Celeb Baby Pics Still Bringing in Big Paydays

Photos of Ashlee Simpson-Wentz's son could go for more than Brangelina's brood.

Nov. 24, 2008 — -- With the birth of their new baby, Bronx Mowgli, Ashlee Simpson and her husband, Pete Wentz, can expect a nice chunk of pocket change, just in time for the holidays.

That is, if they're willing to cough up a few nice photos of their firstborn. After all, celebrity baby pictures are big business these days.

"I see Ashlee and Pete coming in at the low seven figures mark," said celebrity publicist Howard Bragman, author of the upcoming "Where's My 15 Minutes?" Of course, this is only if they decide to shop the baby pictures, which is not yet known. "Two million seems like a good, solid figure for Ashlee and Pete. It's a two-celeb couple, so that's a boost for them."

Bragman notes celebs aren't just profiting financially when it comes to cozy family photo opps. "Keep in mind, last year, Ashlee was the girl who sang along to the tape recorder," said Bragman, referring to her lip-synching appearance on "Saturday Night Live." "It was a PR nightmare. Now, she's a newlywed and a new mom, so she's a lot more relatable."

Bragman also suggests that Simpson and other celebs take notes on Angelina Jolie's baby-branding strategy. "Nobody does this better than Angelina," he said. "She and Brad Pitt have been very careful to make it clear that the money they've been getting has been part of their charity outreach work. The big bucks are a nice perk, but for them, the publicity is priceless. "

So why do magazines shell out such big bucks? "Human beings are conditioned to love babies," said Bragman. "And when you take two celebs and they have a baby, it's alchemy. It piques our curiosity -- what will it look like? But it also humanizes the celebrity. It makes them relatable."

Despite the boost in magazine sales, Bragman admits celebrity baby pics might not make financial sense. "It's unlikely that a magazine will recoup $14 million purely in investment terms," said Bragman. "But it's a power play. It's about the bragging rights -- yes, we're the magazine that will bring you the biggest names. In magazine land, the only thing worse than shelling out $14 million to get the photos is not getting them at all."

While the pictures are gravy for magazines, 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?" asked 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 imagine 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 by the fact that some stars have contributed some or all 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 a quote from 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 said. "They're already in a position to give money to charity."

But for better or for worse, the practice persists. Here, we run down some of the celebs who sold pictures of their newborn .

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

Jolie and Pitt top the list when it comes to pricey pictures, reportedly raking in more than $14 million for their Aug. 18 People magazine cover of twins Knox and Vivienne. It was the magazine's best-selling cover in seven years, according to The New York Times. The pair also scored a hefty $4.1 million for pictures of their firstborn, Shiloh, who made her debut on People's June 19, 2006, cover, and an estimated $2 million for the first pictures of adopted son Pax Thien.

Jennifer Lopez and Marc Antony

Twins Max and Esme reportedly brought in a cool $5 million to $6 million for parents Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony for People's March 31, 2008, cover -- a record broken only by the Jolie-Pitt twins. "The buzz factor is big on these things," said Bragman. "If you want to stay No. 1 in the category, you cough up the big bucks. And for a star like Jennifer Lopez, the expectations are high. It might not make financial sense to us, but to the magazines, it's more about the long-term results. It's bragging rights and it's upping your advertising rates."

Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott

Spelling and her actor husband, Dean McDermott, showed off son Liam on the April 16, 2007, cover of Us Weekly. Just over a year later, daughter Stella Doreen made her debut on the cover of the June 26, 2008, issue of OK! Why'd Spelling switch allegiances? "Each magazine has its own vibe," said Bragman. "People is obviously the 10,000-pound gorilla, while Us is a bit younger and hipper. But if you want a more international audience, you go with OK!" Still, he noted, "the victor is usually the magazine with the deepest pockets when it comes to that particular celeb."

Clay Aiken

When "American Idol" star Clay Aiken introduced the world to his son Parker (mom is Clay's record producer pal Jaymes Foster) to the world on People magazine's Oct.1, 2008, cover, he also gave the magazine a major scoop, announcing he is gay. Parker's garnered a reported $500,000, "but it was really the big news that sold that story," said Bragman. "I don't think the baby would have gotten half-a-million otherwise."

Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba and her producer husband Cash Warren reportedly held out for weeks after receiving offers from several celebrity magazines. But a month after she was born, Alba's baby joy, Honor Marie Warren, graced the July 17, 2008, cover of OK! magazine, taking in a reported $1.5 million.

Matthew McCanaughey

No holdouts here. Matthew McCanaughey was "stoked" about the birth of his little surfer dude (mom is model Camilla Alves), but the perpetual bachelor seemed even more eager to share little Levi's first pictures with the world. Proud papa McConaughey brokered a $3 million deal to show off his son in OK! magazine's July 24, 2008, issue just days after the baby's birth. The agreement reportedly also grants the magazine first rights to wedding photos, should McConaughey and Alves tie the knot.

Jamie-Lynn Spears

Despite her Zoey 101 success, Britney Spears was hardly a household name worthy of commanding a $1 million baby picture payday -- at least back in 2005 when Brit sold pictures of her firstborn son, Sean Preston, to People for a comparatively skimpy $500,000. Still, the OK! deal granted extended access to the pregnant teen during her pregnancy. "And that kind of access is what they're paying for," said Bragman. "To the magazines -- and their readers -- it's worth the cost."