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Charging for Obituaries on the Rise in Montana Papers

As if paying for a funeral wasn’t expensive enough, small-­town obituaries now have a price tag to boot.

The trend of small papers charging for obituaries only started within the decade, and for many, just within the past five years. These papers are from towns of 20,000 people or fewer and charge an average of $20 per obituary.

While small­-town newspapers explore obituaries as a new source of revenue, larger dailies continue to increase their prices. Obituaries have become an industry of their own, earning an annual revenue of $421 million, with an average cost of $190 per obit, according to the Inland Press Association, a not-for-profit with the goal of helping newspapers increase profit margins.

Seeley Lake, Montana, resident Sheila Murphy recently attempted placing a 150­-word obituary with both the Great Falls Tribune and the Missoulian. For the same obit, Murphy said, the Tribune wanted more than double what the Missoulian asked for, nearly $120.

Montanans like Murphy now have to pick and choose where to place their obits based on prices, rather than on the paper’s proximity to the deceased’s hometown.

But there are still some newspapers that view obituaries as a free public service. The Choteau Acantha is one of them. The paper’s editors and publishers, Melody and Jeff Martinsen, said “we don’t think the life of a person should be reduced to the cost of inches in newsprint.”