In June 2008, People magazine, in partnership with Hello!, paid $14 million for the first, exclusive photos of Brad and Angelina's newborn twins. The deal was said to be worth over three times what People paid for the couple's firstborn.
"Every day I'd get to work, it was like going to the trading floor," one magazine editor told TDB. "The phones would be ringing, you'd be doing these crazy deals." But that boom time is over.
TDB says it recently quantified just how far the paparazzi market has fallen. Taking a basket of photos sold by the paparazzi agency x17 during the golden years, 2005 to 2007, the site created an index that compared the prices those pics fetched then with estimates of what they would get today. The results showed that, all told, a typical celebrity shot sells for 31% less than it did in 2007. The drop-off has been more dramatic at the high end of the market with six-figure photographs down more than 50%.
"We had to look through tax papers today,” Brandy Navarre, who, with her husband, owns x17, told TDB. “We were looking at forms from 2007 and my husband was almost crying. You can't believe the checks that were coming in, in '07 versus now what we're getting. It's a different world."
Along with the overall financial crisis which has led magazines to spend more cautiously and the fact that Nicole Richie is a mother of two (who just yesterday was granted with a restraining order against two members of the paparazzi); Britney Spears is under control and Lindsay Lohan is so ubiquitous that she's devalued her market value, there's less cash and less excitement to go around.
"Lindsay photos are not rare to get," Navarre said. "She doesn't really hide. So unless she does something really surprising or sensational -- snorting coke, kissing Samantha -- her images are between $500 and $1,000."
Navarre calls this new world, "the Post-Britney Era," seeing as it was Britney's much-publicized meltdown that coincided with, and fuelled, the paparazzi industry -- a pic of the pop star shaving her head fetched $300,000. In 2007, paparazzi agencies estimated that 20% of their coverage was devoted to Spears.
Back in the day, says TDB, Us Weekly was spending $30,000 to $40,000 a week just on its front-of-the-book section, 'Stars: They're Just Like Us.' Its total photo budget was $8 million a year (now it's less than $5 million).
The ubiquity of the media platforms, and the Wild West nature of the environment, was simultaneously undermining the swell, says TDB. Bloggers were stealing photos from agencies, leading to lawsuits, and Web sites, as rule, pay far less for photos than print publications.
While there's still money in Paris Hilton and Brangelina, what is missing is the Great Story, says TDB.
People is now banking on Nicole Eggert, the former Baywatch actress who is starring in the upcoming reality-TV show Celebrity Fit Club, to spike newsstand sales with her tale of Babe-to-Balloon-to-Babe. And Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are of course being tracked.
"That's the dream shot," Navarre said. "Rob and Kristen kissing in public. If you get a nice, clean shot. That'd be a huge scoop." She estimates that photo would fetch $150,000.