How the Long Island Medium really makes her money

Theresa Caputo — a.k.a the Long Island Medium — is the most famous medium around these days, whether you believe in what she does or not. She's also one of the richest. According to Celebrity Net Worth, she is reportedly worth $3 million. But, even if that number is correct, it doesn't even begin to tell the whole story. Within less than a decade, Caputo has maintained a very successful TLC reality show, written several best-selling books, and hosted a national tour. She's turned channelling the dead into numerous revenue streams and an ocean of opportunity, and it doesn't look like she'll be slowing down anytime soon.

So, how did she do it? How did a medium from Long Island grow into one of the most recognizable names in reality television? Well, we've uncovered the secrets to her popularity and the reasons why people keep coming back for more. Highlighting Caputo's humble medium background, her rise to riches, and the theories that might help explain her success, here is the story of how the Long Island Medium really makes her money.

A trained healer

Ever since Caputo was a little girl, she claims to have been sensing and seeing spirits. It wasn't until she was in her 20s, however, that she learned to communicate with them. After years of severe anxiety, apparently caused by these spirits and her feelings about them, Caputo's mother suggested she meet with someone.

According to Caputo's website, it was a spiritual healer named Pat Longo, who helped her sort out her issues. "After just one session, she told me that I was suppressing Spirit's energy, which caused a lot of my anxiety, and helped me learn to channel Spirit through my chakras and release it with my words," she said. "I began to heal and come into my own."

This meeting with Longo might have also given Caputo the ability and the confidence to start a career as a medium. "When I accepted my gift, I decided to use it to deliver healing messages that would help people learn, grow, and embrace life," Caputo states on her website. "I'm grateful for an ability that's brought countless people comfort and joy, helped many believe in an afterlife, led others to trust that their loved ones are safe and at peace, and shown them that those souls are guiding, encouraging, and loving them from the Other Side."

Friends in high places

Before Caputo ever had a TV show, she had friends who believed she had the right stuff. According to the TV medium, her friend Victoria Woods told her she was "made for TV." While many people believe their life would make a good reality TV show, few belief that and also have connections in the entertainment industry. Caputo is one of those few.

Woods' sister is Courtney Mullin, a TV producer. Woods took the idea to her sister, who then reached out to producer Jonathan Partridge. Mullin and Partridge had worked together on Total Request Live, so she asked him to meet with Caputo. He did, despite thinking TV mediums were a little passé, and it didn't take Caputo long to make her mark from there.

On the Sorry I've Been So Busy podcast, Partridge said that Caputo showcased her abilities to him by eerily describing details of a friend's funeral. "Ok, you have me," he told her. "At that point, I was in." He and Mullin then compiled some footage of Caputo at work. Months later, Partridge landed Caputo a face-to-face meeting with Magilla Entertainment. "She came in and had a meeting with like the three execs at the time," Partridge said on Sorry I've Been So Busy. "Within 20 minutes, she had each of them crying."

Taking the show to TLC

When TLC caught wind of Caputo and the pitch for Long Island Medium, they ordered eight 30-minute episodes, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. The show quickly found its audience and enjoyed an average of 1.3 million viewers, earning it a renewal for a second season and a four-episode increase. After season three, the show was pulling in nearly three million viewers, so TLC brought Long Island Medium back for a 30-episode fourth season in 2013.

According to Business Insider, three years of success marks a major turning point for reality star salaries. Terence Michael, a reality show producer, told E! News that TLC stars make approximately 10 percent of a show's budget. Michael estimate that fellow reality TV show stars the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting fame might have earned between $25,000 to $40,000 per episode, with the show's budget being set at around $250,000 to $400,000. We can only assume that Caputo and her family might be raking in a similar amount. So, even if she earned $25,000 per episode, Caputo, with well over 100 episodes under her belt, has potentially earned more than $2.5 million via her hit TLC show.

Private readings

While she may not have become a millionaire without her reality TV show, Caputo ran a successful business before she found fame. According to her website, she was booked two years in advance before her show ever started, though Partridge put her bookings at one year in advance during his talk on the podcast Sorry I've Been So BusyStill, both numbers are impressive and indicate that she had no shortage of clientele.

Even at the peak of Caputo's TV fame, she was still performing private readings. The lucky people who were picked off the extensive waiting list could receive a one-on-one with the famous medium or hold a group session. According to a 2014 post on Caputo's website, the prices for a reading range from $50 per person in a group reading to $175 for an individual reading. If Caputo met with clients every day, she could easily earn herself a decent chunk of change.

Though the reality star insists her pricing hasn't changed since she became famous, her financial situation has. Rather than pocket the funds from her private readings, Caputo now donates all the money to charity, giving the moolah to Meals on Wheels or the Long Island State Veterans Home.

A certified medium

Despite the claim on Theresa Caputo's website that all of her appointments prior to Long Island Medium were booked through "just a business card and word of mouth," it would appear that Caputo needed more than just a sassy personality and impressive talents to find such success as a medium. How can people be sure that she can do what she says she can do?

While there are no real training programs or Hogwarts-like schools for mediums to attend, there are groups that evaluate mediums and grant certifications for those who prove capable in their abilities. Caputo, for example, has gone through this evaluation process.

"I am certified through a foundation," she told People. "They monitor and get feedback on readings and things like that, to acknowledge the accuracy." In Caputo's interview with the Hartford Courant, she mentions that she is certified through the Forever Family Foundation. According to the foundation's website, the free certification process "is very rigorous and is designed so that only highly developed mediums will be successful." While medium certification may not convince everyone, it certainly provides validation for some paying customers.

Is she just cold reading?

Caputo is no stranger to skeptics. She's been challenged by illusionist Criss Angel and criticized by D.J. Grothe, the president of The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). On Wired, an opinion piece argued that Caputo is very successful and accomplished at "cold reading." By using a touch of trickery and a dash of deceit, cold readers can allegedly "pick up enough information in what seems like innocent, idle conversation to convince you that they know very specific things about you."

Yet, even if we assume that Caputo is cold reading, there's still significant talent at work here. According to philosopher Denis Dutton's work on the act, to find success with this cold reading, readers need sharp listening and observation skills, along with worldly knowledge and enormous self-confidence. "Good cold readers," he writes in Experientia, "know that the trick [is] to appear as though they are providing definite information and yet provide only strategically vague suggestions which can be imaginatively interpreted by the client."

But Caputo insists that she's the real deal. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion," she said to her critics on Sway in the Morning. "I'm not asking anyone to believe in mediums. I really want them to know that their loved ones are with them and that that soul bond is never broken."

Taking her talents on tour

Back in 2012, with her TV show a success and her appearances on the talk show circuit generating buzz, Caputo decided to take her act on the road. The initial tour was a short run, lasting only a month. In 2013, however, the tour expanded to 30 cities over the course of the fall. For the next several years, Caputo would continue her touring ways, even traveling to Canada in 2016.

So how much does touring bring in for Caputo? While numbers may vary depending on the performer, some reports suggest that the average entertainer receives 50 to 75 percent of gross event sales, minus whatever the managers take (approximately 15 percent). If that's true, Caputo makes a lot of money by touring.

Though ticket prices will also vary, the show that Jessica Remo of NJ.com attended featured ticket prices that averaged between $40 to $100. Remo also noted that the 3,000-person venue was nearly at capacity. As a cautious estimate, we will use an average attendance of 1,500 people, which means each show makes between $60,000 and $150,000. Therefore, if Caputo even makes 50 percent of the gross, she could be raking in between $30,000 and $75,000 per show, though that's not including what she may have to pay her manager and any crew members. Not too bad.

Hot reading accusations

Caputo's live show isn't without its share of bad reviews, but it's still a hot ticket in many cities. Surely many fans will attend no matter what people say, but there must be some measure of quality, right? Overall, the reviews of Caputo's tours seem mixed, but there are many spectators who leave extremely happy. Is it possible that Caputo is as convincing in person as she seems on TV?

Well, that's debatable. Some critics wonder if Caputo is manipulating her audience using inside information. In the industry, this is called "hot reading." According to Ron Tebo, a man who runs a "fraud whistleblower website," Caputo may use box office information to get personal details about the people sitting in the front row. "When you purchase a ticket, you provide your full name, address and phone number to the vendor," he said to Radar Online. "The vendor can share this information with her staff, and then they can investigate the individual audience members. It seems she focuses on the front rows."

Some people question whether Caputo uses inside information during private readings and on her show as well. One former client of Caputo told Radar Online that, prior to her reading, show producers asked her for information on her deceased husband. Dr. Karen Stollznow of the JREF points to an episode that Caputo read people from her husband's work as further potential proof of hot reading.

A best-selling author

Since 2013, Caputo has written and released three books: There's More to Life than This: Healing Messages, Remarkable Stories, and Insight from the Other Side; You Can't Make This Stuff Up: Life-Changing Lessons from Heaven; and Good Grief: Heal Your Soul, Honor Your Loved Ones, and Learn to Live Again. According to Caputo's website, the first book "debuted at #2 on the New York Times best seller list." The second book debuted at no. 9 on the same list, as per The London Free Press. Her third book, Good Grief, reportedly debuted at no. 3. While these achievements speak to Caputo's popularity, what do they say about her bottom line?

Well, it's really difficult to know for sure. According to Reader's Digest, it takes an approximate 5,000 weekly book sales to make the New York Times Bestseller list. Publisher's Weekly noted that the standard publishing contract pays 10 percent per book for the first 5,000 sales, 12.5 percent from 5000 to 15,000 sales, and 15 percent after that. Vox, however, suggested that list is pretty much voodoo.

Still, we can generate a very rough earnings estimate from this. Assuming Caputo's first book cost, let's say, $15 and spent at least 17 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list, that's potentially 85,000 book sales in total. Clearly, Caputo's bank account must be happy.

The Forer Effect

Let's assume for a minute that Caputo isn't actually channeling the dead. Why is it that so many people fall for her act? How has she sustained a career for so long? Well, according to Wired, "The scientific phenomenon is called the Forer effect." This is a potential explanation as to why Caputo's audience gives "credence to vague observations that seem personal."

Bertram R. Forer, a psychology professor, assigned each of his students a personality test with the intention of providing them with a unique personality description in the end. According to Dutton, Forer gave each student identical feedback filled with vague personality descriptors. The class, thinking the descriptions had been created just for them, graded the accuracy of the feedback a 4.3 out of 5. Thus, the Forer Effect was born.

Why the Forer Effect works on people is up for debate. Dutton suggests that it works best when the information comes from a credible source, like a famous medium for example. The information provided must also be positive overall. According to Dutton, while some negative information can be tolerated, successful mediums must tell "the subject that in the final analysis he or she is really a splendid person." Perhaps that's why this is also called the Barnum effect, named after the guy (incorrectly) credited with saying "there's a sucker born every minute" (via The Daily Beast).  

Adventures in advertising

Caputo's career as an actor in commercials was incredibly short-lived, yet, if nothing else, it was a source of income for the Long Island Medium. We may never know what she was paid to appear in her now-infamous Priceline commercial, but the ad certainly wasn't paying any respect to Native American Traditions. In the commercial, which first aired in the summer of 2012,  Caputo channels the spirit of the Priceline negotiator while speaking to a couple. The joke is that this dynamic mimics the setup from Long Island Medium. The problem, however, is that Caputo appears to be Smudging, a sacred Native American ceremony in which a person "calls on the spirits of sacred plants to drive away negative energies and restore balance." And, well, Caputo doesn't appear to be Native American.

Though it's unclear if Caputo was ever in Priceline's long-term plans, she never did get another commercial. Shortly after this first one aired, the company was met with a challenge from JREF regarding Caputo's claims to be a medium and a shutdown petition. By January 2013, Priceline had walked away from Caputo and had hired The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco to star in a new set of ads.

The greatest showwoman

When it comes to Caputo's abilities and what makes her successful, there isn't a whole lot of agreement, but there is one thing that most people accept about the medium from Long Island: She's a heck of a performer. Many fans and skeptics alike have commented on Caputo's on-stage charisma, her humor, and her sass.

Even her greatest skeptics have to acknowledge her talents. If, in fact, she isn't speaking with the dead, she's reading her audience and maneuvering through a complex game of give and take. "Understanding the nuances of this interplay calls for skills more like those employed in the analysis of a literary text," argues Dutton, "than those used in a statistical account of multiple-choice responses."

In the first episode of Long Island Medium, Caputo demonstrated some of her skills. While reading a shop owner, the medium learned that the lady's mother was a seamstress. Caputo then asked, "What's with the buttons?" This was a successful hit. The mother collected buttons. She then asked about the "recipe book." Another hit. While skeptics may argue these two clues could be applied to many seamstresses who lived during '50s and '60s, Caputo took this information and pivoted mid-conversation. There's a talent in that.