With advertising revenue taking a nosedive, many online startups are shifting their business models. But it's not often that such changes are as tied up in the issue of mortality as with the creation of Tributes.com.
This weekend Boston.com profiled Jeff Taylor, the founder of job classifieds site Monster.com. Since leaving Monster, Taylor created a social networking site for boomers called. Eons Inc. But as the economic winds have shifted, Taylor has moved the focus of his company from lifestyles of the 50-something set to an online obituaries desitination called Tributes.com. As if baby boomers didn't already have enough trouble contemplating their imminent demise.
But obituaries have something that that social networking for the boomers does not have: a commission based fee structure.
According to Boston.com:
"Eons began with a big vision: create an online gathering place for people on the far side of 50 that would evolve into a kind of next-generation AARP. In addition to the website, there were plans for a print magazine, a membership rewards program, and a TV show. But while the company spent heavily on marketing (including television ads where Taylor tried to popularize the slogan “Boom! Boom! Boom!’’), “they never found that seed for organic traffic growth,’’ says a former Eons executive. Today, the AARP website gets about 3 million visitors a month, while Eons attracts just 250,000, according to the research service Compete.com. Maybe boomers and seniors weren’t looking for a destination built just for them - or maybe they were gravitating to other social networks, such as Facebook."
Meanwhile, the company's obituaries section was taking off. Tributes.com both creates online memorials for recently departed celebrities and sells "tributes" to grieving families through funeral homes. Their service is a welcome addition for the funeral industry. Funeral directors are often responsible for writing and compiling obits for the departed but don't get a cut of the fee from newspapers. They do receive a fee from Tributes.
In this climate, many ad supported sites are struggling. Monster.com may be more well known than Eons right now, but it is suffering terribly because of the economy. Monster.com's classified job ads saw a 31% decline this year according to global market intelligence firm IDC.
Obituaries, on the other hand, keep coming no matter what the Dow is doing. According to Boston.com:
Eons will generate more revenue than Tributes this year, but Taylor projects Tributes will do better in 2010, adding optimistically that “we do have new products coming out at Eons’’ that could change that. Last month, Tributes took in $1.2 million in funding, on top of $4.2 million it had banked previously.
Tributes president Elaine Haney tells Boston.com that due to the current problems with the newspaper industry, obits are "'ripe for someone to come in and do something different.' And she says that as time goes by, more people who’ve grown up online will consider the Web - and not newsprint - to be the natural place to look for obituaries."
So every cloud has a silver lining, as they say?