Morbid War over Obituaries Online
All this chicanery begs the question: Why is death value so high? The answer is simple, according to Robin Heppell, a funeral marketing consultant: Deathlines attracts web traffic.
Take, for example, Monique Heller, the obituary for her father, which included how he stopped “lunch thieves with laxative-laced chocolate cake and meatloaf sandwich excrement,” going viral in 2022. Local newspapers reported her father's unusual image. , Was contacted by National Public Radio, and her father 's name was briefly featured on Twitter. "I was like, holy cow, Dad, you know, you did it," she says.
Deaths like Heller's have a magnetic attraction. In 2022, SCI's websites attracted nearly 160 million visitors, up from 130 million in 2022, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission films. The websites of some funeral homes in metropolitan areas fill more than a million visitors a year, says Heppell, who also designs and manages websites for funeral homes. At some smaller newspapers, the death toll section draws twice as much traffic as the news department, said John Heald, an executive of Legacy.com, a company that partners with newspapers to announce death announcements, on a podcast in July.
This traffic leads to money. Leclerc says Echovita generated $ 5 million in revenue in 2022. The company takes commissions on the sale of flowers, candles and memorial trees, it says. Since 2022, he says he has reinvested more than $ 1 million from Echovita into a new business called Funerago, which he sees as an online marketplace for funeral services. "I want to use technology to disrupt the industry," he says.
Online referrals can attract investors with deep pockets. Heppell, the marketing consultant and designer of a funeral home website, says Providence Strategic Growth, a private equity fund, spoke to him in 2022 about acquiring his business. When the conversation turned to the valuation of the industry, he says representatives of the fund asked him how many obituaries were posted on the websites he controlled. "Their valuation of the industry was based on obituaries," he said. Heppell ended talks with Providence.
At the time, Providence owned Tribute Technology, which offers a range of technology services for funeral homes, including website design and management. At the end of 2022, Providence Technology Tribute sold to two other private equity funds, Carlyle Group and Vista Equity Partners, reportedly for more than $ 1 billion. Providence could not be reached for reference.
On their website, Tribute Technology states that it is "changing the world as one obituary at a time." To get to those obituaries, one of its subsidiaries is offering a free website to funeral homes, according to Heppell. Brian Waters, director of a funeral home in Indiana, says his family's business got their website for free from a company owned by Tribute. In return, Waters claims that Tribute takes 50 percent off the commission on all flowers sold next to the funeral home of his funeral home as well as a large portion of money from memorial trees planted. sold on his funeral home website. He then collects the published obituaries in a central archive. A spokesman from Tribute declined to comment.
Tribute Rise has put pressure on Legacy.com, a fixture in the online death economy for more than two decades; the site receives 1.1 billion hits annually, according to Stopher Bartol, founder and CEO of Legacy. Since 1998, Legacy.com has contracted with newspapers to access the death statements they publish. In 2022, the vice president of Legacy.com told Cnet that the company is issuing obituaries for 75 percent of Americans who die. In the same year, Legacy.com told Slate that they partnered with 1,500 newspapers and 3,500 funeral homes. Legacy states that these numbers are still "generally representative" but refuses to comment on the details. Recently, the company has shifted more attention to funeral homes, Heald said in a July podcast. It has also started selling memorial trees, in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, Bartol says.