If you could sell photos of your baby for $1 million, would you do it?
Jennifer Lopez, who hasn't had a hit record or movie in several years, is close to selling her baby photos for $4-$6 million to People magazine, according to Advertising Age. People recently paid an estimated $1.5 million to B-list singer Christina Aguilera for exclusive shots of her new son, Max.
Lopez is just the latest in a long line of celebrities and the almost famous to sell the first photos of their babies to magazines and supermarket tabloids. From Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt to Britney Spears to Nicole Richie and Joel Madden to Tori Spelling, more and more stars are making deals to control the inevitable media coverage of their children and put some cash in their pockets.
But is it expected or exploitative for celebrity parents who face aggressive media coverage of their every move to peddle photos of their children to the highest bidder?
Some ethicists and child psychologists are disturbed by the practice, which treads the nexus of money, parenthood and fame.
"If your own parents are literally selling you out, where can one feel safe?" asks Dr. Bruce Weinstein, a syndicated ethics columnist. "What's especially troubling is that the person who's the subject of these photos isn't able to give informed consent. I could image that person being really troubled by it."
Weinstein isn't swayed by the rationale offered by celebrities, that it's a way for them to control the inevitable media maelstrom. "If you look at what happened with Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie, [selling the photos] didn't quell the feeding frenzy. Whether People or OK gets first dibs, people still want to take photos of the child."
And he isn't impressed with the fact that some stars have contributed some of the baby bonanza to charity, such as Jolie and Pitt, who gave $2 million of a reported $4 million windfall to Global Action for Children and Doctors Without Borders.
Weinstein cited St. Paul's letter to the Romans: "We are not to do evil that good may come from it" to explain his argument.
"If you're already starting from extreme wealth, that argument doesn't hold much water," he says. "They're already in a position to give money to charity."
Child psychologist Sam Hackworth says that the practice could be troubling depending on the circumstances and the ego of the parent.
"If kids understand that the parent did it to control the photos, they can see that as a rational reason," says Hackworth. "But if it was clearly just to make money, if a child's older and realizes that the only way we've maintained this lifestyle is because you sold my photos, that could be troubling."
David T.S. Fraser, a privacy lawyer in Nova Scotia, Canada, says that while he sympathizes with celebrities who are trying to deal with out-of-control paparazzi, the practice of selling baby photos actually seems to have the opposite effect.
'Feeds The Market'
"If anything it probably feeds the market for these photos," he explains. "The other magazines will want to compete and could be even more aggressive."
Fraser also questioned why celebrities who desired to control the coverage of their children demanded money. "The selling of the photos is also a little suspect – why not just hand them out? There's a disconnect between controlling the release and profiting from it. It's almost as if they're being pimped out. You can certainly see why people would think that the kids are being exploited for profit or otherwise."
Spokespeople for People magazine and OK declined to comment on the dollar figure cited in reports about the bidding for Lopez's baby photos.
Lopez's publicist did not return calls. Her husband Marc Anthony's publicist said that the $4-$6 million figure is not accurate but she would not indicate whether the true amount is higher or lower.
Asked whether any of that money will be donated to charity, Anthony's publicist said, "We will discuss that and make that public when we're ready to do so."
The magazines, of course, have their own rationale for buying the photos: to sell millions of copies.
Although People's issue featuring Aguilera's son is reportedly selling poorly, a spokesperson insisted that the issue was not a flop and that the final sales numbers were still being counted.
Previous celebrity baby issues have sold extremely well. Even after the magazine raised the price of the issue featuring Jolie and Pitt's daughter, Shiloh, by 50 cents, it sold 2.2 million copies.
"It does help magazines," says Samir Husni, known as Mr. Magazine, who chairs the journalism department at University of Mississippi. "There is an old saying: Give me a picture of a baby, a beautiful woman, chocolate or a dog and I will sell a magazine."
Candace Trunzo, the editor of Star magazine, said that she would not be surprised if People paid as much as $6 million for the photos.
The Pictures Sell Magazines
"It's a matter of competition and J.Lo is interesting. She couldn't get pregnant for a long time. She's had plenty of relationship drama. And she's having twins."
Trunzo, whose magazine has been criticized by journalism ethicists for paying for stories and tips, said that there's no difference between a magazine paying for words or photos.
"People is reaching into its pockets and paying for the story, for J.Lo to say how the birth went, it's a first-person story with pictures," she says. "They set themselves above the fray but they're doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. It's what we do. I think that our readers like to see babies. If you're a dad or mom, you take out your baby pics, everyone goes ooh and aah. People will buy that cover."