Was Kim Kardashian's Wedding Worth $1.5 Million?


People Magazine splurged on the exclusive photos, but didn't exactly recoup their investment.

People Magazine's eye-popping $1.5 million purchase of exclusive photo rights to Kim Kardashian's wedding to New Jersey Nets player Kris Humphries is being heralded as a success for the weekly publication in today’s downward sliding magazine market. But in order to make the pricey gamble pay off, the magazine had to get a little sneaky with its readers.

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The Kardashian wedding issue, which hit newsstands Aug. 24, sold about 1.5 million copies, a 31 percent increase over the current sales average of 1.15 million. That's especially impressive, considering that the three previous covers -- featuring Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and the Bachelorette -- all sold under the average. This comes during a hard time for the weekly, which experienced a 10.5 percent drop in newsstand sales to 1.2 million for the first half of 2011, causing the perennial No. 2 newsstand seller to fall behind both Cosmopolitan and Women’s World in sales according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation’s magazine figures.

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Kardashian’s wedding photos performed even better for the magazine online, where the photos drove almost 6 million page views at people.com over the course of four days, according to WWD Memo Pad.

But page views are not as valuable to a magazine as copies sold and People needed to really move some issues in order to recoup its costs. The Kardashian boost was good by today’s standards, but not spectacular, even after People made some not-well-publicized changes to cover its high overhead.

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The magazine's secret weapon was a 25 percent cover price increase ($4.99 versus the regular $3.99). So the extra 350,000 copies sold delivered an extra $350,000 right away. However, since a weekly mass publication only recoups about $2 on every newsstand sale, the mag needed to have sold an extra 750,000 copies to get back their $1.5 million investment in total. Also, online readers were offered a $1 off coupon for a future issue, which will cost the glossy in upcoming sales.

Weddings are big business for the celebrity weeklies. The royal wedding gave People sales numbers of over 2 million (with free photos) and the wedding of Reese Witherspoon (those picture were purchased as well) earlier this year sold 1.3 million. By contrast, celebrity babies, the natural follow-up to celebrity weddings, have been a bit of a bust. The year's major baby covers -- John Travolta's new baby, Nicole Kidman's secret baby and Christina Applegate's first baby -- all underperformed.

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Of course, these big magazine sales boosts are not lost on the celebrities, least of all the Kardashians. Khloe Kardashian had a similar deal with OK! Magazine for her 2009 wedding. And though the stakes were smaller (the magazine paid $300,000 and saw an 18 percent sales increase), the economics were still the same.

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Not ones to let opportunity pass by, Kardashian and Humphries sold the international rights to their wedding photos to British celebrity weekly Hello and then sold the exclusive rights to the honeymoon trip to Us Weekly for an undisclosed sum (sources say it was anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000). Though wedding photos and honeymoon photos are usually part of the same deal, the Kardashians, savvy to the marketplace, were able to outmaneuver People to make a separate sale.

However, People was able to protect some of its investment. When the magazine caught wind of Kim and Kris' rumored New York wedding (the main wedding was held in California), it apparently put a stop to it. On her Twitter page, Kim wrote, "There are rumors of a 2nd wedding in NY. This is NOT true!! Our friends Jason Binn & Colin Cowie are throwing us a welcome to NY party!"

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But, while People might not see a clear profit off of their $1.5 million gamble, the newsstand spike -- in a time when women’s weeklies are down by eight percent in circulation – and Kardashian’s talent for massive amounts of publicity, may offset the high expenditure.