The pace of change in local news publishing seems to have stepped up a bit lately. Forward-thinking news organizations are addressing these challenges with some creative new business models, most of which place firm emphasis on a digital focus.
Here at Legacy, we see continuing evidence that innovations in the obituary market will help local newspaper brands thrive beyond print. One factor is clear: In order to get the full revenue, traffic, and engagement benefits that obituaries can provide, a local news operation needs full obituary coverage.
In recent years, newspapers have been losing that coverage. In the average major metro in 2020, the leading newspaper is currently publishing less than 50 percent of all the obituaries in the market.
Here’s one way to get that market share much closer to the 100% you need: the funeral home subscription package.
What is a funeral home subscription package?
In a nutshell, this is a new pricing model for the obit placement arrangement between a newspaper and a local funeral home.
The newspaper sets a flat monthly fee for which a funeral home gets an unlimited number of obituary placements (typically, pairing a capped print length with unlimited online word counts). The funeral home agrees to place a specific high percentage of their notices with the paper.
It’s as simple as that: a guaranteed revenue stream, using a flat rate to secure an increased, consistent obituary volume. Everybody wins.
Why do I need this?
We’ve kept a pretty close eye on obituary trends during our 20+ years in the industry, and we’re here to tell you: Right now, newspapers are losing their obituary market share. Remember we said that less than half of the obits in a given market are posted on the local newspaper’s website? We estimate that loss will increase by 10% by the end of the year. (source: 2020 ObitData analysis.)
This means the majority of your community’s deaths are currently being reported not by the newspaper, but by other, less expensive media: most notably, funeral home websites.
This trend pushes newspapers to the brink of a generational tipping point: Your readers are starting to change their habits around where they search for the news of who died today. They are starting to associate obituaries more with funeral homes and Facebook than with newspapers.
When you lose that position of authority, you also lose the audience engagement impact of an obituary’s full life cycle—and, with it, all the real value an obituary has to offer.
How do I benefit?
If you want to retain your local obituary authority, you need two things: content volume, and content quality.
Funeral homes are the richest source of obituaries in your community: More than 80% of families planning funerals work with a funeral home. The good news is: 66% of those planners still want to announce the news of the death in their newspaper. (source: Legacy.com 2019 funeral planner survey.)
Funeral home websites are also publishing a much larger volume of the kind of death notices that get shared more widely on social feeds. That is: longer obituaries. Longform content of over 1,000 words consistently gets more shares and links than shorter-form content. (moz.com)
By incentivizing funeral homes to place more and richer notices via your newspaper brand, you restore your market share and reinforce your position as the authoritative source on who has died today, whether that news is delivered to a doorstep or a smartphone.
What do the funeral homes get out of this?
1. More content, no sticker shock
Funeral home directors want to serve their families. Families want to tell their loved one’s full life story, and they want to do that in an obituary. But the high costs of the traditional pay-per-line classified model has forced them to make some tough choices. When families learn the cost of a robust obituary, “they almost fall out of their chair,” said one funeral home director during a 2018 summit on the state of the obituary. “The costs blow their minds. They have to cut out the parts of the obit that were valuable to them. They lower the value, or they have to spend more— psychologically, it’s tough on them.”
In a 2019 Legacy survey of funeral directors, 93% listed high costs as the main reason their families avoid placing newspaper obituaries. By decoupling pricing from word count, you will instantly remove the number one barrier to notice placement* as well as a major stressor for funeral directors. You will also be providing them with a stable expense that eases their budgeting process and the price burden they have to pass on to families. *(source: Legacy.com 2018 obituary placement survey)
2. Enhanced branding
Funeral directors are service-minded, but they’ve got a balance sheet to manage just like all your local vendors. As a new generation arrives and changes their end-of-life preferences, the funeral industry is facing some seismic challenges of their own, with some stark revenue implications. This means that every dollar needs to stretch as far as possible. You’re probably familiar with that particular challenge.
A newspaper obituary remains one of the most impactful marketing vehicles for a funeral home, and that value only increases with each online share. More notices and better ones put them in front of their core audience, at every stop in the digital ecosphere.
What does the subscription model look like?
Every funeral home is different, and you can tailor your package to the unique needs of your market. To ensure you receive the most benefit, we recommend all programs include unlimited online text, prominent funeral home logo placement, and pricing discounts.
Here are some examples of how that looks:
Case Study: Midwest Urban
Try a tiered approach based on submission volume to encourage homes with a low placement rate.
Case Study: Major Mid-Atlantic
Have funeral homes with high placement? Reward them by locking their rate at last year’s monthly average.
Can you help me get started?
Of course we can! Our analysts will audit your market to identify the best funeral home prospects and the most impactful plan, with all the help you need along the way to pitch and promote this new opportunity. Click here to contact us today.