Getting Paid for Obits: Improves Readership
February 26, 2015
Approximately 75 percent of community newspapers now charge for obituaries.
It’s admittedly an unscientific piece of data, but one I feel is reasonably accurate given my work with hundreds of community newspapers.
And I’m glad they charge. It’s a positive trend, but not for the reason you’re probably thinking.
Yup, the charges can be a nice source of plus-revenue for the paper.
But beyond the dollars and cents, paid obits have actually improved readership of what is typically the best-read and second most important (to the front page) section of a hometown paper.
Because the details allowed in a paid obituary are often, albeit not always, compelling, and readers love them. Most newspapers that run obits for free would set word limits and cite other policies that would leave these details out.
Here’s an example, a little wild and crazy maybe, to make my point.
Let’s say the editor at a paper that runs obits for free comes across the following section of a submitted obit.
“Herb will now be reunited with his best friend Butch, a three-legged, loving bulldog who Herb nursed back to health after he saw him lying on the berm of Interstate 77. Butch had been hit by a truck.
“The two spent 13 years as companions and were well-known for visiting and cheering up shut-ins during their Meals on Wheels route.”
Typically, under the policies dictating what can and can’t be included in a free obituary, the segment would have been deleted because 1) “No pet names allowed—do it for one obit and we’ll be obligated to do it for everyone”; or 2) “We have a 15-inch maximum for obits, and this segment would make it 20 inches.”
But the charged obituary pays for the space and allows for any anecdote within the limits of good taste.
Do you think the reader will enjoy the Herb and Butch story? No doubt in my mind—yes.
There is another personal touch just beginning to show up in paid obituaries, and I think it’s tremendous. Bet you’ll never guess what it is.
But let’s wait till the end of this column to highlight it, and instead look at some details about how to distinguish between a paid obituary, a death notice, and a straight news story about the death of a prominent person in the community.
The following guidelines are from the Vian (OK) Tenkiller News and Eastern Times-Register. They’re clear, concise and cover the bases. (Thanks to Publisher Jeff Mayo.)
The Vian Tenkiller News and Eastern Times-Register will publish three types of local death announcements. For all announcements, information will only be received from mortuaries and crematoriums. Paid death and death notices may be placed by calling 918-773-8000, faxing the information to 918-773-8745, e-mailing email@example.com or mail to P.O.Box 750, Vian, OK 74962.
1. Free Death Notice
As a courtesy, the death of any Sequoyah County resident or former resident can be announced in the newspaper’s obituary page in a free notice that includes a photo. We do not guarantee the day of publication.
A Death Notice can include the deceased person’s name, age, address, date of death, time and place of services, occupation, burial with the reverend and funeral home mentioned, birth date, married to whom and when, blood-relative survivors within one generation (i.e. parents,brothers/sisters, and children), preceded in death by within one generation and pallbearers.
2. Paid Obituary
The Vian News and Eastern Times-Register now charges funeral homes to publish obituaries when families desire to publish more information than allowed in a Free Death Notice.
Pricing: $35 for first 300 words, $0.10 per word thereafter; photos are no charge.
If we make significant errors in publishing an obituary, we will publish it again at no charge.
Obituaries containing errors when submitted to us can be re-published at the same rate as the original obituary.
3. Page 1 Obituaries of Prominent People Written by Vian News and Eastern Times-Register Staff
These obituaries expand on death announcements, telling the stories of notable local people.
These will be straight news stories with a reference to the obituary. A staff writer prepares these articles, based on news value and other factors.
While these are free of charge, they will not have the traditional obituary information included.
Just as the newspaper reserves the right to edit news copy and advertisements, we reserve the right to edit all obituaries. Oklahoma and Arkansas funeral homes will be billed monthly for obituaries running in the newspaper. All others will pay at the time the obituary is sent to us.
Notice: Death notices and obituaries submitted may be used in print or digital form in any publication or service authorized by the Vian Tenkiller News and Eastern Times-Register.
OK, what is the new trend in paid obituaries?
It’s something I’ve considered when my day comes many years from now (or, hopefully, many years).
It’s a note from the deceased composed, of course, before he or she passed away.
It can be touching, such as this note from the obituary of Janis Marie Snyder that appeared in a December issue of the Daily Record of Wooster, OH.
“To Ron, my sweetheart, Mike and Matt, my wonderful sons, beloved family members, dearest friends and the scores of children who have shared a reading table with me at Waterford:
“My journey on earth has ended, but now I look forward to the new one Jesus has planned for me. I can only be grateful for the life I was given; it was filled with laughter, love, countless blessings and God’s favor.
“As I say good-bye for the last time, I ask you to hold your loved ones a little tighter, never forget to thank God for the wonder of each day, and know that I leave each of you with a tiny piece of my heart.
“With much love.”
Or, reflecting the personality of the writer, now deceased, it can pass on some good humor.
The following is an excerpt from a 96-year-old woman who wrote her own obituary in the first person. It’s from the Beacon Journal of Akron, OH:
“I, Joan Burns, was born in Holland, 5 minutes from the palace. I outlived three husbands including the love of my life, Bob Burns.
… “I’ve been called a ‘Fun Girl,’ ‘Babe,’ ‘A Hoot’ and a ‘Pain in the Ass.’
“No calling hours, no funeral, no memorial service, no crap. I am sending my body to OU—my last chance to go to college.
“Goodbye world; see you in the hereafter—wherever that may be.”
Different. A little off the wall, but still in good taste.
Look for more of these statements in obituaries, made possible because the family, or in some cases the deceased himself, provided and controlled the copy.
One last impression.
Paid in full. © Ken Blum 2015
Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org; or phone 330-682-3416.