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Whole New Ball Game

The first decade of E-business was not an unmitigated field of dreams, but some companies are once again ready to take the field.

At the other end of life’s major events is www.legacy.com, a site devoted to obituaries. “The idea was simple — to use the Internet to expand on the traditional print obituary,” explains Hayes Ferguson, chief operating officer of the interactive-media company. “We figured since newspaper space is limited, the Internet would provide a way for people to enlarge upon the biographical and familial components of traditional obituaries.”

Legacy.com makes ordinary people into extraordinary subjects of interest. Friends and family members of the deceased E-mail their personal recollections and upload photos to the site, turning a run-of-the-mill obituary into a compelling biography. The site derives some revenue from newspapers, which pay it to provide online access to the obituaries they publish, and from individuals who pay to keep an obit running beyond whatever period of time the newspaper has contracted for. There is also a modest stream of advertising revenue.

Both www.theknot.com and www.legacy.com would have been logical extensions for magazines and newspapers. In fact, The Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, had intended to enter the online obituary space. “We had a detailed business plan in place,” says Owen Youngman, vice president of development at the Tribune, “but then we ran into [Legacy founder] Stopher Bartol and his partners and realized they had the same idea.” Rather than compete with Legacy at its own game, the Tribune joined them, gradually acquiring a 40 percent stake in the firm.

“Traditional publishers are so calcified in their business models,” charges The Knot’s Liu. “Wedding magazines are filled with thousands of pages of advertising, but no understanding that people passing through this life stage have a tremendous number of purchasing decisions around the wedding and in subsequently setting up homes. Although a small number of people get married each year, they represent a disproportionate amount of consumer spending.”

Does he regret not working in the film industry? “Actually, we just launched a TV show on the Oxygen network that focuses on the drama that unfolds around wedding planning,” he says. “Every now and then I get the itch to see if they’ll let me direct an episode, but then I think what I’m doing now is so much more fun anyway.” —R.B.

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