Teaching Brangelina and other celebrities how to be better economists.

Commentary about business and finance.
July 25 2008 11:44 AM

Babies for Sale

Teaching Brangelina and other celebrities how to be better economists.

Magazine covers

The celebrity baby picture market is inflating nearly as fast as the Zimbabwean dollar. According to impossible-to-confirm reports, Matthew McConaughey earned $3 million for his newborn. J. Lo reportedly raked in $6 million. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have reportedly sold pictures of their newborn twins for $16 million. (Obviously, Brangelina will donate the proceeds to charity.) They're not alone; Jamie Lynn Spears, Christina Aguilera, Nicole Richie, Jessica Alba, and that pregnant man have all reaped the monetary benefits of the baby bump.

But inviting a glossy-magazine photographer into your home is like inviting a vampire through the doorway. Once they're in, they're never going to stop trying to come after the kid. (This doesn't take into account the prying eyes of telephoto lenses, as  Brad Pitt can attest.) Considering all the bitching and moaning celebrities spew about the paparazzi, you'd think they would want to keep the photogs away, not tell the world how much pictures of their new scions are worth. This should come as no surprise, but celebrities make crappy economists.

What follows is a field guide for famous mothers to consult once they've brought a new life into the world. We're offering suggestions based on three personality types, and advice is doled out for three key variables. "Distribution" details how many magazines should get access to the first photos. "Time" prescribes a time line between birth and first glimpse. "Money" recommends an asking price for the celebrity. Celebs, welcome to Baby Econ 101.

The Narcissist
Objective:Attention, fame, money.

Distribution: exclusive shots given to only one magazine. After the initial photograph is released, the key is to tease the photogs. Appear out and about shopping for baby materials but without your bundle of joy. Then, when you do take the baby out for a stroll, find a way to obscure his or her face. (Michael Jackson can provide some advice.) This limits the potential supply of photographs, which will only make for more likely placement whenever one does surface. Most likely, you'll accompany the newborn in the photo spread.

Time: The initial photo shouldn't be released immediately after birth, at risk of violating all-important postpartum-dignity standards. Take some time with your baby and imagine how many dollar signs could fit inside those wonderfully innocent pupils. Then, after a week or two, invite photographers into your home. Note: Do not wait longer than a month to release the photo. The public's interest in your offspring will reach a point of diminishing returns at about the four-week mark. Only in special cases—Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise's maybe-alien baby chief among them—does a long silence help drive demand.

Money:The exclusive shot should be sold to the highest bidder. By selling the photographs for the most money, it establishes a market price for pictures of you and the baby, which will incentivize the paparazzi to hunt for more photographs in the future. The higher the price, the more desirable you, yourself, will appear to be. Monetize those assets!

Subcategory: The Narcissist With a Heart of Gold
The only difference between a narcissist and a NWHOG is what they do with the money. It gets sent to charity rather than the kids' college funds, proving that even celebrities care about those less fortunate. If only we could all be more like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

The Prudish Self-Promoter
Objective: PSPs are after personal fame but have too much dignity to farm out their child's image for their own good. This leaves you stuck in a tug of fame: Find a way to bathe in rays of flashbulbs without getting your kid stuck in the crossfire.

Distribution:Because you're in a tricky spot, you have to be innovative. For inspiration, we suggest you turn to the princess of self-promotion, Ms. Tori Spelling. Spelling wisely opened up her womb during her son's in-utero stage, rather than waiting for his infancy. Spelling's show on Oxygen pulled in an average of nearly 1 million viewers per show, resuscitating both the moribund channel and the moribund starlet's career. This was the equivalent to previewing a product before it goes on the market—a more intimate knowledge of the item's  masterminds leads to buzz and hype.

For the PSP, Spelling's reality-show business model provides space between mother and child. It can revive your career not because you've had a kid, but because you're pregnant. Sure, you'll have to allow your rediscovered and newfound fans to reach climax by showing the baby once it's born. Give your pictures to as many magazines as possible to maximize exposure, and give different pictures to each magazine so they're still labeled as exclusives and will get more prominent placement. After that, though, you can hunker down in the Hollywood Hills, "concentrate on motherhood," and be given a whole new slew of more mature roles in TV and movies. (The jury is still out on whether Spelling will lease her son's persona out like she's done with her own or will resist temptation like Donna Martin.)

Time:one to two weeks after birth to allow for breathing room and for a bit of suspense. Given that the baby photos must be shared with the public, the final episode of the pregnancy can be timed to be in concert with the final episode of the season. Synergy is crucial when you're managing a brand.

Money: Either follow the NWHOG charity model or give the pictures away for free. Morality is keeping you from maximizing profits, but that's what makes you a PSP.

The Reclusive Artist Type
Objective:RATs' purpose is to keep the paparazzi as far away from them and their children as possible.

Distribution:From an economist point of view, RATs have the most counterintuitive model. In order to keep the paparazzi away, you need to make the baby's life more public than you'd like. Flooding the market will overwhelm the supply side of the equation and correspondingly reduce demand for the pictures. The pictures should be of good-enough quality to be printed in a magazine, so the paparazzi aren't needed to take higher-quality shots than those provided. Also, a blog outreach strategy could strip the glossies and tabloids of their power. After a few weeks of this overload, the public should lose interest since there are only so many times somebody can look at the same adorable face. You're trying to induce nausea, not compliments.

Nicole Kidman is a role model for RATs everywhere. She and husband Keith Urban have reportedly turned down million-dollar paydays. They haven't decided whether to release any photos at all, but if they're smart economists, they will. Otherwise, the exclusivity of pictures on the market will spike demand and lead to incentives for hawkish paparazzi.

Time: The spate should begin ASAP. Hospital photos should be followed by pictures of the homecoming, the newborn's room, and the newborn's diapers after they've been soiled.

Money: $0

The key takeaway for celebrities is that you control the supply chain. Act like your child's publicist—control the narrative, manage the appearances, and play to the audience. You should be used to that kind of lifestyle.