A Paywall… For Obituaries?

from the seriously? dept

We’ve seen all sorts of paywall ideas for newspapers, some more ridiculous than others, but this one seems really bizarre. We’ve been waiting for some time to see the details of Stephen Brill’s paywalls-for-newspapers company, Journalism Online, and apparently the first “in the wild” test for the system will be with LancasterOnline, the website of a small newspaper in south-central Pennsylvania… and the paywall will only cover the obituaries section. Yes, you read that right. You can read seven obits for free, but if you have eight friends who died this month, you’ll have to pay an additional $1.99 per month to keep reading their obits.

Separately, it appears that Journalism Online’s “paywall” system is so weak that even the company itself is highlighting ways to get around the paywall (turn off javascript, use noscript, use multiple browsers or delete your cookies), saying basically they don’t think many people will actually bother to do any of those things. Of course, most people also won’t bother to pay, so perhaps we can call it even.

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Comments on “A Paywall… For Obituaries?”

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21 Comments
Bill Rosenblatt says:

sorry, this actually makes sense to me...

Uh, if you’re going to experiment with metered direct-pay models, then doing it in a low-impact section like obits actually makes sense. It makes more sense than, say, doing it with the sports section or (heaven forbid) the entire paper. And let’s repeat the operative word here: it’s an EXPERIMENT. If it doesn’t work, they can turn it off (or raise the threshold, or whatever).

Furthermore, one of the ideas behind the metered model is to try to identify the kinds of users who might actually be in a position to pay for content. I’d argue that obits is a good fit here, too: anyone looking at that many obits in a month might just be a researcher.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: sorry, this actually makes sense to me...

Uh, if you’re going to experiment with metered direct-pay models, then doing it in a low-impact section like obits actually makes sense. It makes more sense than, say, doing it with the sports section or (heaven forbid) the entire paper. And let’s repeat the operative word here: it’s an EXPERIMENT. If it doesn’t work, they can turn it off (or raise the threshold, or whatever).

So you pick a section no one is going to pay for? How is that a smart experiment?

Furthermore, one of the ideas behind the metered model is to try to identify the kinds of users who might actually be in a position to pay for content. I’d argue that obits is a good fit here, too: anyone looking at that many obits in a month might just be a researcher.

And how many “researchers” do you think there are who would pay? Quick do the math on how many there are, how many will pay, and the cost of setting up a paywall.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: sorry, this actually makes sense to me...

Did you forget the sarc-mark?

Obituaries are public announcements – intended to inform as many people as possible about a death. Walling them behind a paywall is like sending Christmas cards postage-due. All this does is drive away readers.

The only people that would pay to see obits would be the ones that know there is someone in them that they care about – way to fleece the people that have recently lost a loved one. Oh, and if you already know that someone is in the obits and you really want to read about it, you are likely to want to buy the paper copy for posterity anyway.

I’m still amazed the executives at newspapers have their jobs. They seem to flop around aimlessly hoping to accidentally come across money.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Competing with Free

Look, a competitor that lets you post and view obituaries for free! http://techcrunch.com/2010/07/09/a-loved-one-has-passed-away-whats-your-digital-strategy/

This is actually an interesting business issue: a recurring problem with online obituaries is how to make money tastefully. I’m hoping the startup mentioned in the link manages to develop a business model that doesn’t sound like squeezing dollars out of the bereaved (even if funeral homes swear by it)/

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