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Newspaper Death Notices May Be a Dying Business 171

Hugh Pickens writes "Alan D. Mutter writes in his journalism blog 'Reflections of a Newsosaur' that some newspapers exploit bereaved families with exorbitantly priced death notices — a distasteful and strategically inept way for them to try to make ends meet. 'I stumbled across the problem this week when I tried to buy a death notice in ... the San Francisco Chronicle, which proposed charging $450 for the one-day run of a crappy-looking, 182-word death notice,' writes Mutter. But lose the death notice business, and newspapers risk losing a huge audience driver as well. The solution may be partnering with websites like, a site that already publishes death notices for about two-thirds of the people who die each day in the US. 'It may not be easy to figure out the terms of a broader collaboration, writes Rich Gordon on, 'partly because some newspaper executives are wary of Legacy and feel the company could become a competitive threat for audiences and revenue. But this is exactly the reaction many newspaper executives had to collaborating with Internet companies in other classified advertising categories. I'd hate to see newspapers make the same mistake with death notices and obituaries.'"
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Newspaper Death Notices May Be a Dying Business

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 18, 2010 @03:55PM (#31889426)

    Every respectful person is sure to twitter his or her death as it's happening.

    • by Peach Rings ( 1782482 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @04:29PM (#31889724) Homepage

      Her heart sank down and down, there was no bottom to death, she couldn’t come to the end of it. The blue light from Cornelia’s lampshade drew into a tiny point in the center of her brain, it flickered and winked like an eye, quietly it fluttered and dwindled. Granny laid curled down within herself, amazed and watchful, staring at the point of light that was herself; her body was now only a deeper mass of shadow in an endless darkness and this darkness would curl around the light and swallow it up. God, give a sign!

      For a second time there was no sign. Again no bridegroom and the priest in the house. She could not remember any other sorrow because this grief wiped them all away. Oh, no, there’s nothing more cruel than this – I’ll never forgive it. She stretched herself with a deep breath, took out her cell phone, and fired off a quick tweet.

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Pulse sensor connected via BT with smartphone, which can send preset message to twitter? That's...easily doable.

      • by codegen ( 103601 )
        But imagine the problems when the battery gets low on the Pulse Sensor. How many times will you have to die before you notice?
    • Some of us died before Twitter, you insensitive clod!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "...which proposed charging $450 for the one-day run of a crappy-looking, 182-word death notice"

    I'm sure a web site would be more than happy to take over their business for, let's say, $45 a day for listing 1820 words, and the web site will still make money at it.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @04:03PM (#31889482)
    I only believe death notices from Netcraft.
  • Why in the world would someone publish a death notice in the first place? Is it some sort of legal requirement? If not, I don't understand the thought processes that would lead someone to want to do such a thing.

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @04:18PM (#31889622) Homepage

      Why in the world would someone publish a death notice in the first place? Is it some sort of legal requirement? If not, I don't understand the thought processes that would lead someone to want to do such a thing.

      It may be required for estate or other legal purposes. And, as another poster noted, it's traditional and some people expect it. Didn't realize they were so expensive, but dammnit, dying ain't cheap these days. Nothing is.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        A coffin can easily cost as much as a car. I had to help pick one out once for a friend.
        They had one 'cheapo' model for $995 that was barely a step up from a wooden box. The rest of the 30 coffin models they had ranged from $3995 to $21,995. Only two models were under $5,000 and they only came in white or brown.
        Add in the cost for the cement tomb most cemeteries require around a coffin now ($1500), mortuary expenses of $1200 and various other fees for the death certificate and copies, etc...
        You feel bett

        • by mirix ( 1649853 )

          I think I'll just request to be buried in my car, in that case. Volkssarg. It's even got AC, and a CD player.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by HungWeiLo ( 250320 )

          Costco sells respectable looking ones for a little under $1,000. Don't know if you have to buy a 3-pack, though.

        •     It costs roughly $15,000 to be put in the ground properly. I've read news reports where families have known that a family member has died, but they've refused to claim the body because they couldn't afford to bury them.

        • $500 for 4'x7'? I think I will cut that down by requesting to be buried vertically to save space.

      • IANA(TG), but I'm pretty sure an obituary has no legal significance. There are separate probate notices that are published. You do have a point that when you've spent several grand on a funeral you might as well spend a few hundred more to advertise it to boost attendance. It's also a step on the way to acceptance of the death and a pitiful attempt at imparting meaning to existence.
    • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @04:25PM (#31889684)

      Let me set the stage for you. You're an old man. Once, you lived in a "neighborhood", which is a place where you know and hang out with people who live and work next door. But as you got older, you moved away, into a retirement or nursing home.

      Then you died. You know thousands of people face-to-face by name, who'd like to know that you're no longer around. How does your family let them know? For this generation, the answer is *not* "Facebook".

      I swear, the concept of face-to-face friendship is so foreign to young people today, our society is starting to look like Asimov's "The Naked Sun".

      But anyway, any business whose primary profit center comes from people who'll be dead in a few years is in trouble.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by chaosite ( 930734 )

        Nursing homes?
        Funeral houses?
        Grave diggers?

        They seem to be doing fine...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hizonner ( 38491 )

        Your family individually, personally contacts the people they know were close to you. Those people fill in the gaps. No, it's not fun. But it's necessary. I've done it. I'll probably be doing it again in a few years.

        If actually know somebody well enough to really care if they've died, it's pretty cold to have to read about it in the newspaper. And it's pretty lazy to use the newspaper as an escape hatch.

        The good news is that you can do a lot of it by e-mail. An awful lot of older people use e-mail the

        • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @05:01PM (#31889956)

          But with everything that happens when someone passes away, it's damn hard to remember everybody and even harder to get ahold of everyone. Especially when you're having to get burial plots, caskets, and all the other stuff that goes on. Especially if the person was highly connected and you had been away for quite some time. I saw it with my mother. She was one of those people who knew a lot of people. I certainly didn't know them all.

          • Solution:
            Make an online script (I dunno, someplace called "Am I dead yet?").
            Log in every couple of days, check "I'm not dead yet!"
            Use the much cheaper "e-mail marketing" services to notify your relatives immediately if the box hasn't been checked in 48 hours.
            Make sure that no greedy relatives or old arch-nemeses change your password. These matters are irreversible under normal means.

            • I thought about this for various reasons. Death notices. Layoff scripts (i.e., do damage if you don't check in). It's all a good idea until some error comes along. What happens if the server reboots and the time is set to something outrageously wrong? Or someone goes and manually resets the time. What if you go on a trip and find it impossible to check in. It's a bit embarrassing for family and friends to get the note. It may be a bit hard to take back after it's sent.


        • People move and contacts are lost. While immediate friends and family can usually be telephoned, it's likely you will have missed quite a few people. Old school friends and colleagues are often a very touching attendants to funeral and memorial services, especially when they can tell you of memories of the persons life you never heard before.

          e-mail is certainly what I call the lazy option. While we do hear a lot about the silver surfer generation in the media, the majority of people are probably still compl

      • by sznupi ( 719324 )

        So, the need to propagate such news (from a disposal home) through a newspaper and not by, say, word of actually a testament of better face-to-face friendships or relations generally?

      • Bollocks. When my uncle died, his sons called all the people in his phone book. This way it costs way less than $450 and people won't miss it if they don't happen to read the obituary of the same edition of the same newspaper you happen to choose.

        I swear, the concept of face-to-face friendship is so foreign to young people today

        [citation needed]

        I find that my peers tend to know way more people face-to-face than guys in their 30s when the Internet basically didn't exist here in Portugal. Yes, they may only k

      • Thanks for the followup. My grandfather was in a situation like you described. He was moved to an assisted living home near my parents house, far from where his home used to be. When he passed away, my parent's contacted his old friends and acquaintances from where he lived to let them know and give them the funeral information. I don't know if they published anything in the paper, but I will ask them now. I can't imagine depending on someone reading the paper to know a friend of theirs has died. Contacting

      • I swear, the concept of face-to-face friendship is so foreign to young people today

        Huh? How are newspapers "face-to-face" at all? Using a newspaper to notify friends and family of one's death is what is baffling people (including me, seems so impersonal) here...

        • So then you can go to the funeral. Which is you know. FACE TO FACE!

        • The issue isn't friends and family, it's your former neighbors, the lady who worked at your bank, casual coworkers from a job you retired from ten years ago. People who'd like to know, but whom your heirs wouldn't think to call.

          Newspapers aren't face-to-face, of course, but death notices are designed to solve a notification problem that only exists if your relationships are primarily face-to-face.

          Us young people (I'm 37) would use Facebook or something to handle this today: all in all it's a better solutio

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward


      In order to get a passport quickly to fly to a funeral, or to cancel a flight or trip, you often need a clip from a newspaper to proove the death actually happened.

      • In order to get a passport quickly to fly to a funeral, or to cancel a flight or trip, you often need a clip from a newspaper to proove the death actually happened.

        Why would they want a newspaper clipping when they could call the foreign Office of Births Deaths and Marriages for an actual authoritative verification of the death?

        Even, then it seems that verifying your story is probably a waste of their time:

        How do they know you didn't just pick a random obit in your destination city's newspaper and claim that as your reason for needing a passport ASAP?

        Or use an obit in your local newspaper so you can claim that as your reason for cancelling a flight?

    • so people with whom the deceased lost contact can know what happened and get back in touch with the family

  • If we assume an average of 5 letters per word, that makes 0.5 USD/letter --- I'll no longer think that my SMS plan at 0.1 cents/letter is expensive...
  • by Anonymous Coward sucks because their obits are only available for a month or two, and then they extract a fee to see the obit. Legacy is a black hole where information goes down the drain. I suppose it's possible all the newspapers themselves are black holes also because when then go out of business their websites will disappear and all that information will go "poof" and be gone forever. A real problem looming, and obits are just the tip of the iceberg.
    • Newspapers are archived. Websites are archived.
    • Every major newspaper in the country keeps an archive nowadays, and libraries still, traditionally, keep active subscriptions to local papers. In addition, almost all papers still microfilm their editions, and the papers, some libraries, the LOC (usually), and the microfilming companies themselves all keep copies. It's possible it'll disappear, eventually, but compared to a website like, it's solid.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @04:18PM (#31889612) Homepage

    Many print newspapers carry "legal notices", of D/B/A names, incorporations, and such. As non-searchable information, that's almost useless. But it's a big profit center for many newspapers, which are fighting to keep it. [](Google cache of Michigan Press Association, whose web site is down)

    On the other hand, if governments don't require that information to be published, they should maintain the database (which they will have anyway for internal purposes) and offer free access. D/B/A names in the United States are handled at the county level, and that data can be hard to obtain on line. There are commercial services that collect it, expensively. Considering that the amount of data is small by modern standards (all the data for the US will fit on a DVD), it's not a high-cost item.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 )

      I'm amused that the Michigan Press Association used an address in Missouri for their correspondence.

      I don't think the cost of that information is about the quantity, it's about having to collect information from 3140 county clerk offices and transcribing them reliably into digital format, or if they are in digital format, converting possibly numerous digital formats into one harmonized format can cost a lot of money.

      I've filed for a couple DBAs with the county and an LLC with the state, there wasn't any req

  • thus decreasing the cost.

    Something like this: Bozo Mortuary Services: We put "Fun" back to Funerals.

    • Ever looked at an obit page in a real physical paper? They're full of ads for elderly medical products, retirement communities, etc.

      Most papers have more taste than to advertise funeral homes on the same page, but they're definitely taking advantage of this.

  • Am I the only one who initially misread the article title as being the obituary for newspapers? Stuff like this only serves to reinforce the expectation that printed newspapers are an endangered species. I wonder when the bailout will happen?
    • Even better: I misread this as an obituary for obituaries of newspapers. There has to be some contrarian out there who is writing that newspapers are here to stay...

      • by Phroggy ( 441 )

        Even better: I misread this as an obituary for obituaries of newspapers. There has to be some contrarian out there who is writing that newspapers are here to stay...

        This was my first reading as well.

  • I thought social network sites are/will be a good solution for this. You don't even have to know the password of the dead one to query his/her friends. (But I guess you could get even the password if you prove the site owners that you're the closest relative of the dead one.)

  • by c1ay ( 703047 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @04:48PM (#31889852) Homepage
    When my wife's father died I got on the phone to try and get her a ticket from Atlanta to Baltimore. At the time I found tickets from $700 - $900 for a same day flight. When I mentioned to one of the airlines the reason for such a sudden need they told me they had a bereavement rate and quoted me $1100. I've not flown with that line since.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by shovas ( 1605685 )
      I could be wrong, but I swear I've heard of bereavement discounts. A quick google seems to confirm it is usually a discount. Perhaps they were offering you a business or first class ticket thinking you wanted to be nice to your relative.
      • IME, they might be discounts, but they are discounts off of the 'suggested retail price' sort of thing. I ran into the same thing, talking to the airlines with a copy of my grandmother's death certificate in hand (a requirement for such a discount) didn't rate a fare that could compete with Expedia or Priceline. It might have been better than what they would charge me normally, but it was not any sort of real discount. Much like how Adobe sells their products for much more than their resellers do (from when
      • They are supposed to be discounts, but they don't necessarily keep up with the pace of the standard ticket rates. At a different time of year he may have saved a couple hundred bucks with the bereavement rate.

        • by c1ay ( 703047 )
          It was a discount, off the regular retail price on a seat and it also didn't apply to any of the related fees, surcharges and taxes; only the seat price. The girl checked it after quoting me a price to compete with another airline and it ended up being higher than the price she had already quoted me. I argued that she should apply the discount to the already quoted price and she said they couldn't do that :(
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by egburr ( 141740 )

      For the ticket prices you found, you probably had to schedule the return trip at the same time. Usually, the bereavement fare allows an open-ended return, meaning you have already paid for it but do not have to schedule it yet, so you have time to get affairs in order when you don't know in advance how long that will take. On the other hand, if you know you don't have to help get affairs in order and know when you will be returning, the bereavement fare is usually not the best deal.

      • This.

        The two tickets are not comparable--you are getting a discount on the open-ended ticket, which is quite expensive on most airlines. As parent says if you have fixed dates, the online price is the best deal you are going to get but is full of restrictions, with a notable exception being Southwest Airlines.

        More here [], in the comments.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have used bereavement tickets 3 times (unfortunately). The difference is the bereavement discount is a discount off of a unrestricted ticket. The discount tickets you were looking at were almost certainly heavily restricted tickets.
      My tickets were open ended and I was able to change flights times/days on my tickets without fee. Which is a huge help when you're uncertain of the length of stay. IIRC I paid $100-$200 more than the discount ticket on each occasion.

  • by Sam_In_The_Hills ( 458570 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @05:02PM (#31889968) [] Then 1/4 million views later... [] everyone knows he passed away. As an added benefit this gives you geek street cred in the afterlife since he's now the top Google response for searchs like "computer urn" or "Geek Funeral" and will probably hold that position for some time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rts008 ( 812749 )

      You sir, have my vote as the coolest brother ever!

      I don't know how I missed the original /. article, but I just checked both links...OUTSTANDING!

      Please accept my belated condolences, as I'm sure you loved him very much to something this neat for him. :-)
      I know from experience that you probably encountered resistance from some of the family to pull this off. Glad you stuck to you guns.

      I caused an inter-family feud when I scattered my grandfather's ashes at his favorite fishing hole. That was his last request

  • by winphreak ( 915766 ) on Sunday April 18, 2010 @06:27PM (#31890596)

    I was at a rummage sale looking around, when I spotted a rather spiffy blue briefcase. After purchasing it, I took it home and was loading it with a few things when I noticed a small square of paper. It was the obituary for the person who had owned it before. Talk about creepy.

  • The newspapers are dying in it's today's form, not just the death notice market. I know that it will not happen tomorrow nor in the next 5 years, but it will eventually, as more and more people reads the news on the Internet. And the question here is not just the price (zero x something), but timing. In the past, you would need to wait until the next day to read about some big news in depth, as TV news tend to be just a highlight of the situation. But now? 5 minutes after anything happens you can track the

  • ...but isn't doing the obvious thing: running an ad-supported site on which obits can be posted for free.

  • The exploitation of grieving survivors is how funeral homes stay in business. $9k coffin? $2k floral arrangements? It's ridiculous. They know that people want to express their love and affection for the dead and convince them that they only way they can do that is to spend money on a bunch of expensive bullshit.


  • by Myrddin Wyllt ( 1188671 ) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:51AM (#31893558)
    So Manny dies - Sarah rings the Golders Green Chronicle and says "My husband just passed away, how much do you charge for a Death Notice"
    "Ten pounds per word." comes the reply.
    "A little steep," says Sarah, "but at times like these it can't be helped - just write 'Manny's Dead'"
    "Sorry madam, but we have a fifty pound minimum charge"
    "Hmmm...Ok, well could you put 'Manny's Dead. Volvo for Sale.'?"