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Scaring Up Paranormal Profits

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 09:36:30 -0400
Fwd Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 09:36:30 -0400
Subject: Scaring Up Paranormal Profits

Source: BusinessWeek Online - U.S.


May 12, 2005

News Analysis
By Olga Kharif

Scaring Up Paranormal Profits

Interest in the spirit world and UFOs is growing, and
entrepreneurs are making money from it by providing
high-tech ghost-hunting gear

To the right person, it would be downright eerie. Electronics
equipment - electromagnetic-field detectors, white-noise
generators, infrared motion sensors - jumping off store shelves
for no apparent reason. Groups of otherwise sensible people
paying good money to spend a night in a soon-to-be-closed movie
theater. Folks on the Internet trolling for brass dowsing rods
and crystals that ward off negativity. This is the lucrative
business end of the paranormal.

Skeptics may scoff at ghosts and UFOs, but the profits some
businesses are making off the spirit world are no mere phantoms.
Scores of small businesses, selling ghost-hunting equipment,
ghost investigation services, and even ghost counseling, are
booming outside of their prime season, Halloween. Several
companies recently introduced new devices billed as ghost
detectors. And a cable TV show dedicated to ghost hunting is
conjuring up viewers for the Sci-Fi Channel.

TV TIE-IN. The business is thriving thanks to enthusiasts such
as Justin Faulk, an electrical engineering student at Oklahoma
State University in Stillwater. The 21-year-old has been a ghost
hunter for three years, prowling abandoned buildings, haunted
houses, and cemeteries. Faulk owns $2,500 worth of ghost-
detecting gear, including equipment designed to check for
changes in electrical fields that might indicate either the
presence of UFOs - or defects in home wiring.

Faulk says he recently took his gear out to an abandoned
hospital that's said to be haunted. He walked into empty rooms
with peeling paint that invoked intense feelings of fear. He saw
pebbles tossed across a narrow hallway from an unseen source -
 but no definite signs of ghosts. "In most haunted places, there
are no knives flying out of the cabinet, like in the movies,"
laughs Faulk, who is thinking of going into business making
ghost detectors himself.

How big is the paranormal market getting? It's hard to tell, as
most businesses in the field are small, privately owned, and
don't report revenues. But owners say they're getting a boost
from the reality show Ghost Hunters, which debuted on the Sci-Fi
Channel last October and has been renewed for additional
episodes. In the program, two plumbers moonlight as ghost
hunters. The Sci-Fi Channel said the show was attracting 1.4
million total viewers six weeks into its run, a 37% increase
over the time slot's previous occupant.

REVENUES COME TO LIFE. The paranormal boomlet is such that some
small businesses are actually starting to make a decent living
at it (previously, most ghost hunters investigated for free, and
home owners who hired them were warned that real ghost hunters
wouldn't smoke or drink during their overnight quests).

Alamo City Paranormal in San Antonio, Tex., - said to be one of
the most haunted regions of the country - claims to own $80,000
worth of special ghost-detecting gear and charges $50 and up for
its investigations. It also offers para-counseling services
(that's where a counselor talks to, say, a child who believes
there's a ghost living under her bed), as well as popular ghost
tours of downtown San Antonio, haunted, the story goes, by the
spirits of hundreds of soldiers who died in the 1836 battle of
the Alamo.

Between 15 to 20 ghost seekers show up for nightly San Antonio
tours, which run an hour and a half and cost $10 for adults,
reports Martin Leal, Alamo City Paranormal's owner. A favorite
part of the tour, Leal says, is when the tourists get to play
around with the ghost detectors for 20 minutes or so. Leal says
revenues, which have been flattish for years, grew 21% in 2004.
He's now trying to take his association of a dozen local
companies charging for ghost-hunting services, called the
American Alliance of Professional Ghost Hunters, nationwide.

DIFFERENT MOTIVES. More serious amateurs can hang onto the
detection gear longer during numerous ghost-hunting
overnighters, offered by the likes of Bump in the Night Tour Co.
in Illinois, run by two authors of ghost books. Lured by the
possibility of spending a sleepless night watching for spirits
in a haunted movie theater, a witch cave, or a cemetery,
enthusiasts flock to these tours, so most of them sell out
months in advance.

Then there's all that equipment. There's science, albeit shaky,
behind the devices on offer. UFOs might disturb an area's
electromagnetic field, some believe. Ghosts can cause
fluctuations in magnetic fields, radio waves, or light. Much of
the gear that ghost hunters use measures these things - but
hasn't been designed specifically with ghosts in mind. However,
they add scientific credibility to the pursuit. ("You don't
believe in ghosts? Look at this magnificent magnetic-field
readout. Look at this beautiful pie chart. Would technology

Many of those selling the gear for the paranormal market are
believers, while others are skeptical about everything except
the bottom line. At Hamburg (N.J.)-based Abate Electronics,
orders for detectors had doubled from 2003 to 2004, to about 300
units, says owner Frank Abate, a retired Air Force engineer who
claims to have seen a UFO and have had an out-of-the-body
experience. His devices, priced at $29.99 and up, depending on
features, can sound an alarm when detecting changes in the
magnetic field, just so you don't miss a ghost wafting by. Its
light indicator starts flashing, too, which "is fun for the
kids," he says.

"FUN-LOVING ENGINEERS." Considered the Jaguar of ghost detectors
is AlphaLab's TriField Natural EM Meter, selling for around $300
and measuring magnetic, radio-wave, and electric-field changes.
The company, which sells about 200 such detectors a year, is
considering making a detector that can draw an image based on
the changes in the electromagnetic field it's detecting, says
CEO David Lee, who has a PhD. in physics. Lee says he doesn't
believe in ghosts but is undecided on the existence of UFOs.

In April, a Japanese company called Solid Alliance released a
purported ghost detector complete with embedded memory and
lights that flash in a different pattern depending on what the
gadget has detected. Douglas Krone, CEO of Solid Alliance's U.S.
distributor, Dynamism, is a bit unsure whether the device,
selling for $119 and up, is for real or a joke: The Japanese
inventors wouldn't tell him how it works.

To be safe, Krone clings to his healthy skepticism: "It's just a
small plastic toy made in China," he says. "They're just fun-
loving engineers who love to dream up stuff." Yet, Krone says,
he's been inundated with inquiries from ghost hunters and
paranormal magazines.

SENSITIVE INSTRUMENTS. Indeed, lots of skeptics choose to pooh-
pooh the high-tech readouts. The James Randi Educational
Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., run by the magician known
for his debunking of paranormal claims, offers a $1 million
reward to a person who proves the existence of the paranormal.
Over the years, Randi has been all over the world testing
applicants. He claims to have disproved all self-proclaimed
mediums and even Uri Geller who, under Randi's watchful eye,
couldn't bend his spoons.

"People move into old houses, they hear creaking noises at
night, and they say they have a ghost," says Randi. "But it's
simply an old house."

It's the high-tech equipment of the ghost hunters that Randi has
no patience with, though. "These sensitive instruments will
react to anything: Your cell phone, the fillings in your teeth,
a lightning storm hundreds of miles away," he says.

But that's not stopping people such as Faulk, the Oklahoma State
student, who has been hard at work designing a better, ghost-
specific detector that he hopes to start selling later this
year. "The market isn't huge, but the people who are [ghost
hunting] will appreciate it," he figures. "I'm not going to
retire at 25." However, if the ghost business maintains its
uptrend, he might be wrong about that.


Kharif is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Portland, Oregon

[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://www.uforeview.net for the lead]

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