The economic impact of Joan Rivers’ passing

by September 11, 2014

You know you’re a business writer when word of someone’s death spurs you to thinking about the economic impact of that permanent farewell.

The thought flitted across my mind the other day on word that comedienne Joan Rivers had died at age 81, and apparently I was not alone.  An Examiner.com story says “Ghoulish? Joan Rivers memorabilia value soars following her death,” and notes that items like theater tickets, photos and even a Joan Rivers internet domain have been in hot demand the past few days.  You might want to check with local collectibles and antique shops, and do a ZIP code search on eBay to find online sellers in your area.

Joan Rivers photo in hands of a fan

A fan asks for a Joan Rivers’ autograph in 2010. Photo: Steve Rhodes

Rivers also was a spokeswoman for a lucrative line of apparel and jewelry; Forbes said she’s sold $1 billion worth of the merchandise over the years at home shopping channel QVC, where she made frequent appearances.  (Numerous QVC hosts reportedly attended her memorial service on Sunday.)  Look for these items to start popping up on Etsy and eBay too.

Over at QVC’s discussion boards, executives paid tribute in an online and devoted shoppers expressed not only dismay but hopes that a commemorative jewelry piece would be offered and requests to “keep her jewelry line alive and growing.” 

If you have any local companies that depend heavily on a celebrity spokesperson or even well-known local pitchman (around here, appliance and furniture stores seem to rely heavily on goofy ads by their front men) you might talk with marketing experts and the companies themselves about the pros and cons of identifying products or services closely with a single individual.

Another angle is bookings; on one Detroit-area radio station the other night, the owner of a venerable restaurant said that Rivers frequently played private parties at his bistro and that a couple of upcoming evenings had been sellouts; I wondered what will happen to that venue and many others nationwide that probably had Rivers booked for upcoming public and private events. USA Today said she had over 100 comedy club engagements per year, for example, as well as 2 million Twitter followers.  You might check around with restaurants, clubs and casinos in your neck of the woods — patrons will be wondering about refunds, substitute performers and the like.

And of course, besides marketing and merchandise, the circumstances of Rivers’ death have raised questions about the safety of outpatient surgical clinics.  It might seem tacky to use a celebrity passing as a news peg for stories about medical safety, and I planned to refrain.  But after seeing public and private reaction over the past several days I do think it’s top of mind and that plenty of people now are wondering what dangers they are running when they get sedation for colonoscopies, endoscopies and even serious dental surgery or other outpatient services.    A  local story about regulation of such clinics (standalone and those operated as concessions on hospital premises) would be of great interest to audiences.  Patients might be surprised at the number of for-profit centers, too.

It’s an especially interesting topic in light of this story from Healthcare Finance News, which notes that price concerns are driving more hospitals to expand outpatient and ambulatory surgical centers even as inpatient surgery facilities shrink.  Bloomberg says “Surgical center used by Rivers part of outpatient push” and notes that doctor ownership of such centers, which is common, raises conflict-of-interest questions.  Again, ask health systems and regulators in your market about shifting patient options and safety concerns.  A recent study of outpatient urology outcomes found, for example, found that more preventable deaths occur as surgeries are shifted from inpatient to outpatient. 

Here’s a Baltimore Sun piece about issues related to uneven oversight of freestanding surgical centers.

Perusing Outpatient Surgery Magazine might be helpful to understand industry issues and trends.    And this piece from California suggests that lower public reporting requirements have been implemented for for-profit surgical centers; something to look into in your region.