A long time ago, newspapers gave up the classifieds sections to a whole variety of online providers. Local events came next and careers. Today, obituaries are the next target. Already, in an attempt to save costs in a struggling business, newspapers are again giving up what was once a great cash cow. Instead, they should be fighting to keep them and those of a national nature, should also look to build on them as they can still generate a lot of revenue and are a feature towards driving subscriptions.
Think Beyond The Obit Customer
For most newspapers, obits are just part of what they do. They take the order, print it in the paper and publish it to the website. Done. End of transaction. Forgotten. Except this shouldn’t be. For newspapers that have a decade or a century of publishing, there is incredible value in their obits.
It is this ongoing value that holds revenue potential and they include;
  • Historical data on causes of death for medical research
  • Trends in health in an area
  • Genealogy data
In addition, with the web, small add-ons can be leveraged for revenue such as the ability to add a “candle” that flickers, a small sound file of peaceful music or snip of their favourite song. A colour photo or photo montage. All of which can be added on.
Since most obits are booked through funeral homes, adding incremental items for small prices between $5 and $10 can add up quickly.
The Competition is Fierce for Obituaries
Increasingly, funeral homes themselves are either building an obituary section themselves or grouping together in regional and national networks. In addition, a number of startups or similar businesses are building obituaries with added features.
Some companies such as InMemoriam (and it’s an awful site) are providing online obituary services to newspapers. There are others that combine obits, classifieds and careers and take a cut along the way.
For a newspaper, this can be tempting. Let someone else do the online stuff and concentrate on the print product. It’s actually a losing proposition to a newspaper and untapped revenues wafting out the door.
Added risks are loss of the resale of the data in the future and difficulty in enforcing any kind of copyright.
What To Do?
Storage for digital is extremely inexpensive today and falling. All obituaries are online are a database. If you think it’s going to cost $50,000+ to build out, then you’re being ripped off, plain and simple. If you have an internal team, it shouldn’t take too long to build them, externally, depending on your market, a decent product can be built for under $15,000. Or $5,000.
Week up your business case using a Lean Canvass model to keep it simple and to be able to move quickly. You’re leaving money on the table, good money.

About the Author Giles Crouch

Giles is managing partner of Ekspansiv, a global digital business advisory firm to news media companies . A polymath with over 20 years experience in the digital world, Giles brings together marketing communications, digital anthropology and digital behavioural economics for client projects. He has extensive experience with news media and publishing. Giles is also regularly interviewed by media regarding technology and industry trends. He has completed over 300 digital research projects for clients around the world. Giles co-founded the Ice Awards, an advertising creative awards program in 2001. His clients have included, newspaper, magazine and book publishers as well as pure-play digital media companies. He occasionally works as interim CIO or CDO and senior marketing guidance.

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