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Many newspapers implement paywalls to help monetize their digital platforms to protect their content and compensate for the industrywide decline in print subscriptions and advertising revenue. While there is certainly a case for newspapers to use a paywall on their editorial content, we recommend that our partners exclude their obituary sections from their metered content.

According to a study conducted by Millward Brown Digital, obituary content is the most read part of a newspaper website. Obituaries are engaging and shareable, and they drive more total time spent on-site. While it may seem to make sense to put your site’s most engaging content behind a paywall meter, it is important to keep in mind the sensitivity of the situation. Obituaries are already paid for upfront by grieving families, so putting obituaries behind a paywall can make those readers feel as though they are being double-charged for the obituary notice at a time when their emotions are already heightened.

Paywall Implementation Decreases Pages Per Session
In December 2015, a newspaper located in the Northeast region added a 10-page paywall onto their obituary pages. We reviewed their performance before and after the paywall was implemented and saw that the newspaper had a 23% decrease in pages per session compared to the previous year, while other newspapers saw a 5% increase on average in pages per session for the same period.

Paywall Removal Results
Legacy looked at a group of 24 sites that previously had their obituaries behind a paywall but removed the paywall in July 2015. While the overall traffic of those sites declined (because of a decrease in notice volume, consistent with industry trends), their pages per session increased by 9%, which was 80% higher than the Legacy.com average.

Additional Paywall Consequences
From a customer service standpoint, the sensitivity of the obituary category should be highly regarded in this discussion. Obituaries are extremely personal and must be handled with utmost compassion. Friends and family of the deceased often return to view their loved one’s obituary, read the latest Guest Book entries, and get information about the service. A paywall limits the opportunities for friends and relatives to celebrate the life of their loved one who has died. The resulting frustration trickles down to your funeral home partners as well, potentially hurting your relationships with them.

One user wrote to our customer service department to express displeasure over a Texas newspaper’s paywall: “The (newspaper) is so afraid that someone is going to access some information from them without paying for it that they have rendered your information unusable. I consider obituaries or at least death notices to be public information, but this newspaper has a different opinion. Can you encourage them to open up their obituary information so that it can be viewed without subscribing?”

Legacy continuously strives to optimize the obituary category for you and your readers. To accomplish this goal, we advise all of our newspaper partners to exclude their obituary content from their paywalls. Keeping your obituaries out of your paywall will increase site engagement and create a better user experience for your readers.