March 7, 2008 -- In Britney Spears' latest single and video, she sings, "You want a piece of me"— a point she directs right toward the paparazzi.
Documenting the evolution and meltdown of the former Mousketeer has created a booming industry, and for many, Britney is a one-woman economy.
"The economy of Britney Spears cannot be underestimated," said Rob Shuter, deputy editor of OK! magazine. "It's magazines, it's TV shows, it's ad dollars. I think a lot of people make money being associated with Britney Spears. She's a brand. She's Coca-Cola. She's Disney. She's a brand."
Court documents show that Britney has a monthly income of more than $700,000. She is also creating income, even wealth, for those who have made Britney their business.
'Everyone Likes to See a Car Wreck'
"She is better than anything I could have ever written," celebrity blogger Perez Hilton told "Nightline" last year. "No one could imagine everything that's happened in her life. And it's still not over. You know she tries to get her train back on the tracks; it's still a wreck. She always keeps crashing and everyone likes to see a car wreck."
The driving force behind the Britney Spears' economy is the paparazzi. Craig Williams works for popular paparazzi website Hollywood.tv and runs what is known as the "street team" — a group of eight paparazzi covering Spears 24/7. He says working the Britney beat is like a dance.
"Britney wants to be seen," Williams said. "She knows how to walk with the paparazzi and the paparazzi know how to walk with Britney."
Photographers Cash in on Spears Shots
Hollywood.tv photographers like Williams follow her every move — from her home in the Hollywood Hills to Starbucks, Rite Aid, the grocery story, they are there. Though unlike other celebrity Web sites, which pay per shot, photographers for Hollywood.TV get paid an average of $1,500 a week regardless of their production.
Late last month, the paparazzi trailed Britney to Millennium Dance Center in North Hollywood, where dance classes go for $15. Photos of Spears dancing there are worth $250 dollars or more.
Some photographers even rented apartments behind the studio in hopes of getting a good shot of Britney walking to her car. The gym next door to the dance studio even charges the paparazzi $50 to $150 to hang over their fence.
Hollywood.tv was founded by Sheeraz Hasan, who came to the United States from London, where he was running a restaurant with his family. Hasan always wanted to be a part of Hollywood, so he moved to Los Angeles. He says he found the key to his success during a pilgrimage on a mountaintop in Saudi Arabia.
'God Showed Me Britney Spears'
"I went to go get a drink and all of a sudden, I just look up and I see Britney in a magazine. So I think to myself, wait a minute. I'm here on pilgrimage. What the hell is Britney doing here? Of all places. God showed me Britney Spears," Hasan said. "I said to myself, OK, I'm going to go back to Hollywood, Hollywood.tv. I'm going to get the stars. I'm going to get all the stars, but also my main person I'm going to get is Britney Spears."
There are no rules of the road when it comes to following Britney, taking the drastic turns towards Britney's gated community called "The Summit" at upwards of 60 mph.
"Over a period of time, it was fun but now it's just stressful. Because it's actual danger, you know," Williams said en route to "The Summit."
The business model for Hollywood.tv is unique. Sheeraz says that he spends about $50,000 a month on Britney coverage but gives away the content for free. It's all about building the brand. The ultimate plan: Take the company public.
"Obviously you make money on revenue from advertising. I have partnerships with Google and YouTube," Hasan said. "But for us, what's more important is building the billion-dollar brand online. We're already in negotiations with a couple of major studios to buy us out. And we've only been doing this for nearly six months. We have a brand that's recognized to the entire world. In order for them to beat our brand, they would have to go to the Hollywood sign and take those letters off the Hollywood sign and put their brand on, because that's who they're competing with."
Britney Frenzy Reaches Fever Pitch
The more outlandish Britney got, the crazier were the prices paid for photos of her exploits.
"I think the first time the public really knew that there was something wrong with Britney Spears was when she shaved her head," Shuter said.
X17, a paparazzi photo agency sold their collection of head shaving photos for $500,000 worldwide. According to CEO Brandy Navarre, at one time Britney accounted for 35 percent of their business.
Gary Morgan, CEO of rival photo agency Splash News, made an estimated $250,000 for their exclusive photos of Britney topless in a hotel pool this past summer.
"When she came out at the MTV awards, everybody wanted old Britney. We all wanted a comeback," Shuter said. "Nobody was rooting harder for Britney Spears than the American public and it didn't happen and I think when it didn't happen we all knew there was something very wrong."
Since the night of her disastrous MTV performance, Britney has lost custody of her two children and was twice admitted to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Video of her being taken to the hospital remains the most viewed clip on Hollywood.tv.
'Britney Covers are Gold'
The entertainment shows, magazines and blogs drive the Britney industry.
Ok! magazine has had Britney on the cover 58 out of the last 114 issues. Angelina Jolie comes in close second place to Britney with 55 covers.
"Britney covers are gold. Britney covers sell incredibly well," Shuter said.
Ok! Magazine landed an exclusive interview with Britney last summer, which turned into an unplanned meltdown for the singer. The behind-the-scenes story sold 1.2 million copies of OK!
The market for Britney is changing as more and more paparazzi follow her, making exclusives harder to come by, which makes tips for other stars worth more.
"If it's a big star, it could be $100 or $200. If it's a small star, it could be $30 to $40, but I've got hundreds of people that call us all the time," said Shuter. "I've pretty much got L.A. on lockdown in regards to where all the stars are going to go and where they are staying."
Anything Spears Does "Is News"
"[Since] Britney is the most expensive one, it's cheaper for me to have a team of people on it day and night … Anything that she does is news," Hasan said.
But not to everyone. The Enterprise Record newspaper in Chico, Calif., spoke for many when it recently banned all coverage of Britney.
"You know, here we are in an election year. Here we are in a state that has a $16 billion budget deficit. Here we are in a city that has a $6 million budget deficit. There's just more important things going on, you know. We don't need to be writing about Britney. So there are things that we get tired of, certainly, but we still write about them," said David Little, editor of the Enterprise Record. Hasan heard the complaints before and is not impressed.
"I can tell you one thing very clearly, no one is going to sit outside of Britney Spears house 24 hours a day, seven days a week if the magazines and the TV shows weren't paying top dollar," Hasan said.
It's not just the public that demands the constant coverage.
"Britney does need the paparazzi and the paparazzi need Britney. But it's more than just need. It's want, it's desire. This young girl has only ever known fame. And once you take fame away from this girl, I think she's completely lost," Shuter said.
Though fame and money may be the dream to many starting out in Hollywood, Hasan advises, "Britney Spears can be worth so much money, all the fame in the world. But I can tell you right now, she's not happy … There is a price to fame, a very powerful price to fame."