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The Globe and Mail

Sorry, Kimye: The baby pic bubble has burst

Singer Kanye West, left, and television personality Kim Kardashian arrive for the screening of Cruel Summer at Cannes, Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

Francois Mori/AP

It has been nearly one month since the couple known as Kimye welcomed the newborn known as a point on a compass. Since then, we have learned quite a bit about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's baby, North West: her weight (4 pounds, 15 ounces); her nickname (Nori); and the fact that Kim is breastfeeding.

But nearly 30 days in and still no photos. According to reports, the first-time mom and dad rejected a $3-million offer from an unnamed Australian magazine. So, has parenthood cured their mutual case of the pay-attention-to-mes? It's likely not that simple.

"The baby picture bull run is over – it has been over for a while now," says Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity Inc.: How Famous People Make Money and executive news director at In Touch and Life & Style magazines.

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While first snaps of freshly hatched celebrity spawn once prompted industry backstabbing and bidding wars, these days the demand has dried up. And so have the paycheques. Rumour has it that Jessica Simpson is having trouble drumming up any financial interest in photos of her newborn son, Ace Knute.

Piazza says she is "highly skeptical" of the $3-million (U.S.) that Kardashian and West apparently turned down, and not just because the story comes via anonymous sources. "None of the publications are paying that kind of money," she explains, citing an oversaturated market and the fact that, after a few years of frenzy, most magazines realized that images of Tinsel-tots weren't translating into revenue. "It wasn't even financially viable during the boom years," says Piazza, describing the approximately three-year period when even Sabrina the Teenage Witch's baby could fetch six figures.

Like many important narratives in Lala-Land, the baby photo bubble begins with Brangelina, specifically with shots of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie frolicking with Jolie's son Maddox on a beach in Africa, circa 2005. Us Weekly purchased the photos for $500,000. "They were taken by a paparazzo, but this was the moment when celebrities realized the ridiculous amount of money magazines were willing to pay," says Piazza. A few months later, when People magazine paid a half-million for photos of a visibly pregnant Jolie, the money went directly to her.

By the time the actress was ready to welcome her first in utero offspring, celebrity mags were falling over each other for the photos – and the bragging rights that went with them.

This was 2006: also known as the golden era of print celebrity glossies. "For years, you had just People magazine covering celebrities, then it was Us Weekly and then Star, In Touch, Life & Style and several other publications – everyone was competing for their piece of the market share," says Piazza, who was working at the New York Daily News at the time.

She recalls that, in anticipation of the Jolie-Pitt baby, editors from all the major mags were invited to see the photos in a dark room and then place a bid via blind auction. The photos ultimately went to People for $4.1-million, which is the third highest sum yet paid for a baby photo (top honours go to the Jolie-Pitt twins who reportedly fetched $15-million). The trend exploded and A-list parents certainly weren't a requirement.

"You can compare [the baby photo decline] to the way celebrity itself has been diluted by low-tier reality stars," says Elaine Lui, professional star-watcher and author of the Lainey Gossip website. "It's sort of like if you have a designer label producing only five copies of a certain bag. Everyone wants it because it is so special. And then all of a sudden the designer produces 5,000 bags. That's how you go from Chanel to Coach."

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Or in the case of baby photos, how you go from Brangelina to Britney Spears's little sister. OK! magazine paid Jamie Lynn Spears $1-million for photos of of her baby daughter in 2008. (Has anyone heard a thing about her since?)

With the proliferation of gossip websites, keeping these magazine-to-star transactions under wraps became impossible. "When the public realized that all of these celebrities were getting these huge paycheques, it kind of left a bad taste," Piazza says.

Lately, "it" celebs, such as Beyonce, as well as new dad Channing Tatum, are releasing their family photo firsts for free through personal social media sites, such asTumbler and Instagram. "It's their way of differentiating themselves as 'higher-end,' " says Lui. It is also a smart business move, given that the seemingly uncalculated gesture builds goodwill and gives fans a sense of perceived intimacy.

Still, royal watchers shouldn't be hoping to see the first photos of the future King or Queen via @willsandkate.

"The first pics of the royal baby will be exactly what we expect – [William and Catherine] will exit the hospital where hundreds of photographers are waiting, and [they'll] let everyone have their moment with them and their child," says Lui, who estimates that, even today, exclusive photos of their wee one could sell for £10-million ($15.7-million).

A royal baby, it seems, is recession proof.

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Million dollar babies

$500,000: amount paid for photos of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline's son in 2005.

$4-million: amount paid for photo of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's daughter Shiloh in 2006.

$14-million: amount paid for photo of their twins in 2008.

$6-million: amount paid for baby photos of Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez's twins that same year.

$3-million: amount paid for photo of baby Levi McConaughey with dad Matthew and mom Camila Alves, also in 2008.

$750,000: amount paid for photo of Jessica Simpson and her newborn in 2012.

Figures in U.S. dollars are all reported amounts

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