More than ever, that's the answer. Time Inc's People Magazine has secured the first pictures of Nicole Richie's baby, Harlow. The winning bid: $1m, according to someone who participated in the auction. Which is a useful sum for the anorexic former reality star, daughter of singer Lionel Richie. "This is probably Nicole Richie's only paycheck for all of 2008," says the source. Richie's take is impressive, but not as rich a price as that being offered for first photographic evidence of the baby boy born to Christina Aguilera, the singer, earlier this month. We hear that bidding between People and OK! Magazine, which bid $1m earlier this month, has now reached $1.5m. So what economic rationale can there be for such inflation in the cost of baby pictures?

First of all, the celebrity weeklies are minting stars who sell magazines, but can't sustain TV shows or pull audiences into movies. And the music stardom pays less than it did. So minor celebrities rely on paid exclusives for a growing share of their income.

But this is the more significant reason: celebrity weeklies represent one of the few growing magazine categories, and one of the most competitive. Never-seen-before pictures of the offspring of alpha celebrities are irresistible to female readers; they offer a guaranteed kick to sales. That's something embattled market leader, People Magazine, desperately needs. The Time Inc. title, under pressure from feistier competitors such as US Weekly, will report an 8% drop in circulation for the second half of 2007.

Not only is the former market leader trying to shore up circulation; it also now contends for "exclusives" with OK!, a UK import with no scruples about checkbook journalism. For instance, People used to buy preferential access to news from the Spears family; OK! paid $1m to poach the story of the pregnancy of younger sister, Jamie-Lynn, and future baby pictures.

You think that's premature? We're hearing that both People and OK! have put in bids for the story of Angelina Jolie's pregnancy. (The actress' first child by Brad Pitt, Shiloh, was the most valuable baby in celebrity media history, garnering donations worth $4m for US and international rights.) The difference this time: nobody even knows for sure whether the pouting Hollywood star is even expecting.

"The bidding wars going on between those two for these so-called exclusives is like nothing I've seen before," says a rival. "It's completely journalistically distasteful, but also fascinating to watch."