Obits: Killing the golden goose?
James Naughton is no stranger to the news industry. So when the former president of the Poynter Institute lashes out at newspapers for their policies on obituaries, I take notice.
I think Naughton has a point - they are about to choke the valuable - both economically and civically - obituary stream.
As prices go up, competitors surface. This is something publishers still seem to struggle with (but perhaps it's because for so long there was no pricing competition, so there hasn't been a good determination of market price yet).
At the same time, numerous metrics I've seen from newspapers show that obits is often one of the top entry points to their online sites.
Publishers are doing the same thing with wedding announcements. And as they price them out of range of the less well off, they also weaken their ties to the majority of the community.
Legal ads fall into the same category. Behind all the crocodile tears and protestations of civic accessibility from publishers whenever some agency or legislature considers putting legal ads online only, there is a simple fact - they are profitable and a guaranteed monopoly revenue stream.
The general newspaper tack has been to argue that people won't see them if they are online, they can be hidden away by ne'er-do-well government officials, etc. Yeah, perhaps, if each agency were left to its own devices. But centralized online sites could combat that. Egads, the newspaper industry even has its own. The difference is that online there could be several sites providing price competion.
But don't be fooled by the civic argument - it is as much, if not more so, an economic one.
(Here's a research paper from Newspaper Research Journal on the topic.)