The Economics of Conspiracies

Filed as Features, Guides on November 22, 2007 10:57 am

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Last year, Sam Vaknin Ph.D. wrote in “The Economics of Conspiracy Theories” on the American Chronicle that many are profiting from conspiracy theories, writing books, selling magazines and television shows, even movies, becoming a celebrity for their conspiracy plots as the source or participant. In and of itself, the business of making money with conspiracies might be a conspiracy in itself:

Barry Chamish is convinced that Shimon Peres, Israel’s wily old statesman, ordered the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, back in 1995, in collaboration with the French. He points to apparent tampering with evidence…Chamish published a book about the affair. He travels and lectures widely, presumably for a fee.

But there is more to conspiracy theories than mass psychology. It is also big business. Voluntary associations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society are past their heyday. But they still gross many millions of dollars a year.

…”Lobster Magazine”…editor, Robin Ramsay, said in a lecture delivered to the “Unconvention 96″, organized by the “Fortean Times”:

“Conspiracy theories certainly are sexy at the moment … I’ve been contacted by five or six TV companies in the past six months – two last week – all interested in making programmes about conspiracy theories. I even got a call from the Big Breakfast Show, from a researcher who had no idea who I was, asking me if I’d like to appear on it … These days we’ve got conspiracy theories everywhere; and about almost everything.”

When it comes to profiting from conspiracies, Dr. Vaknin explained:

There are more than 186,600 Web sites dedicated to conspiracy theories in Google’s database of 3 billion pages. The “conspiracy theories” category in the Open Directory Project, a Web directory edited by volunteers, contains hundreds of entries.

There are 1077 titles about conspiracies listed in Amazon and another 12,078 in its individually-operated ZShops. A 1996 edition of the century-old anti-Semitic propaganda pamphlet faked by the Czarist secret service, “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, is available through Amazon. Its sales rank is a respectable 64,000 – out of more than 2 million titles stocked by the online bookseller.

Counting the number of times the phrase “conspiracy theory” is cited in Google (currently 261,000) isn’t a good metric, but does represent an impression of obsession with the phrase – and conspiracies in general.

Movies, television shows, books, speaking engagements, newspapers, magazines, and blogs are ripe with speculation and gossip, as well as conspiracy theories, and there is an eager audience for their wares. And money to be made.

Rumors and conspiracy theory thoughts. Copyright graphic by Lorelle VanFossenStanding in line at most grocery stores, you will see lines of “magazines” filled with conspiracy theories. Some are notably rags, but others are considered “legit”, making money over rumors, assumptions, and conjectures over movie stars, singers, actors, directors, and their family. Who did what to whom, and why, and who benefits, gossip flies around, twisting the truth with lies. And people buy these.

I once asked a woman buying a magazine, claiming they’d found the real bat man’s son, bat boy, complete with ears, and they were going to uncover the truth of Roswell and Area 51, why she bought such trash. “It’s entertainment.”

I looked around at all the books and legitimate magazines, the movies on DVD and all the sources of entertainment surrounding us in the store, and asked her why she choose this particular magazine over all the other entertainment options.

“Oh, I don’t believe this stuff! But, hey, you never know. It could be true. It’s fun thinking about the possibilities. After all, they’ve found strange creatures under the sea, so who knows what secrets are left on the surface we don’t know about. Did you hear about those fish monsters that live in the lava tubes underground in 3000 degree temperatures?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that microbes, not monsters, live within the hottest areas of the lava vents, with temperatures peaking at 400°C (752°F), but often much lower. I didn’t want to ruin her fun.

The truth about the hot lava tubes and those who rely upon their heat and energy for their ecosystem is true, and very fascinating, without the need to exaggerate. But who would spend USD $5.95 on the truth? Huh? Many rely upon these perpetrators of conspiracy theories in print and online for entertainment, and the owners soak up the money the attention brings.

Is your blog one of those who thrives on conspiracies? It’s a big industry and sometimes, it pays to be a little paranoid.

In the next in this series on blogs and conspiracy theories, I’ll cover how to find the truth behind the conspiracy theory and hoax, and offer some examples of blogs which specialize in conspiracies. In the final part of this series, I’ll give you some tips to help you start your own conspiracies on your blog.

Article Series on Conspiracy Theories and Blogs

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  1. By Chris Garrett posted on November 23, 2007 at 6:18 am
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    Conspiracies can be fun entertainment, it is a lot like what people get out of scary movies. You would think people wouldn’t pay to be frightened but people do and in droves.

    Some people like David Icke pack out lecture halls with some seriously frightening ideas (British Royals are lizard-men, anyone?) and people lap it up.

    Do you think the growth of the conspiracy market is partly due to societies crumbling faith in governments and organized religions? People seem to be becoming ever-more suspicious and distrusting.

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  2. By ian in hamburg posted on November 23, 2007 at 8:19 am
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    People concoct conspiracy theories because they are trying to make sense out of what doesn’t make sense to them. The best argument I can make against them is: how many people are involved? How many people do you have to keep quiet? Why does nobody ever blow the whistle? Are they all dead?

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  3. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on November 23, 2007 at 11:57 am
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    @ian in hamburg:

    LOL. That proves you right, but it rarely convinces the one arguing the “facts”. Holocaust deniers are an example. There is tons of witnesses, evidence, pictures, the records the Germans proudly and meticulously kept, and yet people still claim to believe it was a conspiracy and didn’t happen. Even though with powerful telescopes, we can see the remains of the lunar landings, still people believe it was faked.

    That’s the entertainment value of conspiracy theories. With enough “facts” wrapped together and connected, whether real or imagined, people will believe anything is there is enough doubt and entertainment value. “What if” is a game continued to be played by children around the world, future conspiracy believers. :D

    And money is to be made! Look at Robert Ludlum and the Bourne movie series that’s raking in the bucks and helping Matt Damon become the sexiest man around. Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Big bucks. And blogs are cashing in on the fascination with conspiracies.

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  4. There is Nothing Like a Good Conspiracy : The Blog HeraldNovember 27, 2007 at 1:14 am
  5. By Sean Goss posted on June 3, 2008 at 4:32 am
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    Dont begrudge people who wants to make money out of conspiracies. Read what they write. Why dont the assholes that they attack in their books, sue them if they talking/writing shit? Are They perhaps on to something?

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  6. By david ben ariel posted on November 7, 2009 at 9:23 pm
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