Obits For Sale

by Dick Meister, March 10, 2010

Like most daily newspapers these days, the San Francisco Chronicle is hustling to increase declining profit margins. But let me offer some advice to my former employer: Quit gouging grieving readers as part of your profit chasing. I mean those who pay the Chronicle for running their loved ones’ death notices on the paper’s obituary pages.

Sure, the paper’s not making anywhere near as much as it once did from other classified ads, but that doesn't justify trying to make up for it by outrageously exploiting the saddened friends and families of the recently deceased.

How's this for exploitation? The basic price for death notices is $16 per printed line per day — $112 per column inch (about seven lines of type). The 1x1-1/2 inch photos that sit atop many obits cost about $135 more. The obit can also run on the Chronicle’s website — for another $25. And to run the obit for a longer period, for say a week, is quite pricey — as much as $784 per inch.

On a typical day last week, 40 notices ran on the Chronicle’s three pages of paid obits, 21 with photos. They ranged from two to 14 inches each and cost from about $225 to about $1570 each to run for just that one day. That’s right — up to $1570 for a single day, plus the $135 charge for photos.

Like all papers, the Chronicle also runs unpaid news obituaries of particularly prominent people that are researched and written by the newspaper’s staffers or by an outside news agency that serves the paper. The paid obits are usually written by members of the deceased’s family or by employees of the mortuary that’s involved.

So, it’s like this: If you're well known, it probably won’t cost your family or friends a dime to notify the public and remind people of your life story. But if you’re just plain folks, it’ll cost family or friends — and probably cost them dearly. Though at least your story will be told by friendly observers, eager to stress the good over the bad, eager to give you a proper send-off — if they can afford the Chronicle’s price for doing so.

(Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based freelance columnist. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.)

(Ed note: The AVA has never charged for obituar­ies.)

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