Obituaries – A Time-Honored, Expensive Tradition

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Placing an obituary in the newspaper when a loved one dies is a time-honored tradition, but many mourners are discovering it’s also an expensive one that easily run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

When Lynn Dooley’s mother died earlier this year,  she wanted to pay tribute to her mother and her mother’s friends.

“I was trying to honor the people who would read it,”  Dooley recalled, “so they would know how important they had been to her.”

But all those words were expensive.

The obituary, which ran once and took up about half a column in the Marin Independent Journal,  cost Dooley close to $1,000 dollars.   “I felt taken advantage of,”  Dooley said.

Newspapers typically charge by the line for obits.   Charge ranges from $3.15 per line in the Santa Cruz Sentinel to up to $263 for the first four lines in the New York Times.   Add a photo and the price goes up considerably.

“It’s probably among the most highly profitable advertising format in a newspaper,”  according to former newspaperman  Alan Mutter,  who now teaches at the U.C. Berkeley School of Journalism.   And don’t bother to ask for a discount, says Mutter.   “Buyers really have very little negotiating leverage.”

There are a growing number of cheaper,  on-line alternatives that offer more features that the standard newspaper death notices.   Legacy.comYour Tribute and ObituariesFree.com  all provide free or low-cost places for tributes.   Some allow mourners to embed video tributes and places for visitors to post their remembrances of the deceased.

Still,  for baby boomers like Dooley,  the newspaper obituary is a tradition that won’t die.   “For my obit, maybe. But for my Mom?  She was very traditional.”

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