Business

Monster founder sees $$$ in obits

Fourteen years ago, Jeff Taylor helped set off a tectonic shift in recruitment advertising by founding Monster.com, one of the first online companies to challenge a big profit source of newspapers.

Now, as papers are reeling from a massive drainage of ad dollars online, Taylor thinks he's found another one of their strongholds ripe for online competition: Obituaries.

Funerals have historically been local affairs, but Taylor believes that may be changing as more people live far from the places they were born and grew up. He hopes his new site, Tributes.com, will fill that broader need.

Unlike when Monster debuted in 1994, Taylor faces a lot more competition. Newspapers are already big players online in the obituaries business, thanks largely to a 10-year-old company called Legacy.com, which runs the obituary sections of Web sites for more than 650 newspapers, for which it earns a fee. The site, which is 45 percent owned by publisher Tribune Co., gets 12 million visitors per month.

Legacy, like competitors such as Memory-Of.com, offers a variety of ways for bereaved family members and friends to remember loved ones including virtual guest books, which can be archived online for a fee.

Taylor says his new venture can do that and more, but without relying on newspapers for information about funerals and deaths. Instead, his site will glean that information through alliances with funeral homes and groups directly as well as trade associations and public information about deaths from Social Security.

Sophisticated search and database technology will allow users to get e-mail alerts – for instance, when someone from their hometown passes away, Taylor said. Tributes expects to make money from selling advertising, online memorials and gift items like flowers and cards.

Paid death notices and obituaries are a steady but hard-to-measure form of revenue for newspapers, says John Kimball, chief marketing officer of the Newspaper Association of America.

Those revenues may not be a huge profit center for a given newspaper, Kimball said, but he added: “Is it somebody going after another little piece of newspaper business? Sure.”

Tributes is operating in a test mode now before fully launching in September.

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