Obituaries: a newspaper staple that should find a way into community news sites

memorial-obitIt’s all about alternative revenue.

Newspapers, large and small, have served for generations as a gateway for providing information about the deaths of loved ones.

Without any real numbers to back this up, it sure seems that unlike things like job listings and other classifieds, obit profits haven’t been eaten away nearly as much.

When I look at highly targeted community Web sites — successful ones like Howard Owens’s The Batvian and My Missourian (read about if they are sustainable) — I don’t see them trying to do the same. Any site that has any meaningful geographic focus and critical mass of readership there needs to see this as an important monetization strategy.

It’s a service I actually would pay for. The hometown newspaper with which I grew up, the New Jersey Herald (a paper I think is making nice changes), charges a $15 fee and $15 per each two column inches — a bit tighter at 20-25 words per inch. It’s a cost I see valuable when dealing with a small community, as Sussex County is and the Herald covers. It’s an opportunity to let neighbors, friends and those not quite either to know about a lost loved one.

It’s another case for geographic specificity: towns, small regions or neighborhoods. So why aren’t more smaller niche Web sites entering that market? –Are they?

Even as a fan of the journalism from big city newspapers, I don’t think it pays to put an obit in a large-circ paper, where the eyeballs are leaving and the page is already crowded. So, give me a smaller paper and, even increasingly so, give  me the eternity of the Internet. A community news site that collects that meaningful readership from that narrow community can charge me, I think, a similar price to a newspaper — please don’t undercut the revenue model! — because I could include photo slide shows, video and all the pertinent text.

Of course the thought of this comes at a rotten time.

As I shared solemnly yesterday, I had to put an obituary in a couple papers — a lengthier one I wrote for the Herald and a death notice in Newsday — for my mother. It made me realize the impermanence, how I was happy to put it in the Herald, where I knew it would be seen, but it wouldn’t stay.

For now, it’s available on the funeral parlor Web site and on the Herald’s site for now, but niche community sites for small towns or city neighborhoods could offer a real service and make a genuine profit. Ya think?