There’s Money to Be Made in the 2012 Apocalypse

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According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, the end of the world is scheduled for the winter solstice (December 21) of 2012. Survivalist entrepreneurs say it’s never too early to begin preparing for the big day.

You may have thought that after the Harold Camping-rapture predictions of May 23 passed Armageddon-free, we were done with the apocalypse fascination for a while. But when one end-of-the-world theory dies, there are often others to take its place among the paranoid and conspiracy-minded.

(LIST: Top 10 End-of-the-World Prophecies)

The current most popular apocalyptic theory has it that bad things will happen in 2012—the earth may collide with a black hole or a previously unknown planet, or somehow or another the world that we now know will come to an end.

What we do know for sure is that people are making money off the idea that the you-know-what will hit the fan in 2012. The Arizona Republic reported recently that several Phoenix-area entrepreneurs are cashing in on the concept—and have been doing so for a while.

One site, 2012supplies.com, which sells gas masks, dried foods, and all sorts of other worst-case scenario products, was launched in 2007 by a man in Mesa, Ariz. Others are blogging and writing books about the apocalypse, and there are more theories for preparing and surviving disasters than there are apocalypse theories.

Why do people buy into such outlandish theories and spend time, effort, and money preparing for an event that the rational-minded know is extremely unlikely to come? James Ward, an ASU marketing professor, tells the Republic:

“Even if people don’t believe it’s the apocalypse in 2012, being prepared is psychologically comforting,” Ward said.

What the entrepreneurs in the story are discovering is that consumers want to be prepared for more than mere apocalypses. Bulk-supply and freeze-dried meal orders in the U.S. spiked after the earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan, and merchants realize there’s probably more fear-related money to be made in marketing survival gear for run-of-the-mill natural disasters and economic catastrophes than the end of the world. (Come to think of it, how much can you really prepare for the end of the world anyway?) Increasingly, the sales pitch revolves around surviving all manner of catastrophes, rather than specific end-of-times events.

Unlike apocalypses, these other disasters don’t come with specific end dates or bizarre theories attached, which is good for business. These disasters can and do happen anytime, no explanation necessary—and, thanks to survivalist entrepreneurs, consumers can make purchases to prepare for them anytime as well.

MORE: Finally, Services to Tend Pets After Armaggedon

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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