Grumpy Cat, the squashy-faced feline that now decorates a thousand mugs, T-shirts and “Grumppuccino” bottles, will star in a Lifetime movie this Christmas — a fact that should surprise no one who has ever seen a Lifetime movie.
“Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever” (because what other kind of Christmas could Grumpy Cat have, honestly?) will star Grumpy as “a pet-store cat that is perpetually overlooked” until a friendly 12-year-old girl comes along and saves her. It sounds slightly less riveting than Lifetime’s usual line-up of true-life murder mysteries. It also sounds pretty profitable for an ugly lil cat who, until 2012, had no other prospects but living out her nine lives in total obscurity.
Now, thanks to the Internet (and one savvy meme agent — more on that later), Grumpy Cat has a best-selling book, a beverage line and an incredible range of iPhone cases, mouse pads and wrapping papers, among lots of other merch. Perhaps more incredibly, she’s just one of many Internet cats with entire product lines to their names.
Tara the Hero Cat has yoga pants and footie pajamas. Maru’s bizarrely well-reviewed book has been translated into two languages. Lil Bub’s best-selling products include a calendar, a plush toy and a mug emblazoned with her face.
Behold, this is the new memeconomy: with a cute pet, a camera phone and enough Reddit up-votes, you too can cash in! In fact, there’s an entire book on this subject, published earlier this year: It’s called “How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom,” and in the entirety of its 127, tongue-in-cheek pages it never quite convinced me that it wasn’t secretly sincere.
And why shouldn’t it be? Grumpy Cat’s agent, Ben Lashes, told the Wall Street Journal that she netted in “the low six-figures” as of last spring, excluding his cut and her movie deal.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to quantify exactly how much memes like Grumpy Cat are worth. There are merchandise sales — pistachio commercials — live appearances in front of adoring fans! There’s no telling how much that could add up to, really. But to try to put a number to that marvelous thing called the memeconomy, we looked up how much money a series of Internet-famous cats could have made annually from YouTube ads, had they enrolled in YouTube’s partner program. To be really clear, not all of them have, and these are just estimates. (“The number isn’t supposed to be read as religion but to give you a general feeling of what they might be earning,” is how the analytics tool Social Blade puts it.) We’re just trying to determine an approximate value for these cats, not actually sleuth out what they made.
So with that caveat in mind, here are the cats’ potential annual earnings:
- Tara the Hero Cat: $55,600 to $463,700
- Maru the Cat: $21,800 to $181,600
- Keyboard Cat: $21,100 to $175,800
- Nyan Cat (not a real cat, but still): $8,600 to $71,500
- The two talking cats: $8,500 to $70,700
- Stalking Cat: $7,000 to $58,700
- Grumpy Cat: $5,100 to $42,400
- Mama Cat: $2,900 to $24,100
- Lil Bub: $2,300 to $19,300
- Dramatic cat: $2,400 to $20,400
- Hamilton the Hipster Cat: $1,900 to $15,900
- Colonel Meow: $366 to $3,000
… which adds up to, on the high end, something north of $1 million. And that only counts the YouTube views for the cat sector — we’re not even talking about Grumppuccinos or stuffed animal sales here, to say nothing of drug-addled kids and photogenic marathoners.
Bottom line: Cats may be something of a shorthand for Internet silliness, and Grumpy Cat’s Christmas movie may be flat-out laughable. But memes are serious business! So serious, in fact, that “How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity” advises that Grumpy will soon need to upgrade her game: She’s completed nine of the book’s 10 steps to media domination, but still lacks a dramatic fake death.
“The world needs to imagine itself without your cat in order to truly appreciate his greatness,” it reads. “But you must perpetrate this hoax carefully.”
… I guess we know what Grumpy’s handlers are planning next.