How Much for That Baby on the Cover?

How About $6 Million? People Latest Mag Set to Shell Out Big for First Snaps of Celeb Spawn

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NEW YORK ( -- People magazine is poised to pay Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony between $4 million and $6 million for exclusive U.S. rights to the first photos of their expected twins, people familiar with the negotiations said last week. At the high end, the payout would not only match box-office receipts for J.Lo's "Gigli," maybe a modest achievement even for newborns, but also set a stratospheric standard in the market for celebrity baby photos. Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, after all, only generated $4 million -- if that.
Double whammy: Lopez and Anthony's twins expect to bring huge newsstand sales.
Double whammy: Lopez and Anthony's twins expect to bring huge newsstand sales. Credit: Brian Zak

People magazine and the stars' representatives denied last week that any deals were complete. "I have no comment on these particular pictures," said Larry Hackett, People's managing editor. In the Lopez camp, Leslie Sloane Zelnick said she had heard inquiries, but declined to say more. Simon Fields, Ms. Lopez's production partner at Nuyorican Productions, said no deal was done. Asked whether one would be, he said, "I don't know." Fran DeFeo, a rep for Mr. Anthony, did not respond to messages.

But the tentative arrangement that others described divvies the rights into domestic use for People and international use for OK magazine, whose many editions abroad now include a start-up in Spain, at a reputed $2 million. The Lopez camp declined to confirm a due date, but staffers at the publications are expecting the babies to be born in the next few weeks.

Hot checkout items
In addition to showing some tact -- the twins aren't born yet -- the shadows and fog surrounding the negotiations show how competitive the star-gazing business has become. Celebrity weeklies, which rely on checkout and newsstand sales more than most magazines, are in hot flux. All have recently raised cover prices; Star, In Touch and Life & Style have cut circulation; and OK, the newest, keeps growing -- at great expense.

Graydon Carter was once famously accused of putting Paris Hilton on Vanity Fair's cover because she represented "newsstand crack." Now we see the next generation: newsstand crack babies. The question is precisely who's addicted.

"Readers have to know that when there's a huge picture, a baby, a wedding, some life moment, People magazine is the place that you're going to find that," Mr. Hackett said. "You have to reinforce that all the time. There's a business to be made in the short term and there's a business to be made in the long term."

There's no denying the short-term baby bumps that readers give magazines. People, part of Time Inc., resolutely denies that it shelled out anything like $4 million, the widely circulated estimate, for its exclusive shots of Shiloh, the daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. But you can see why it's plausible. People's June 19, 2006, debut pictures of Shiloh sold nearly 2.2 million copies, 45% above average, at a 50ยข markup and with incremental ad pages to boot. That week's take was easily $3 million more than usual, pretty good justification for the outlay.

This week's People features exclusive photos of Christina Aguilera's newborn son. Rumored price: $1.5 million. Official response from Mr. Hackett: "I just don't talk about it."

Source: Publishers' reports to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Newsstand impact refers to single-copy unit sales above or below the average for the six-month reporting period including the issue.
Of course, babies don't have to be fodder for checkbook journalism. Vanity Fair didn't pay anything for rights to the first photos of Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. But that September 2006 issue still sold 60% more copies on newsstands than the average for that half of the year. The sell-through was such an anomaly that the title was forced to warn against comparing September 2007 sales with the abnormally successful issue a year prior.

Plenty of editors say paying up will pay you back. "It depends on what the cost is, but it's a nice positive antidote to the more crazy celebrity stories that go on," said Sarah Ivens, editor in chief of OK, part of Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell empire.

But others wonder whether there's a baby-photo price bubble. "Historically, what we've seen with exclusive baby shots is that eight out of 10 of them sell well but that there's not a lot of retention after that," said Janice Min, editor in chief of Wenner's Us Weekly. "Our strategy has never been to buy newsstand. The strategy has been to consistently 52 weeks a year to do great news covers that sell, to think of fresh ideas."

For those missing out on getting the J.Lo twins, there's other newborns to chase. Baby bumps under watch include actresses Halle Berry, Jessica Alba, Nicole Kidman and, of course, teen star Jamie Lynn Spears. And if the chatter about Angelina Jolie's pregnancy turns out to be right, Shiloh's got twin siblings on the way. Let the bidding begin.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the month against which Vanity Fair warned of inflated comparisons for its cover with Suri Cruise. The article should have said the year-after cover was September 2007, not September 2006, the month that had the exclusive photos.
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