LONDON (Reuters) - Even the most hardened celebrity watchers were taken aback by reports of an $11 million deal for exclusive rights to the first photographs of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's newborn twins.
Despite Hollywood duo "Brangelina" being one of the world's most famous couples, experts said it would be almost impossible to make back the money through increased sales and advertising.
But winning a bidding war boosts a magazine's profile, they added, and deals a blow to rivals in the fiercely competitive celebrity news world.
"This would be a world record and is an unbelievable amount of money to pay," said Darryn Lyons, who runs the London-based Big Pictures celebrity photograph agency.
Abe Peck, who was a long-time chair of the magazine program at U.S. journalism school Medill, described the reported deal as "verging toward the unthinkable."
The costs could be offset by selling secondary rights outside the U.S. market, for example, and owning images allows for follow-up stories quoting "friends" and "sources."
However, "if that price is accurate, it likely would become a loss leader for whoever bought it," Peck added.
"The big celebrity magazines might be willing to lose money in order to establish or maintain A-list primacy."
Lyons said rather than dampening enthusiasm among paparazzi in France seeking unauthorized images of the couple and their babies, the exclusive deal may actually heighten it.
"If the official pictures are worth, say, $15 million, I would say that paparazzi would be in for $5 million to $10 million on the open market. I know teams that are working in France at the moment and more paps are flying in."
The Nice-Matin newspaper, in the southern French city of Nice where Jolie had twins on Saturday, was among the first to break the news of the birth, and reported an unnamed U.S. publication paid $11 million for the photograph rights.
It also said the proceeds would go to charity.
U.S. celebrity publication In Touch Weekly actually ran a story on its Web site earlier, quoting sources confirming the birth, but it wrongly reported that Jolie had twin girls.
Still, it was closer to the truth than "Entertainment Tonight," which said in May that the twins had been born.
False starts and factual slip-ups underline the media's hunger for celebrity news and its earning potential.
According to the New York Times, the top U.S. sales increase based on an exclusive was probably Jolie and Pitt's first baby, Shiloh, which helped People magazine sell 800,000 extra copies.
But that would not be nearly enough to make up the reported $4.1 million it paid for the rights.
A rise in Internet traffic is another way of earning money.
When actress Lindsay Lohan posed for a set of near-nude pictures this year, New York magazine's Web site had 20 million views per day over three days, up from around 1.2 million.
Over two days, the spike in traffic would have earned over $500,000 in additional advertising revenue, estimates showed.
Big Pictures' Lyons, who is offering members of the public money for snaps of A-list celebrities on www.mrpaparazzi.com , believes there will always be demand for unauthorized images, even though stars are increasingly striking exclusive deals.
"All celebrities really want to do is to control their image, but it isn't reality, it's airbrushed. The public understands that paparazzi photograph real things in real time."
He also argued that even when the proceeds go to charity, celebrities benefit from such contracts.
"I do like the attitude of giving the money away. On the other side of the coin ... this is massive brand building."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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