Why is everyone so interested in obits?
To start with there's a lot of money at stake.
The obituary market is worth millions in many large cities as our case study on the Bay Area News Group has shown; they grew annual obituary revenues from $2 million to $7 million in about seven years.
Overall, families spend $900 million on obituaries in the United States, depending upon who you talk to.
About 1% of the population on average dies every year, a number that stays surprisingly flat but does have local variations. That's about 2.4 million deaths a year in the U.S.
About 80% of these people have families that will buy an obituary, depending on the DMA and cultural and socio-economic factors.
For media executives planning to research their own marketplace more carefully, best practice is to talk to funeral homes, and your own sellers, as well as researching what other media have done.
A few practical details: Plan to contact funeral homes over the summer months; fewer people die in August, while there is a spike in December and January.
To estimate the market for a specific area, check with the county for an exact number of deaths. General statistics by state as of 2012 are at this link.
As an example, Mississippi had 1,022 deaths per 100,000 people, meeting the national average of about about 1%.
So with a population of 2.985 million statewide, that means about 29,850 deaths, 80% of whose families purchased an obituary, or 23,880 obituaries sold.
So at $100 to $250 a piece that represents a $2,388,000 to $5,000,000 marketplace, statewide.
The city or county health department is the place to start for death rates in smaller areas.
Unfortunately, even with the death rate in hand, it's not quite that simple. If your DMA has a variety of cultural and socio-economic groups, it may be hard to pin down what the percentage uptake should be.
Family preferences after a death vary culturally and traditionally, say developers of obituary platforms. Cultures from around the world may not have the same traditions.
In addition, the market is driven by income level; families in high end suburban areas show obituary purchasing rates as high as 90%, while in lower income inner city and rural areas, rates may fall as low as 40%.
Once the death rate, and percentage uptake is shown, the last estimate of potential market size is based on price.
Here there is also a range that varies depending on the market. Wave2Media says their average obituary costs $240, with a range from $90 to $500.
Boston is in the $300 to $400 range and southern or rural markets hover in the $100 to $200 range. Salt Lake City at $500 per obit according to industry sources runs at the top of the market.
Wherever your town falls in the spectrum, media are exploring some simple tactics that encourage placement of obituaries overall.
Self-serve entry, getting funeral homes onboard to help place obits, simplifying the process for familes, and adding memorial sites options are all tactics that seem to show benefits across the board.
To see these field-tested strategies at work and the conceptual thinking behind them - check-out the reports and technology reviews in our new channel on obituaries.
Many thanks to Brand Insights partner Wave2 for sponsoring the new channel, and sharing best practices from companies using their platform.
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.