Obituaries are a changing franchise with much at stake. In some major markets the franchise yields $6 to $9 million in revenues and generates voluminous amounts of online traffic.
So far, Legacy has had a virtual monopoly as the platform provider for online obituary notices for newspapers, with Tributes, the platform that partners with broadcast sites via funeral homes, merely nipping at their heels.
However, recently a variety of competitors are surfacing with ideas that challenge this hegemony.
Conversations with industry leaders show both high satisfaction and nagging concerns about Legacy.
The current size and profitability of online revenues via a Legacy partnership seems like proof of success.
But media executives also point out that the company has not kept up with the rapid pace of technological change; it still does not integrate with print and the memorial sites before the recent more expensive upgrade seemed clunkier than necessary. And then there is the underlying worry that funeral homes may follow customers into new alternative platforms, bypassing newspapers entirely. Newspapers have added order-entry platforms as work arounds for these issues - and some of those new platforms say they can now replace Legacy entirely.
A recent "frenemy" that both supports and competes with Legacy is Wave2Media Solutions, which has been selling a front end online order-taking system, AdPortal Obituaries, to collect user-generated print obituaries and upload them to Legacy's online site if needed. They have signed up about 100 newspapers to the platform. Here's an example of the first page from Heart Media Services.
Recently, Wave2 added a platform for permanent memorial sites, Lasting Memories, and now they also have a new online listings platform - both of which compete directly with Legacy.
Wave2 leaders claim their research shows that since most of the traffic for obits still through the local media site, not the Legacy network, there is really no compelling advantage to partnering with Legacy when the two year contract is up.
Plus, the platform is designed for newspapers to allow access to funeral homes, much like Memoriams does.
Wave2 executives claim the memorial sites are better than Legacy's. Based on the relative speed of adoption - Gatehouse recently signed up all their newspapers to sell memorial sites - it seems like at least some of the industry agrees about the value.
So far, Gatehouse has not opted-in for the online listings product, however.
As one smart technology CEO put it, to get a newspaper to switch one of its foundational platforms in a key franchise, the new alternative does not just have to be better, it needs to be much better.
So is it?
One factor to consider in the overall scheme of things is also the price.
Wave2 makes what looks like a fairly compelling case - but you have to compare it against your internal numbers. Individually, they sell print and online listings wholesale for $3 to $5 per listing - the same price as Legacy before their upgrade. Lasting Memories, as a separate product is $10 to $12 per listing.
But the all inclusive price - the order-taking for print, online listings and Lasting Memories, is a flat fee of $10 to $15 per listing - about the same as the price of Legacy's online listings only, for clients that have upgraded.
Media who use a competing order entry platform, Memoriams, to integrate their own print with Legacy's online order-taking may also paying even more. Technically, Memoriams charges a service fee paid by the customer, but if there is any price elasticity in this market - customers choosing to subtract a few more words to save the last $10 - the media company is paying for it one way or another.
Wave2 partners can also add an additional platform developed by the company, Celebrations, which takes paid weddings and birthday announcements, on a "per item" charge, instead of the traditional licensing fee. In most markets, this franchise is worth about $10,000 to $20,000. "The largest markets for Celebrations earn $100,000 to $120,000," Gorman said.
And then there is the advertising, of which Legacy takes a piece. Wave2 does not.
Here's a look at the separate pieces:
1. The online order-taking for the print product. This is their original platform - iPublish Adportal Obituaries - that allows families and funeral homes to post listings to print, and upload to Legacy.
The platform runs on the media site as an IFrame, freeing up all the advertising around the frame. Today, the system has just more than 100 newspapers using it as the front end for order-taking for print and to send the obituaries over to Legacy for online posting:
2. The new, online listings product that competes directly with Legacy. This is a simple self-serve online listings, from the same order-taking system.
If the price winds up being less than Legacy, theoretically, print companies could simply switch, once their two year agreements are up.
Here's a look at the online listings:
3. Lasting Memories Websites. Finally, the permanent mini-site upsell, Lasting Memories, is a slick, family-administered website application with a choice of 20 backgrounds and sharing tools that allows others to contribute stories, photos, audio and video. Lasting Memories sites can be priced by the media as an extra upsell or packaged in with the obituary, and media can continue using Legacy but still add on the memorial site.
Suggested retail price is $79 to $99 - or more depending on the market. Since the add-on is included media can also offer Lasting Memories without a charge if necessary in a hyper-competitive
The self-serve features of the memorial sites are more extensive than a simple guestbook, such as the one created in-house by the Star Tribune. Lasting Memories is sold by the media telemarketers or self-serve to the families at the time they order their print obit. Funeral homes can also be given access to update information.
Families are granted a lifetime perpetual license to the site upon purchase. This was a problem with Legacy's memorial sites without the New Generations upgrade; families had to repurchase the site after a year to keep it live.
Using Wave2's platform, a family can select from 20 themes and there are four tabs for "about", "His Life", "Gallery of unlimited photos", and "stories" where users can also upload audio, video and photos into their reminiscences.
The administrator can make the page private or public, invite others to post via email, and control users and uploaded content from the admin side of the site. Here are some of the admin views, starting with the page that prompts the administrator to contact guests or invite more people to post:
Some additional options include choice of background music. You can also see the funeral home partner to the right, and how many people have viewed the page:
When invited familiy and friends visit the site, they promted to sign on to post:
And here is how it looks when it is published:
So how are they doing with the new products? So far so good. Besides Gatehouse' order of two of the three modules for some 300 newspapers, a scattering of 5 to 10 more have committed, including three markets that are committed to the listing products. Wave2 executives claim utilizing the platform with best practices shows gains of 30 to 40% in revenues from the franchise, a number LocalMediaInsider confirmed with one media customer.
Our take: The big advantage Wave2 provides is a complete one vendor solution, a lower cost and a great looking memorial site platform. The advantage of Wave2 over inhouse efforts is also significant: Online self-entry order taking is already set up. And all the whistles and bells that a new generation expects (background music, images, and audio and video casts) has already been worked out. Finally, the cost structure, a flat fee per obit, rather than a transaction fee, has the advantage of being hidden from the customer.
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.