Now there's really no keeping up with the Kardashians. Kris Jenner and her children, who didn't exactly start out as struggling members of the middle class, have multiplied their wealth astronomically since becoming the first family of reality TV. According to a Huffington Post report, the Kardashians could be worth as much as one billion dollars in the next two years.
They didn't achieve this mind-boggling figure through television alone. For one thing, they had a head start thanks to Kim, Khloe and Kourtney's father Robert Kardashian, who left his ex-wife and children around $100 million after his death in 2003. When Bruce Jenner entered the picture in 1991, he brought along his own net worth of $100 million. Then in 2007, the Kardashians teamed up with producer Ryan Seacrest to launch the show that would make their family a household name.
There's no denying that the Kardashians have entrepreneurial skills. Currently, Keeping Up with the Kardashians is netting them $40 million dollars—which doesn't include the income from their other E! shows and assorted reality gigs. Add to that the profits from their Dash boutiques and Kardashian Kollection for Sears; the latter made $200-$300 million in sales last year. Their perfume lines are selling well, too, and between Kim, Khloe and Lamar Odom, they've made $50 million on scents alone. Plus, Kim gets a cut of the profits from her infamous sex tape with Ray J, on top of the $5 million initial settlement with Vivid Entertainment.
Here's the disturbing part: The rest of the Kardashians' money comes from pure self-promotion. Kim can earn up to $25,000 for one (yes, one) promotional tweet. Her appearance fees start at $100,000, and climb to $1 million internationally. Then there are the sales of the family's personal photos to tabloids. Sample figures: $300,000 for Kourtney's baby pictures, $100,000 for Kim's bridal shower pictures, $300,000 for Khloe's wedding pictures, and $1.5 million for Kim's wedding album.
With the Kardashians, there is always the question of whether they're famous for being hard-working trendsetters, or famous for doing nothing. These figures don't shed any light on the subject. It does seem, yes, that most of their income comes from business ventures. But a lot of it also came from Kris Jenner's husbands. And now, an enormous percentage of their income comes from simply having the family name.
If anything, the Kardashians are a symbol of how messed-up the celebrity economy has become. In a recession, should Kim Kardashian be able to get a six-figure income for showing up at a party? How about a modest year's salary ($25,000) for a single 140-character tweet? The Kardashians helped create the system that rewards famous people for just being famous, and now, they're milking it for all it's worth. It's hard to blame them for taking advantage of the zeitgeist. But if they want people stop saying that they're "famous for being famous"? Maybe they should stop accepting giant wads of cash for literally doing nothing.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.