We call it the sidebar of shame, and we pretend that the shame is on the newspapers for printing (or websites for publishing) these stories, but we know, not very deep down, that the shame is on us.

Because we know – or we should know, if we have a modicum of self-awareness – that it us who feeds this phenomenon. If we didn't read it, or click it, it wouldn't exist.

We make them, and more often than not we break them. And we expect, for some reason, the papers to back off before they go too far and cross the line, but it seems nobody is quite sure where the line is.

How much is too much? Falling out of a nightclub drunk if you're famous means you're fair game, right? What about heading to the supermarket with your secret lover? If you're out in public that's OK, no?

The public's relationship with paparazzi and gossip rags is complicated because it is a culture of supply and demand, but the celebrities' relationships with them are even more messed up. Being featured looking rough, you would assume, is the nightmare, but some stars actively encourage this. Hard to believe?

It's no secret celebrities arrange their own pap shots. Usually, the lower down the celebrity pecking order they are, the more likely they've set up their own pap shots. Wonder why her face looks so flawless as she shleps to the local boutique?

She's tipped off the paps and, more often than not, she will be getting a cut of the money. And that's fair enough.

The celeb is a product and the paps are the manufacturer and we are the consumer, someone has to make money somehow and supply and demand dictates it has value. But what about the makeup free shots? The wardrobe malfunctions? The poolside cellulite sneak peeks? Caught eating a pie while on a strict diet?

It wouldn't be fair to name names – as I'd be both giving them the attention they crave and becoming part of the gossip machine myself – but have you ever wondered why there always seems to be a photographer around to catch C- and D-listers looking at their worst, sometimes in these oddly mundane situations?

People you wouldn't ordinarily expect any photographer to be following, especially not when they're putting their bins out or waiting for a train. In some cases, these too are set up – those vampires have been invited over the threshold.

Alan*, a photographer, has worked with clients to sell photos that might not place them in a flattering light. "It's a risk they take. For a lot of them, getting in the paper is worth it. It means they cans till market themselves as relevant – after all, if they were nobody a paper wouldn't cover them.

"Nobody is going to want to look awful in the papers, but it can be lucrative, get them back in the public eye. It can even provoke sympathy. Everyone loves an underdog."

Zac*, a former tabloid journalist agrees. "There can be a lot of hate when unflattering pics appear, and some of the comments can be unspeakable, but there's a new phenomenon now which comes just as quickly and can be even more valuable – the thinkpiece.

"If you're the right kind of celebrity, and the pics or the comments are nasty enough, journalists will leap to your defence. It can be a very powerful way of getting your name out there, painting you as the victim and making people warm to you. It is free publicity!"

Negative press can work in a celebrity's favour, but surely it's just a happy accident. No star would actively chase it? Zac says you'd be surprised: "It's not unknown for a representative to suggest an angle on a negative story. Like pictures of women who've gained weight – if they have a fitness video or diet plan in the pipeline then their agents will actively encourage journalists to write about it.

"Sometimes they will ask for a kinder spin – with kinder usually meaning that there has been some tragedy in their life so that's the reason for the weight fluctuation – but mostly they don't care as long as they can have transformation pics a few months later."

When appearing on Channel 5 show In Therapy, Gemma Collins, star of TOWIE, revealed that she had fallen into the trap of yo-yo dieting to help get bankable deals for photoshoots in magazines. She told counsellor Mandy Saligari: "An agent came to me and said, 'The way you are going to make money in this game is relationships, and weight gain and loss'. It was a fast way to get some money."

Melissa*, a talent agent, refutes the idea that anyone would actively want to be portrayed negatively in the press, but admits it can be advantageous.

"You have to take the rough with the smooth. If you want the good stuff to get coverage you have to accept they'll be there for the rough stuff too. And when they come for you, you try to manage it in a way that can be rewarding. This is why you see so many kiss and tells or post-breakup interviews.

"It's damage limitation, can change public perception and, well, it can keep you in the public consciousness longer. It's when you set up these breakups and makeups that things get a little more complicated, but as long as you play the game and are believable, what's the harm? The public aren't taken in by it anymore anyway – they know it's all panto."

So next time you're up in arms that a newspaper has printed embarrassing pictures of a celebrity, hold off on your outrage, have a think. What could possibly be in it for them?

If they've got something to promote, a big gas bill to pay, or simply haven't been in the papers for a while, there's a chance they signed up for it themselves.

Pity, then, the celebs who really are just trying to live their lives off-camera – their publicity-hungry compadres are spoiling it for everyone. It also only goes further to reinforce the idea that paparazzi are moral vacuums who hound celebrities – more often than not the stars are complicit.

It's worth remembering that showbiz is short for showBUSINESS – and we're all stakeholders.

*Names have been changed.