Reeling from declining circulation, plunging ad revenue, and the loss of classifieds, newspapers now face a challenge to their last stronghold — obituaries.
Two websites, obit.rip and Pine-box.doa, are luring the lucrative obit business away from newspapers. Obit.rip adopts a wiki approach, allowing anyone to contribute to and revise obituaries. This gives them a big cost advantage because, unlike newspapers, obit.rip does need to hire writers. “We let the world write the obit,” states CEO D. Jones Locker. “That way we get the complete picture of the life.”
However, user-generated content in obit.rip often features vituperative comments by ex-spouses, for example:
- My sole regret is that he did not suffer longer.
- When I walked out, I told Harry to go Hell. Now he’s finally done it.
- Is he really dead? He always looked and acted dead. How can you tell?
Locker welcomes such comments. “We like our obits to be lively, to reflect the give and take of interactivity on the web. We believe an obit should capture the multiplicity of voices and the controversies that is a part of life,” Locker asserted. “We are proud of the fact that over half of the obit.rip postings contain the phrase SOB, bastard, and nitwit.”
Obit.rip's major on-line competitor, Pine-box.doa, looks more like a traditional social networking site. “We are the Facebook of the Flatlined,” claims CEO Jeff Croaker. “We give all stiffs a separate page and encourage them to become ‘friends’ of others who have taken their last curtain call. There is no reason to curtail social networking simply because you have been brought home in a box,” Croaker continued. “After you’re six feet under, at Pine-box.doa, you can enjoy a virtual social life with other who are pushing up daisies.”
At Pine-box, friends can “hook up” and engage in virtual group activities such as buying the farm, kicking the bucket, and biting the dust.
Thus far advertising revenues at obit sites have been disappointing. While both sites carry ads from funeral parlors, casket manufactures, and Medical Schools looking for cadavers, mainstream advertisers are scarce. “These sites have a problem,” states Alison Douglas, Managing Director of JWT Advertising. “The dead are not a desirable demographic. Brand preferences are usually fixed by the time one check outs. Moreover, disposable income tends to decrease after one goes belly up.”
Locker at obit.rip disagrees. “Just because you have pulled the plug does not mean you are no longer swayed by advertising. We believe the happy hunting grounds are also the fertile advertising grounds.”
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