On Business: Chick Tracts

By | Monday, January 11, 2016 Leave a Comment
I was out running a couple weeks ago and came across a Chick Tract lying on the sidewalk! I could down to Quimby's and purchase any number of them, but there's something more visceral about stumbling across one out in the wild somewhere. Buying them at a shop, one has a distinct sense of the ironic way in which most people (I think) view them. Finding them in the wild is a reminder that there are people out there who genuinely believe in the fire-and-damnation, holy roller approach to religion that the tracts espouse.

This is actually the second Chick Tract that I've come across this way. I found one in a hospital waiting room not quite a decade ago. I'd heard of them before, but had never seen one in person. It was amazing to see just how crazy these are. Setting aside whatever religious beliefs you might actually hold, they're filled with such simplistic storytelling and flat characterizations, they make Dick and Jane look like the works of Shakespeare. Reading through them, I simply cannot imagine anyone being converted by the arguments in them. They're just so poorly presented that you pretty much have to already be a complete believer in their particular theology to gloss over all the problems in the tracts without a healthy dose of irony or satire.

In thinking about that, though, I started to wonder about the business model here. Jack Chick sells these from his website to essentially two different sets of constituents. First, the aforementioned readers who read these ironically. Second, they're bought in bulk by religious organizations to be distributed apostolically. To be handed out as a way to bring people into their church. Since I seriously can't fathom the tracts actually working in this way, I can only believe their actual purpose is validate the churches' own beliefs. "See? What you're preaching is true because we have this printed booklets that agree with you."

And in that mindset, it's hard not to view Chick himself cynically. Like a television evangelist who rakes in millions of dollars in 'tithes' that he uses to buy his own jet. But if you actually go to buy some, they cost sixteen cents apiece. Doesn't matter which one, it's sixteen cents. Six pieces of paper folded in half, double-sided printing, two color cover, single staple. It's not a huge outlay of costs, but I suspect the actual production of these booklets is very nearly sixteen cents. Without actually going out to get price quotes, I'd bet they cost somewhere between fifteen and sixteen cents to produce when they're done in bulk. Meaning Chick's profits off them would be one cent for every two, maybe as many as four, copies.

If Chick's claims of printing 800,000,000 tracts in 50 years is accurate, that would translate into $2,000,000. Which sounds like a lot as a lump sum, but comes down to $40,000 a year. Now, clearly, I'm doing some back-of-the-envelope math here based on some very loose figures, so I'm sure that estimate is inaccurate. But it points in the direction of Chick not making a whole ton of money on these. Enough to live on, probably, but he's not likely to be buying his own jet.

For me, when I see those televangelists raking in huge dollar amounts, I see them very cynically. I don't think they necessarily believe whatever it is they're preaching, but they know that saying those things gets them lots of money. You wave enough money in front of almost anybody, they're going to believe whatever gets them that money. But if Chick isn't raking in those huge amounts that the guys on television are, if he's making a living but maybe not much more, that's not much different than freelance comic artists selling their work at SPX or wherever. They're doing it because they love it. Chick must, too. Whether he believes he's genuinely getting converts with his comics, or simply avowing the faith of those already converted, he seems to truly believe in the messages his printing.

He must, because there sure as hell doesn't look to be much money in it!
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