Celebrity Inc. ― How Famous People Make Money
By Jo Piazza
Open Road, 2011
Celebrity is just like printing your own money, says Jo Piazza in Celebrity Inc.
Two rich, spoilt, talentless celebrity brats ― Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian ― are experts at the fame game. Kickstarted by family wealth, and propelled to fame through a steamy sex tape and reality TV, Hilton “earns” around US$10 million a year. The Kardashian family franchise raked in $65 million last year.
Hilton claims appearance fees of $200,000 just for showing up at a nightclub for 20 minutes, received a $100,000 advance for a tell-all book and charges up to $30,000 a pop for an advertisement on her website.
Kardashian raked in six-figure sums for the covers of celebrity tabloid magazines and a Playboy spread, and pocketed $25,000 in loose change for a tweet for Armani.
Grossly overpaid but talented celebrities from the screen, recording studio and sports field also have an overflowing ancillary revenue honeypot.
Marriage (or, rather, the merger between two celebrity business enterprises) is a cash cow. David and Victoria Beckham’s wedding set the pace with ￡1 million for photograph rights.
Infidelity and divorce also pays dividends, with five-figure sums for staged photographs.
Adopting a baby from Africa is highly remunerative, as is celebrities producing their own progeny. Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, the biological spawn of movie stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, fetched $3.1 million for exclusive pictures, starting a bull-run in celebrity baby photos.
Christine Aguilera picked up a lazy $2 million for hers, Jennifer Lopez $6 million (twins) and Pitt and Jolie $14 million for their follow-up brace.
Product endorsement pays well for all celebrities, particularly from the perfume business, including licensing and co-branding deals which siphon off 5-10% of on-going profits to the celebrity.
Overweight celebrities can even turn potential brand adversity into revenue from weight loss sponsorship.
The royal parasite Sarah Ferguson (Duchess of York), made $2 million a year promoting Weight Watchers' diet system. Celebrity diet books and five-figure reality weight-loss TV contracts offer rich side-dishes.
Celebrities on the wane are even advised by their agents to gain weight and join the weight-loss gravy train to rejuvenate their brand awareness.
Digital social media offer more sustenance to celebrity bank balances, bringing together brands and celebrities. Charlie Sheen, who was sacked from his $2 million-an-episode Two and a Half Men sitcom last year, still has the golden touch, receiving more than $25,000 a tweet on Twitter to spruik products to his millions of followers.
Finally, no modern celebrity’s business portfolio is complete without their support for charities. This cloaks their odious greed with an angelic glow, serving to boost their brand value and income because “likability is bankable”.
Philanthropy, as always with the mega-rich, is profitable.
Death is not the end of celebrity money-grubbing as their estates license the dead celebrity’s image for merchandising. Michael Jackson’s estate hustled $310 million from the singer’s grieving fans after his death.
The cultural carrion are also picked over by the managers of celebrities who typically take a 35%-65% cut from exploiting the dead compared with 10%-15% from living celebrities.
But only in a very abstract sense are celebrities thus exploited ― oh, that we could all be exploited like, say, Emma Watson, whose movie income, as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, topped $30 million in 2009.
Five-figure sums for a 140-character tweet is not work as workers know it. Rather, as Piazza, in economist mode, argues, celebrities have everything in their life monetised (love, death, babies, weight, support for good causes), thus turning the celebrity into a commodity.
Although Piazza, in gossip columnist mode, can not conceal a fond fascination with rich celebrities, her material shows that the celebrity is an obscenely rich commodity that, unlike other commodities (timber, for example), is utterly without real value or usefulness.
The multimillionaire celebrity is a gross excess of modern capitalism, an unsightly eruption of social elitism and economic inequality.