YouTube obituary readers making bank

YouTubers read published obituaries at scale, exploiting the site's preferred position in search results, its monetization options, and the labour of bereaved survivors. If the idea seems in fascinatingly bad taste, the reality of it is disinterested, fraudulent sleaze packed with search keywords, stock art of accidents, and pitches for cosmetics, pills and other products.

The flood of YouTube obituary videos is a janky update on this practice. Some of these channels upload dozens of death notice summaries every hour, abandoning any pretense of looking like an official source of information in an effort to churn out as many videos as they can. Although text-based obituary pirating has been a scourge on the industry for years, these videos are a more recent phenomenon. "This is a new one for me," says Jessica Koth, director of public relations for the National Funeral Directors Association. "These videos are not sanctioned or authorized by the funeral home or family of the person who died. I would imagine they would be quite upsetting to the families involved."

Sometimes these obituary YouTubers promote products in the video description, like a $225 vitamin C cream for sale on Amazon. Sometimes they just list strings of SEO-baiting keywords, like "death," "cause of death," "die," "RIP," and "what happened." While each channel differs from the next in small ways, there's a unifying aesthetic—everything looks rushed and careless, and there's no hint of emotion or acknowledgement that they're discussing someone's greatest tragedy.

Some obit readers are in YouTube's Partner Program and the company didn't even return calls for comment, Wired reports. This is a solid PR strategy: when you're involved, keep your mouth shut.