as they come in. Competition students must set up an appointment with the photographer on their own, usually in January or February. Recreational students who want to use the hired photographer’s services must have their photo taken in this same time frame.

4 Months Out
Hold the cover winner contest and set up the cover shoot. At Robin Dawn Dance Academy, any student who buys or sells $800 worth of ad space will be featured on the front cover of the book in a group shot. The student who buys or sells the most ad space above $1,500 graces the back cover of the book, solo. For Ryan’s 25th anniversary recital, she lowered the front-cover ad price to $500, hoping to get 25 students to participate. “I got them all!” she says. Her front cover subjects alone brought in $12,500.

2–3 Months Out
Get all information to your publisher by the agreed-on deadline, so that he or she can print a proof for you to review. Nelson makes sure that she has all her ads in and approved three weeks before the date by which she’d like a proof copy. Once she’s satisfied with the changes made to the proof, her publisher needs another two weeks to print and bind copies of the final version.

Proofread, proofread, proofread! Ryan knows not to underestimate the amount of time and effort spent proofing the program before printing: “The first year my stepdaughter won a title, I accidentally left her off the page that listed every kid’s title wins,” she says. Nelson gives the book a thorough read at least three times and has two other office staffers proofread it. If you include a recital lineup in your book, triple-check that each student’s name is listed and spelled correctly for each number.

1 Month Before Recital
Have your books printed. Ryan, whose studio enrolls 350 kids, orders 800 books.

Recital Day
Sell your program books at your recital. Any client who purchases a recital package gets one book for free, but Ryan easily sells the rest for $5 a pop. If there are any leftover, she gives them to prospective clients. “The book gives them a good sense of my studio—the competition team, my teachers’ pictures,” she explains. “There’s a lot of my philosophy in there.” DT

DO’s

DO encourage your parents to have their children’s pictures taken by a professional.

DO make it up to your client if you inadvertently misspell a child’s name or forget to include her photo and ad. Ryan suggests you give parents back their money, apologize and offer them a free full-page ad in the following year’s program.

DO keep your recital book fresh. Ryan likes to come up with a new recital theme each year, and she ties in her cover shoot to that theme: Her cover subjects have posed at Busch Gardens, Toys “R” Us, Disney World, the grocery store and the zoo. “One year the theme had to do with money, so I had a limo drive the cover girls around,” she says. “The limo even dropped them off at school!”

DON’Ts
DON’T let parents put as many pictures as they want in their child’s ad. Otherwise, Nelson warns, you’ll wind up trying to squeeze in 15 to 20 pictures on one page. Robin Dawn Dance Academy puts a limit of three pictures per ad.

DON’T let parents dictate specifics if you are designing their ad. “Sometimes the fonts or colors they request aren’t available,” says Nelson.

DON’T allow parents to Photoshop their kids’ photos themselves. If a background needs to be cut, just let them know your designer will do the editing.

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