As newspapers and other local online media battle for dominance in their communities, obituaries hold a special place. Death notices are not just a revenue stream, but almost literally the heart and soul of the community. Now television and radio sites are getting into the business.
Legacy.com owned by the Tribune company was first-to-market with online memorials that take advantage of the web’s interactive capabilities. The company encouraged posting of ”treasured stories about important loved ones,” even providing web to print guest books. It now partners with 750 newspapers across the country.
But newcomer Tributes.com has improved the business model by partnering with funeral homes and is working with an increasing number of broadcast sites, including Raycom Media, CBS Television Stations Group, and CBC (Capital Broadcasting Company) New Media Group.
The most original innovation in the platform is its partnership with funeral homes to sell memorial postings. Now that funeral homes share in the revenues, they recommend families use Tributes memorial products and services right in the ”arrangement rooms” of their “brick and mortar” facilities.
Families can purchase an unlimited amount of text and five photos for $10 a month. A multi-media product is also sold exclusively through the funeral parlors. A life-time memorial sells for a flat fee of $250. (Legacy charges $36.99 for the year). Media partners also keep a share of the revenues from funeral companies they sign up.
“In the old model, the funeral homes make no money from obituaries” said Elaine Haney, president of Tributes. Most families are “overwhelmed” just after someone dies and just post a basic listing, but build out multi-media online memorials over time.
Funeral homes also feed data into the site. Major partners now include Stewart Enterprises, a public company that owns 200 funeral homes; FuneralNet, the largest provider of custom funeral home websites and MKJ Marketing, a marketing company for the industry.
Legacy.com still had 12 million viewers compared to Tribute’s 500,000 viewers monthly in early 2010, but Tributes may be building a better mouse trap for families memorializing a loved one.
“Families are looking for a broader distribution mechanism and way to tell their stories in a more comprehensive way with stories and video, versus two inches that goes away in 24 hours” Haney says.
Most upgrade sales are to historical records the sites keeps, going back to the early 1900s and make it easy to post tributes to grandparents and other lost relatives who had gone unacknowledged.
Not a company to miss a revenue opportunity, tributes to fallen celebrities also include memorabilia up-sells. Legacy on the other hand sends its users offsite to a paid search engine to find historical names.
And finally, media companies can sell ads on the site, something Legacy does not allow. On a typical day a visitor might see an ad for a funeral parlor, “Plant a Tribute Today” through a revenue share with 1800flowers.com, an opportunity to join a support group, or , oddly, get started in currency trading, a Tribute perhaps to Dow Jones, who funded the $4.2 million first round of investment.
The Wall Street journal is the only print site whose obituaries are powered by Tributes. The company closed a second round of funding yesterday adding another $1.2 million to the kitty from companies in the funeral service business and the Boston tech community.
This is Haney’s fourth start-up. She was an early employee at Switchboard, converting white pages from print to the internet in the late nineties, a job that involved “convincing small businesses they needed to be on the internet.”
”The funeral industry is very slow moving, it’s a little deja vu-ish,” Haney says. ” It is sort of amazing to me that you couldn’t just go on the internet and type in someone name and get an obituary notice. It was like finding a needle in the haystack.
“Today we have alerts set up so if you want to see anyone from the college you went to, a military units, or a company you worked at. You don’t miss an opportunity to express your condolences.”
The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and MediaExecsTech, developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine, to showcases perspectives from around the world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.