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April 19, 2021

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



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...