New York Times and other papers use deceptive death-notice company

After a close friend committed suicide, Maciej Cegłowski discovered that a company called provides the back-end for almost every US paper's death notices, and that this company uses deceptive practices to get money from vulnerable, grieving people:
In other words, the site takes money from bereaved people without disclosing what it's billing them, gambling on the fact that they're probably too preoccupied to care. Whether or not this kind of thing is legal, it is completely unethical. Even an undertaker who has upsold you on everything from coffin to funeral buffet has to show you a number before you sign on the dotted line.

If you Google around long enough, you may find your way to the New York Times rate sheet, where the small print tells you that an online death notice costs "from $79". But you won't find this information from anywhere within the payment funnel, nor will you find any more information about that evocative word from.

I find it odious and troubling that the New York Times, along with a raft of other major newspapers, partners with this kind of website. It seems like further confirmation that newspapers will now clutch at any revenue stream.

The Great Swindle (via Waxy)


  1. I’m not sure this is news — all newspapers, always, have overcharged for death notices — even when you compare word-rate/column-inch to every other form of announcement or advertisement.

    Excessively deceptive billing is worse than the undertaker/extortionist, but not by much.

  2. “At no point, including the final confirmation screen, does tell you how much you will be charged.”


  3. Say 6,800 people a DAY die in the States. Pick a number for how many would have obits in a major daily and thus be part of this thing. 3,000 or so, gets them in the area of $250,000 a day, that is close to $100 million a year in revenues. For a company that is mostly IT-based, staff can’t be more than 100. $7 to $10 million in employee costs, another $20 million in operating costs… the rest is pure gravy.

    A friend was complaining to me the other day about the $10/day TV cost his uncle has to pay while he’s laid up in hospital. It seemed high, but I ran some numbers, and figured 800 patients/beds (in a city of my size) a day gets you $8,000 bucks a day, or close to $3 million a year. I calculated 20 employees (field repair, customer service, billing, sales), 1/3 of your income is eaten up in staff costs. Then costly repairs so you don’t lose revenue opportunities
    , the hospital’s cut, cost of general business operations, infrastructure upgrades… You might have at BEST $250,000 at the end of the year.. Very thin margins.. very thin. $10 a day is actually a fair price (IF the TV’s are modern and cable is clear).

    It would be interesting to see a study on what some actual costs are to operations we label ‘a scam’ but might actually be charging an honest buck.

  4. I went to and it appears they are pretty straight-forward about their death notice rates and that it includes a year of the guest book service. I don’t think I’ve heard of people trying to place notices directly with Most folks do it through their funeral home director or directly with the newspaper. I’ve always viewed as kind of a “free add-on” to the service the newspaper provides (with options to pay more for more service).

  5. I found where the author takes screen shot one from: The link on that page take you to the link I posted above–which clearly links to the stated price. So, either the the NYT changed things in the last 24 hours, the author missed it, or made it up.

  6. We should have a Boingboing graveyard. Google could find it as easily as Legacy. I’d rather be buried here. Of course some of the NSFW links would give relatives some concern, but I’d be dead at the time.

    1. There is a boingboing graveyard. It’s filled with the bodies of people who said things like “must be a slow news day” and “how is this a wonderful thing.”

  7. Funny this article would published right now, as I’ve been hitting the paywall recently myself. It looks like wants $2.95 to access each archived obit. I’ve yet to do so because the obscurity of both the purchasing process and the price, as Maciej described, annoyed me.

  8. Funeral directors are not used car salesmen trying to swindle the greiving. All the ones I have ever know were in the business to help people. It was our family business, so I knew more than a few. (I’m not ruling out the possibility that there are a few bad apples out ther however)

    1. Bad apples are sadly the only ones that get written about. “Helpful funeral director fulfills all duties with great propriety and consideration for decades” isn’t going to sell any papers.

    2. There are indeed some caring, helpful funeral directors. But that doesn’t stop the American funeral industry from being an unconscionable racket.

      The “protective” caskets, taxidermy-like body “preservation” and make-up: all are hugely expensive, hugely profitable services that are pretty much unique to the American culture.

      And the funeral industry has fought hard to continue making such Pharaonic death rituals seem “normal and expected” to Americans. Indeed, the industry’s lobbyists have purchased state laws that make it very hard to avoid going through the profitable “embalm the body and buy a casket” routine, even when the family desires a simple immediate cremation.

      It’s a racket. Most other cultures do death rituals much more simply (and much more cheaply): immediate cremation, or simple burial. Only in America is even a poor family expected to spend several thousand dollars to get a body ready for a “viewing” in a fancy casket.

      1. There is nothing ‘taxidermy like’ about embalming. They are completely different art. And, in fact, if you ask, most funeral directors will tell you that embalming isn’t a long-term preservative (at least, not anymore…back when we could use arsenic, it was, but formaldehyde isn’t nearly as good). Embalming is a disinfecting and cosmetic procedure that makes it easier to have an open casket viewing – which people want and expect. When I was in the funeral business, it would have made my job MUCH easier if people didn’t want embalmings and open casket viewings and 8am church services.

        As far as funeral directors making it difficult to do anything other than embalm and buy a casket…at every funeral home I worked at (and I worked at 2, and did externships at 2 others through mortuary school) direct burials or direct cremations were easy to obtain, and quite frankly, were easy work for us. There are inexpensive caskets available for both direct cremation and burial, and at least for direct cremation, plywood/cardboard boxes that can be used. We supply what people want, and what crematories and cemeteries require. (Ex, several cemeteries I know of require the family to purchase at the least a ceramic vault to preserve the structure of the land. Just because you pay for that through the funeral director doesn’t mean that they have anything to do with it, and, in fact, we make no money off of it.

        Is the mark up on caskets excessive? In some places, yes. But we don’t force people to choose expensive caskets. Generally, when my co-workers were helping a family choose, we were there to answer questions and for support, not to make a hard sell. There are also plenty of other options for buying a casket. I knew a man who ran a casket direct sales store, where you could buy a casket and have it shipped to the funeral home for a much lower price, and funeral homes were required to accept and allow this.

        As for the racket you seem to think we’ve created – there is a market for all this stuff. There is sociological pressure for people to have a funeral, to have a religious ceremony, to have a dinner. ‘Others do, so we must, or they will look at us funny and judge us’. Keeping up with the Joneses and all that bullshit. Everything that happens with the American funeral is for the living, not the dead. You want the death rituals of our culture to change, then YOU change them when it comes time to bury a loved one. The funeral director’s job is essentially a balance of making what YOU want happen within the bounds of the laws of your state in terms of the disposition of a body. I don’t know where you think this super amazing funeral lobby came from, but I never saw it and I spent three eyars in the business.

  9. It’s very strange to see that the design of the NYT’s Paid Death Notices page is virtually the same as the design of my local paper’s online obits page. Even the same National Spotlight column on the left. Yipes!

  10. Can we stop saying “committed suicide”? The only other things we commit are sins and crimes. How about we say “killed herself”?

    Just saying.

    1. Whatever the legal details, I don’t think there’s anything semantically wrong considering suicide a very specific type of murder, which is committed. “Killed herself” throws suicide in with accidents.

  11. A few blocks away, we have a coffin store named “Casket Outlet” — I think they sell hardly used items.

  12. I’m the author of the post.

    For those people commenting that they clicked through and saw a clear mention of the price, that is a change made after I published my post. They have told me the original link (directly to the order page) was a mistake.

    I’ve updated my post with a link to the email I received from their Director of Operations.

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