This is a sentence, and a story, I never thought I’d write: I come to praise Kim Kardashian, not to bury her.
Ever since she parlayed her leaked sex tape into reality stardom in 2007, I’ve done my best to avoid her—no small feat given that for most of that time, I was an editor at People magazine, which breathlessly covered her every movement with the fascination it had once reserved for celebs like Princess Diana and Tom Cruise. But after the events of the past couple days, I must embrace the truth I’ve been denying for years: Kardashian, simply, is the world’s best marketer.
The most recent proof of that came on Tuesday, when she shared racy photos of her (NSFW) Paper magazine cover shoot—via her Instagram, of course. The photos didn’t quite “Break the Internet,” as the Paper coverline proclaimed, but they undeniably ignited a frenzy of heated reactions and hilarious memes. Then 24 hours later, just as the brouhaha had died down, Kardashian one-upped herself—this time via Twitter—by linking to even more graphic (and doubly NSFW) photos from the shoot.
It’s the latest brilliant strategy by Kardashsian, who never tires of selling herself and her family. Whether it’s her Keeping Up with the Kardashians reality franchise, her 72-day marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries, her lavish wedding to Kanye West, keeping the entire tabloid industry in business, or her nonstop selfies, Kardashian remains laser-focused on doing whatever is necessary to stay in the spotlight—and keep her fans begging for more.
Break the Internet? More like break the bank: Kardashian has amassed a gargantuan social media following — 25.3 million Twitter followers, 21.3 million on Instagram—and turned those loyal fans into an estimated $45 million fortune, thanks to her reality shows and various fashion and fragrance lines.
And her income is skyrocketing by the day, thanks to her ridiculous—and ridiculously successful—“Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” app, which is free to download but requires in-app purchases for players to upgrade their characters as they try to become virtual stars like Kim. The addictive app generated $43.3 million in sales from its June 27 launch through the end of September, and has been downloaded more than 22.8 million times. Kardashian is earning an estimated $700,000 per day from her revenue-sharing deal.
Those eye-popping figures are a direct result of her relentlessly marketing her image and her brand. Even if you didn’t look at those Paper photos in the past day, you were likely aware of their existence, and probably even talked about them. Once again, Kim wins: no matter how hard you may try, you cannot ignore her.
Just two months ago, we were all wringing our hands, rightfully so, over the release of hacked nude photos featuring celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence. But now, we can’t stop talking about — and looking at—just one naked celebrity, who is disseminating the photos around the globe herself: Kim Kardashian.
That’s why it’s time to stop making fun of her and start taking her seriously, if not as a reality star, than at least as a masterful businesswoman and marketer. In a world where reality hits come and go every few years—Jersey Shore, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, The Osbournes, The Hills, Jon & Kate Plus 8 and The Simple Life, starring her former pal Paris Hilton—Kardashian is the only one with the acumen and perseverance to turn a fad into a fortune. Forget 15 minutes of fame: she’s now more than halfway to 15 years.
No, I still don’t particularly like her. But I can no longer dismiss just how brilliant she is at her number one job: marketing Kim Kardashian.