Palin's Jackpot

Why did Alaska’s ambitious governor ditch a lame-duck $125,000 job? Between a $4 million book deal, speeches, and a possible TV gig, The Daily Beast’s Duff McDonald calculates up to 20 million reasons a year.

07.06.09 11:02 PM ET

Lost in the debate over why Sarah Palin resigned—whether she’s tired of it all or because she’s a Machiavellian genius—is the most American of ideas: This woman is poised to turn her fame into some cold, hard cash.

She’s already got a book deal, agents in both New York and Los Angeles are scrambling to line up some sort of talk show for her, and you can bet if the journalism major-turned-governor decides to write a column, that thing would practically syndicate itself.

What does the brand of Palin Inc. stand to make in the next year? More than most liberals would care to know.

A publishing insider tells The Daily Beast that Palin’s book advance alone is about $4 million.

Palin signed a deal with HarperCollins to publish a book in 2010 that will include a discussion of politics, religion, Bristol’s baby, and the infamous Katie Couric interviews. She’ll surely add in a shot or two at David Letterman. Rumors circulated last year that she and her D.C. attorney Robert Barnett were looking for $11 million for the book. A publishing insider tells The Daily Beast that Palin’s advance is closer to $4 million.

You know the red-meat crowds love Palin. So how much will people be willing to pay to have her come speak? Estimates on this one come in all over the map, but the head of one of the country’s largest speaker’s agencies estimates she’ll garner somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000 a speech when she hits the circuit. Assuming she can squeeze in about 50 speeches over the next year, that comes out to $3.75 million to $5 million just for doing what she does best—babbling away about Alaska, God, oil, and herself (and, you betcha, she can throw in a wink or two for free).

There’s been no shortage of chatter about whether Palin is ready to star on her own Fox talk show. (Fox and HarperCollins are both owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Sarah Palin is exactly his type of gal. She’s like a folksy, daft version of another brassy lady he briefly employed, Judith Regan.)

But what kind of money could she command? Meredith Vieira apparently got $40 million over four years to co-host the Today show, but she’s an experienced television hand. Palin’s closest talk-show comparison in both brains and political leanings is Elisabeth Hasselbeck from The View, who we estimate makes about $5 million a year. Let’s split the difference: $7.5 million annually.

Unlike the cliché about people with a face for radio, Palin actually looks good on camera, but she might opt for the relative ease of a radio show in any case. She won’t command Howard Stern-like pay of $500 million over five years—young men like to look at Palin, not listen to her—nor will she command the $50 million that Rush Limbaugh pulls down annually. Palin is Rush-lite (in more ways than one), so let’s give her $10 million for this option. If Palin hits the airwaves, then—TV or radio—she could pull down $7.5 million to $10 million for her troubles.

If Palin decides to put that journalism degree of hers to good use and become a syndicated columnist, she could be the right wing’s answer to Maureen Dowd. Both have senses of humor that enrage the other side of the aisle, and you can bet Palin would play just as well outside the Northeast as Dowd does within it. Jack Newcombe of the Los Angeles-based Creators Syndicate puts it simply: “We’d love to have her.” Estimated income: $250,000.

If Palin is feeling short on cash even after all of the above, there’s always the licensing option, where she would lend her name to products, takes a cut of the sales, and lets other people take all the risk. A line of eyeglasses, perhaps? Frost-proof mascara? Or maybe she’ll roll out a line of Slutty Flight Attendant™ women’s wear. You have to assume that Palin would be as smart as Paris Hilton about licensing her image—or do you?—and could therefore conceivably bring in some $1.5 million annually.

Add it all up, and it looks like the next year is going to be a pretty lucrative one for Sarah Palin, Inc. By our estimates, she’s going to pull in anywhere from $17 million to $20.75 million in the next 12 months. At the low end of that range, she's tied with Sandra Bullock and Serena Williams on the 2009 Forbes Celebrity 100, which measures wealth, fame and power. Williams just won Wimbledon for the first time in six years, while Sandra Bullock had a career rebound with The Proposal. Are those omens for Palin?

Duff McDonald is a contributing editor at New York magazine and a former contributing editor at Condé Nast Portfolio. He is working on a book about Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, to be published by Simon & Schuster in the fall of 2009.