The economics of celebrity misbehavior:
"The product for the tabloid industry is the unusual, and Britney has been delivering that consistently," said Dan Smith, dean of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.
At a time when advertising spending in traditional media is declining, celebrity gossip titles such as Star, Us Weekly and In Touch Weekly are growing. That helped overall newsstand sales for magazines edge 1 percent higher, to $2.39 billion, in the first half of 2007.
"The increase is almost entirely attributable to the growth of the celebrity magazine," said John Harrington, who runs industry consulting agency Harrington Associates.
Any time a magazine can boost newsstand sales past its average, the revenue is booked nearly entirely as profit, Harrington said: "People prints 2.5 million copies and sells about an average of 1.5 million. If they have an issue that sells 2 million, the extra half million goes to the bottom line."
...."An editor's dream is to have a real life soap opera unraveling in front of you, and Britney provides that every week," said Sarah Ivens, OK!'s U.S. editor. The magazine has a 10-person team in Los Angeles devoted to Spears coverage. "We're on constant Britney alert."
She wouldn't disclose the costs to the magazine, saying only that Spears has been "amazing" for OK!'s business. Publisher Tom Morrisy said Spears drives newsstand sales and helped the magazine's ad revenue more than double to $51 million in 2007. OK! expects to turn a profit in 2008, three years after breaking into the market.
US Weekly has been just as enamored of the star, putting Spears on nearly two-thirds of its covers last year, including each of the last 14. People has had Spears on the cover 10 times in the past 15 months.
And that heightened demand for Spears pictures has been a boon to photographers.
X17's Navarre said an exclusive shot of the star would sell for about $10,000 in the U.S. and generate thousands more in residuals. "She's the most expensive right now," he said. "For Angelina, for example, you divide by two or even three to get the price."
In contrast, the average celebrity shot fetches $125 to $700, according to Scott Mc Kiernan, founder of ZUMA Press photo agency. He said residual fees on exclusives can push the value of a unique Spears shot well past $100,000.
Many of those images wind up on celebrity gossip Web sites, like TMZ and PerezHilton. The sites make money by delivering viewers to ads on their pages, typically receiving a fee for each 1,000 hits. Navarre said Spears boosts traffic to his Web site, X17online.com, more than any other star.
"During the ambulance incident, traffic doubled every hour," he said, citing internal server data.
X17, which owns the infamous picture of a bald Spears taken in February, has a team of photographers tracking her at all times. "For us, she's the star No. 1," Navarre said.