The Britney economy

Is Spears a one-woman economic force?

Topics: U.S. Economy, Broadsheet, Britney Spears, Love and Sex,

Considering all the publicity Britney Spears gets — for her kids, her underpants, her body, her hair and, now, even her obituary (the Associated Press has already written it) — you’d think there wouldn’t be much new to discuss. But the February issue of Portfolio magazine has an article on an aspect of Britney that I’ve actually never seen reported on before: How much money she makes for other people.

For anyone who feels bad that Britney’s personal problems have been padding the paparazzi’s paychecks, I suggest checking it out — it will give you concrete numbers on just how exploited she is. Sure, Spears herself isn’t any slouch when it comes to raking in money — at this point, Portfolio estimates that she still makes about $9 million a year. But as Portfolio puts it, that’s “chicken feed compared with the overall Britney economy.”

Putting aside, for a second, the irony that Portfolio is making money off an article criticizing people for making money off Britney Spears (and that I am writing about it and you are reading about it), it’s really pretty crazy. The most shocking, I think, is the amount of money she brings to the paparazzi — one photo agency estimates that Britney alone accounts for 30 percent of its revenue; overall, Portfolio estimates that Britney is responsible for 20 percent of today’s paparazzi business.

And then there’s the media. Portfolio calculates that putting Britney on the cover of a tabloid will result in a 33 percent increase in sales — which probably explains why between January 2006 and July 2007 she was featured on the covers of People, Us Weekly, In Touch, Life & Style, OK! or Star 175 times in 78 weeks. (As Richard Cohen of the Washington Post points out, most political leaders only dream of this much coverage.) Portfolio also reports that she has topped Yahoo’s annual search rankings in six of the past seven years, pushed aside only when Paris Hilton briefly stole her crown in 2004. “If there was no Britney, would all web traffic stop?” a senior editor at Yahoo is quoted as asking. “I would hesitate to give her that much power, but it’s hard to argue with the facts.”

As of now, Britney-mania shows no sign of slowing down: The Web is currently exploding with photos of what’s presumably a menstrual stain on her underwear. I hope for her own sake that she figures out a way to stop her public tailspin, but it’s unlikely she’s going to find much outside help — there’s too much money at stake.

Catherine Price is a freelance journalist and author of "101 Places Not to See Before You Die". She also runs a legally themed clothing shop called Illegal Briefs.

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