Is placing a newspaper obituary way too expensive?
With at least two generations of Canadians still having no interest in Twitter or Facebook, the newspaper obituary remains an important, honoured tradition.
After all, that’s where the community turns when a loved one has passed. That’s where they find cherished memories, donation info and, most functionally, details about the visitation and funeral.
Yet no one ever talks about the price of placing a death notice, an ever-rising cost that prompted one critic to recently accuse newspapers of “price gouging” their mourning client base.
Alan D. Mutter, a Chicago newspaper vet, made an interesting point in his popular Newsosaur blog over the weekend: why do newspapers charge huge fees – a strategy he called “distasteful and strategically inept” – to people looking to remember loved ones?
The basis for his post was Mutter’s own experience with obituary placing. He says a one-day run of a “crappy-looking, 182-word death notice” would’ve cost $450 in his local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle.
Mutter scoffed and decided, instead, to donate that money to a college fund for his deceased friend’s four children. “But (my friend’s widow) and I remain appalled that the Chronicle would do this to families at the moment of their most exquisite grief,” he wrote.
You can read more on what the newspaper vet has to say about the business end of sky-high obit placing fees (why they only antagonize readers and splinter loyalty to their paper) here, but it’s worth wondering if those problems are present, too, north of the border.
I called around to a few Canadian newspaper classified departments today to get a rough quote on how much a similar ad to Mutter’s would be to place.
And a good benchmark, seeing as the Chronicle is a major U.S. newspaper, might be the price I got from the Toronto Star. The Star charges $9.40 per line, which consists of about 30-35 characters. From that price grid, the rep I spoke to ballparked a 182-word death notice at just shy of $200 per day – $150 extra if a photo is desired to accompany the obit.
That’s still a ton of money, and a price that makes you wonder how much longer newspapers can continue to chug on.
Everyone knows the industry is hurting, but is charging bloated obit fees – knowing full well people aren’t likely in the state of mind to want to shop for bargains – really the best way to help shrinking profit margins?
How much has your local newspaper charged you to place an obituary?
By Jason Buckland, MSN Money
Posted by: Len Murray | Apr 20, 2021 10:10:08 AM
Just think how much the $450.00 would help out at the foodbank in your loved ones honor. Let the funeral home answer the phone and advise interested people particulars on the funeral...
Posted by: Amber | Apr 20, 2021 10:41:07 AM
While Len, you're quite right, let the funeral home answer the phone, how are the friends and family of the loved one supposed to know what funeral home to call, if there isn't anything in the paper? I work at a funeral home and agree completely that the cost of placing a death notice is extremely high. However, without something published in the local (and out of town) papers, there really isn't an effective way of announcing the death. People usually phone to confirm arrangements but that's after reading it in the paper. We offer condolences online as well as publishing the death notice on our website but people don't usually check the funeral home websites every day, like they do the Obits page.
Posted by: News Editor | Apr 20, 2021 10:43:56 AM
Perhaps the author should compare the rate charged for an obit to the rates charged for space in other sections of the publications cited.
Yes, $200 (or $450 in the case of the San. Fran paper) might seem to be a considerable sum for some people, but price is related to reach, and you are citing two publications with considerable circulation counts. When compared to the price of an ad elsewhere in those publication, I am sure that the obits will prove to be considerably cheaper than other advertising options (save for the freebie classifieds for the sale of items under a set dollar amount).
Posted by: Joan Beaton | Apr 20, 2021 11:16:46 AM
Here the average obituary with a picture will run about $1000 or more. It is not a public service, but a real money making venture for the newspaper. Yes it is space that could be used byu paying advertisers but it is also news so there should be a compromise. Do you think the celebrities pay for the news reports of all their up to or when they overdose. I am less interested in that as news as I am knowing that individuals who may have been my teacher or co worker or neighbour have passed away.
Posted by: Tim Scaife | Apr 20, 2021 11:38:37 AM
I am a Funeral Director in an Alberta community. I utilize all types of circulation size newspapers and am thoroughly disgusted with the pricing the major newpapers charge. In most small local communities the prices range from $40-$60 per insertion whereas the large centers, Edmonton and Calgary charge on average $450.00-$600.00 with an accompaning picture. In some cases even more! It amazes me the the larger advertizing markets feel the need to absolutely gouge the grieving family. Where I live one of the local newspapers DOES NOT charge for obituaries and in most cases does a more eye appealing job than the big cost newspapers. I feel that it is truly a cash grab by these newspapers and unfair to the families. What really makes me laugh is these same newspapers are quick to accuse the funeral industry in gouging the families in newspaper articles and expose's yet fail to address their own greed in the equation. If you calculate the work to cost ratio, it far exceeds anything that we associate our charges to. WE tyoe the text..WE submit for insertion, WE crop and prepare the picture for print. WE carry to the cost until the family pays the bill!!! Really all they are doing is cuttin and pasting...SHAME SHAME I SAY TO THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY!
Posted by: Sally Ann Corcoran | Apr 20, 2021 11:39:20 AM
When my Mother passed away November 2009, she was the last of her generation; a fitting tribute to her life was an essential to mark the end of her journey through life. The total cost was almost $1000.00! Could I have spent it in another manner, yes; did I want to share her life story, yes. To me and my family it was part of the greiving process. Mom was a wonderful lady, the cost was a lot considering there was no picture and it ran for only 2 days...Sunday and Monday. For me her daughter and only surviving member of the family it was one step towards closure.
Posted by: Diane Holmes | Apr 20, 2021 11:49:11 AM
When my Mother died in 2008 the price quoted for the obituary by the Calgary Herald was approximately 650.00. We were shocked at that price and did not put in the obituary. My parents read that paper every day for as long as I can remember and I felt awful not putting her obituary in it. We just couldn't afford it.
I would also like to point out that that price quoted was double what we paid in 2001 for my Fathers obituary of approximately the same length. I feel that this practice costs the papers loyal customers.
Posted by: Anonymous | Apr 20, 2021 12:18:36 PM
As stated in one of the earlier comments, it would have been useful to know how much the obituary cost was as compared to a similar sized ad in the classifieds. Because after all, what the newspaper is really selling is space. So the obit should definitely not cost more than a similar sized ad in the classifieds. In fact, as a public service, it should even cost less. If it costs more, then shame on the newspapers.
Newspapers used to be considered a part of the community, so although I don't think the obits should be free, they should definitely not be gouging grieving families.
Posted by: Dorothy | Apr 20, 2021 12:30:22 PM
How funny I should be reading this today! I just went through this with my brother's death last week. I couldn't believe the cost. My brother had no money and we his family had very little money to give him a proper funeral and having to put in 2 obituaries, one in the Winnipeg Free Press (where he used to live) and one in the Calgary Herald (where he currently lived). Unfortunately, in all the stress of planning a funeral, I made a mistake when I entered the obit on-line with the Calgary Herald and I put the time of the funeral but not the date! I found out later the funeral home would have looked after his obit in the first place, but I do not live in Calgary so was in a panic to get the obit in the paper in good time. Anyway, the funeral home suggested it be posted again (without his picture) the next day but the Calgary Herald still charged us another $147.00! The funeral home tried to advocate on our behalf, especially since they said usually the obit is proof-read and should have been caught by the people at Calgary Herald. Nonethess, they would not back down. So altogether between the Winnipeg Free press cost of $172.00 for picture and VERY SHORT obit I might add and the Calgary Herald $305.00 for picture and the same short obit plus the added $147.00, ......well I'll let you do the math. I think its atrocious and yes I do believe they are preying on people in their time of grief.
Posted by: Anonymous | Apr 20, 2021 1:18:52 PM
In 1995 my 22 year old brother in-law died in Thailand , the Calgary Sun used it (the Obit) as a lead for a story, when my mother in-law said she didn't want it as news, the reporter said it was off the record and guess what, she (the reporter) still used it and they still charged almost $1000 for it the obit. Now that's a crappy way to treat a greaving family.
To this day I still haven't bought a Sun
Posted by: Teresa | Apr 20, 2021 1:36:41 PM
In my community in Eastern Ontario, it is customary for the funeral home to place the obituary in 3 papers of your choice. This is included in the price of the funeral and therefore, the families don't see the cost up front. As someone said above, we get free notifications when some famous person dies from drug overdoses, when they cheat on their spouses, when they have children or any other happenings in their eventful lives BUT the average Joe or Josephine must pay through the nose to be able to announce the death of a loved one. People will find a better, less expensive way to make announcements and that will put another straw on the back of the newspaper camel, which is already awaiting that last straw.
Posted by: Sharon Pratico | Apr 20, 2021 2:48:39 PM
My mother-in-law passed away a month ago and she had thoughtfully set aside money for her service and obit. We felt it was worth the price to honour her one last time and spent approx. $500.00 for an obit 7"x5" with two pictures, but it only ran once. We put a lot of thought into the content and felt it would have pleased her. I think it depends on your priorities, your loved ones wishes and how you choose to grieve and honour this person. I do agree that the cost should be less than regular advertising, just as I'm sure papers give non-profit companies a break.
Posted by: Dave M | Apr 20, 2021 3:27:38 PM
I just came home from a service this afternoon for a friend that recently passed away. Unfortunately, his family had to look to the Region to assist them to cover the cost for a very minimalist funeral service and cremation. The local paper, The St. Catharines Standard, charged the deceased's family $150 for a Obituary that ran only 1 day without any regard of the families ability to pay for the funeral! I think that is plain price gouging at its worst.
Posted by: Dorothy | Apr 20, 2021 4:01:12 PM
I had to write an update to my post. This article provoked me to send an e-mail to the Calgary Herald and they promptly replied and said they would refund the cost to run the second obit. Thank you Jason Buckland for writing your article and giving me the courage to write the e-mail which ended in at least a somewhat positive result.
Posted by: PirateKitty | Apr 20, 2021 4:02:20 PM
1. I don't think anyone should have to pay for Obituaries at all. I've yet to have to place one in a paper so I didn't know that you had to. I suppose I assumed the papers had decency because I thought this was a free service, foolish of me obviously.
2. If what NewsEditor says is correct, then maybe we should start "selling" our family members funerals to get the word out.
3. WHY ARE WE PAYING FOR THIS!?!
Posted by: Bronagh | Apr 20, 2021 4:34:03 PM
I lost my baby daughter last fall to a genetic disease when she was only three days old. I wanted to put her announcement in the newspaper for many reasons, not the least of which was to have one more thing to remember about her, given how short our time together was. I was informed by a publisher that many newspapers do not charge for obituaries for infants and children. Unfortunately, the local newspaper in London Ontario where I live does charge. The short announcement I wrote in honour of Violet cost $185. While this is not too much considering some of the amounts others have written about, I was really, really shocked when I got the bill.
Way to go, publishers who offer this service to the bereaved. Shame on you, London Free Press.
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Posted by: Tricia | Apr 20, 2021 5:06:53 PM
My time is coming up for this and I am sure glad I read all the comments and will totally rethink what I had planned.
Posted by: Shannon Demkiw | Apr 20, 2021 5:28:51 PM
I was charged 800.00 over 2 or 3 days for thanking all the people who helped and helped with my Dad two years ago.
My Mother wants an Irish Kitchen Party at the Hall she belongs to. How would you suggest we let everyone know? At the time we have NO Choice- You are so right about taking advantage of US all with no power to say no and no time either. Do we prepare social invitations and just fill them in when the time comes?
Posted by: gmck | Apr 20, 2021 5:51:04 PM
Newspaper companies are just another arrogant group who are removing our traditional ways of
life. The present costs to a grieving family are away too prohibitive. A relavent fact is that many
families can barely afford a funeral anymore.
Posted by: glenn miller | Apr 20, 2021 6:17:35 PM
It's a case of either of "want" or "not", if you want this is the price, if you don't want, it costs you nothing but it will still be here if you want it.
Posted by: glenn miller | Apr 20, 2021 6:18:49 PM
This Texting is a lot of B.S.
Posted by: SP | Apr 20, 2021 7:09:03 PM
If only there was some form of electronic communication that wasn't as expensive as newspapers.
Oh wait, there is !
Just as record label gouging killed the record store (But not the music) Newspaper gouging will kill the print media (But will not kill news, and even scarier for our 'dear leaders' will democratize the dissemination of information)
Posted by: larry archibald | Apr 20, 2021 7:17:09 PM
The Chronicle Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia charged our family 27.50 plus tax for every one half inch of obituary,,,standard width column of words, plus if we had a picture....34.00 plus tax..( we would have even emailed the downloaded picture of my father)
We placed the obituary in Saturdays paper which was more expensive since it was a weekend...
Overall cost was just over $ 350.00 and we were not lenghty in our words.
Posted by: Rhonda Ann Godwin | Apr 20, 2021 8:21:29 PM
Many years ago I lived in Flin Flon, MB. I read the local newspaper daily. I started noticing how many infant deaths there were. I determined to move away as I had a newborn & a toddler. 5 years later a study confirmed that Flin Flon, MB had the highest SIDS death rate, per capita, in all of Canada. How would I have known, though no news articles had been written about the whys & wherefores, if I had not tabulated the results I was reading through the Obituaries? Laws need to govern this abhorrent practise of keeping us uniformed of who dies & of what.
When my father died 5 yrs. ago I placed a one day ad with a photo in the Prince Albert Herald. It cost nearly $400. I called the newspaper to tell them how unbelievable their predatory practise was & the editor laughed at me. I told him it was that kind of practise, imagining how many people couldn't afford obituaries, that brought karma upon companies like his. He seemed just a tad shocked. A month later the largest employer in the area, Weyerhauser, shut down & the paper nearly went out of business. I worked as a 911 Operator many years ago & was shocked about how many unreported deaths there were. Now that the general public can't even afford to announce their loved ones passing, doesn't that contribute, in a massive way to an uninformed, uneducated (to a degree) public?
Posted by: Rhonda Ann Godwin | Apr 20, 2021 8:37:37 PM
Oh yes! The rest of the story.... one of the reasons I got mad enough at the editor of the P.A. Herald to mention karma was that after they took my $380. or so, they deliberately did not publish the obituary I had written for my father. In it I spoke of my parents being "fifth cousins" which they were & who found out after they were married, through a rare heirloom that belonged to their common ancestor. Big deal. It is legal in Canada to marry a first cousin as it has been understood from biblical times that this is not too close, ie., birth defects, etc., but of course people love to have a good laugh about it but it was absolutely common for the early settlers to marry first cousins - check a few old registries. But mine were friggin' 5th cousins. Give me a break! Anyway, the Herald decided, after they got the money, to print what they decided was "proper."
No wonder they are going the way of the dinosaur - time too, if this is the best they can do. Was this not fraud, theft?
Posted by: Hugh | Apr 20, 2021 9:21:09 PM
When my wife died five years ago and I was told the price of a notice, I put a five line obituary in the local paper. When my dad died several years later I didn't put one in at all. The papers had me where they wanted me for my wife as I had to tell people when and where the memorial service was. I didn't need to do that for my dad as the number of people to contact was much smaller as he was quite old and had outlived most of his friends. I am a middle aged, literate and educated person who is probably in the demographics papers need as customers to survive, but I'll never buy another one.
Posted by: Gail | Apr 20, 2021 10:21:09 PM
Many people would like to put an In Memoriam in the paper for their loved ones. I could not believe the price I was quoted several years back! I think it is terrible that people are being ripped off in their time of grief....
Posted by: paul lacny | Apr 22, 2021 12:17:13 AM
I WONDER IF THE B C GOVERNMENT WILL CHARGE h s t ON THESE OVERLY RIDULICUS, OBSORBENT , GOUGING PRICES.?
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