In light of more recent delusional bragging from RCG about all of the “free literature” downloads from its astronomically popular international phenomenon of a website, we’ll take this opportunity to review the myth of the COG’s “free literature” scam.
Since the days of WCG, when Herbert W. Armstrong abused and manipulated the word “FREE” as any decent advertising professional would, the COG has tried to set itself apart from mainstream Christianity by offering all of its literature, magazines and booklets without charge to the general public.
But depicting COG literature as being without cost is a sick distortion of the truth. First, there is no such thing as “free.” That’s just a fact of life. Somebody pays for nearly everything, regardless of whether that cost is passed on to the consumer or not. Someone somewhere sacrifices their time and money for everything that’s ever produced. Period.
In the case of COG literature, absolutely all of the production cost is fronted from member tithes, multi-annual “free will” offerings and other donations. This is the only way the COG can produce and offer this so-called “free literature” to the general public whereas many mainstream Christian denominations that don’t practice compulsory tithing cannot.
It gets worse. Most of the people avidly reading COG literature are already members. That’s just a sad reality for the cults. Every baptized member automatically gets a magazine and booklet subscription in the larger COG cults. Many view this as a great perk of being a member, but rather, it’s a commodity they’re paying through the nose for. So not only is the cost being passed on to the primary consumer, it’s the primary consumer paying the costs in the first place.
Here’s an exercise in speculation using some reasonable numbers, using only sample First Tithe donations:
1. Let’s take UCG’s The Good New Magazine as an example. It claims a circulation of 450,000. For now, we’ll assume that implausible number is true and will save questioning how they calculate that for later.
2. Next, we’ll consult our handy-dandy tithing infographicand take some sample data. As an example, we’ll take our $42,000 annual household income for a COG member, which shakes out to about $4,200 per year in First Tithes paid to UCG from our imaginary church family.
3. Next, let’s take UCG’s own reported numbers where only 30.5% of their revenue is spent on “preaching the gospel,” which is pretty much confined to media projects, including literature production.
4. So since $4,200 x 30.5% = $1,281, that’s how much this particular household would likely sink into “the gospel” each year through First Tithes alone (we realize this is only in a scenario where $42,000 is a reasonable average household income, but the reality is likely more complex and many families pay much more).
6. So considering GNM publishes six times per year, this household is contributing $213.50 per issue through first tithes alone. Of course, it’s slightly more complicated than that, since UCG publishes three other print periodicals, booklets and a Bible correspondence course as well. That’s still a lot per issue though, considering the average magazine rack price is about $3.50. So if each baptized household is receiving GNM, World News and Prophecy, Vertical Thought and United News, about 24 issues per year, that should only cost $84 annually. The remaining $129.50 of this family’s First Tithe donations must go into the ether of assorted web, booklet and broadcasting costs.
7. If we assume there are about 10,000 baptized members left in UCG after the COGWA split (this is the estimate most popularly thrown about), and if they all had an average annual income of around $42,000, of which $1,281 was being sunk into media projects, this would give the a cult a yearly warchest of $12,810,000 for literature and broadcasts, of which its cheap printing and primarily web-based video productions cannot possibly cost that much. Factoring in GNM’s supposed 450,000 circulation, that would give UCG about $28.50 to spend per copy. It costs a fraction of that to print each run of the magazine. After six runs, they would have some of that left over.
8. Using these calculations, this family is paying $2,919 straight to ministerial salaries and other overhead costs per year through First Tithes and only $1,281 to print, web and broadcast projects. But the reality would be slightly different, since there are also annual offerings and whatever the COG can suck out of a family’s Second Tithe over the festival season, making the true cost much higher and more difficult to calculate.
Anyway, that’s just an illustration of how this literature is most certainly not free. Let us know if there are any glitches in the math. It’s meant to primarily demonstrate a point rather than accurately guess UCG’s financial books.
While whatever measly percentage of the general public who actually read COG literature might get a good deal, for all of the cult’s members, the costs are extremely high, and for each person converted to Armstrongism through its literature, they instantly start sharing in it.