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A polite eulogy for some terrible celebrity apps

The Kardashian-Jenner clan are shutting down all of their subscription-based apps, effectively ending an era.

Kendall and Kylie Jenner Launch Kendall+Kylie at Forever New
Kendall Jenner never had her own app! Kylie Jenner’s is shutting down after three years.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

There are more than 2 million apps available in the App Store, so maybe you will feel that a eulogy for the four whose deaths were announced Thursday — the Kim Kardashian West App, Kourtney Kardashian App, Khloé Kardashian Official App, and Kylie Jenner Official App — is not called for.

To that, I’d say we are not mourning the loss of beauty tips from Kim Kardashian, which we will continue to receive for free on her extremely active Instagram and Twitter accounts and on her forever-running television program. We are mourning the end of the golden age of the celebrity app.

The Kardashian-Jenners released a statement thanking fans for an “incredible experience,” but have not provided a clear explanation for the decision to shutter their apps, which launched in 2015. However, given what we know about their business savvy, it stands to reason that the apps would have lived on had a sufficient number of people been willing to pay the $2.99 monthly subscription fee associated with each one.

But given that the Kardashians are basically synonymous with overexposure, there may, in fact, be no dollar amount that would make the apps worth it. Can you think of a time when you didn’t have easy access to healthy living and motherhood tips from Kourtney Kardashian? Or workout tips and product recommendations from Khloé Kardashian? Or Kylie Jenner’s personal music preferences? You can’t build a brand based on constant access and then cordon off access, which is a lesson it has apparently taken “America’s First Family” just a little over three years to learn.

Kardashian/Jenner App Launch Preview At Nobu Malibu, CA
Kris Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Kim Kardashian celebrating the launch of the family’s apps in 2015.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images

The same three years were a wild time in the App Store. Just about every celebrity you could think of (Reba McEntire!) had an app of some kind; many were ill-advised ones that fell into two categories: 1) subscription-based blog-style apps that would provide more insight into the life of the celebrity at their core; 2) free social platforms specifically for fans, which involved collecting some kind of fake currency that could be most easily accrued by spending real currency, for the purpose of getting access to interaction with the celebrity at their core.

Please don’t confuse these subscription-based access-granting apps with Tom Hanks’s bizarre typewriter app Hanx Writer, which is free and has almost nothing to do with Tom Hanks but is just a typewriter for your phone. Or with Cameo, which launched this summer and allows you to pay celebrities up to hundreds of dollars to give you personalized video “shoutouts.”

These apps are also separate from mobile games that star specific celebrities, though that category is not without its problems either. While the wildly successful Kim Kardashian: Hollywood mobile game still regularly brings in several million dollars a year from in-game purchases, the mobile game development giant Glu’s range of celebrity games has suffered in 2018. Katy Perry: Pop was pulled after a year, and community boards suggest that Britney Spears: American Dream hasn’t been updated since the fall of 2016. The company said it would scale back on celebrity apps after even a Nicki Minaj game failed to be “commercially successful.”

Taylor Swift’s The Swift Life, also a Glu production, launched on her birthday in December 2017, just after the release of her sixth album, Reputation, and her notorious Kim Kardashian-motivated social media blackout. (She also had a now-defunct greeting card app, which launched in 2013 — always ahead of the curve in monetizing herself!) The Swift Life platform is partly an Instagram feed and partly a game of accruing fictional currency — in this case, guitar picks, which could naturally be purchased with real money — and it was a seemingly logical way of commodifying the attention she’s known for doling out to fans for free on Tumblr and Instagram.

However, The Swift Life quickly fell on hard times. It reportedly debuted at No. 1 in the App Store, fell to No. 56 by day three, and plummeted to 793rd place by its second week, mostly because its content moderation system was not set up to handle an influx of virulently racist and homophobic users, many of whom were just there to express their ongoing dismay that the broader Swift fandom was not willing to believe that she maybe, possibly (almost definitely didn’t) vote for President Trump. (And this summer, the Long Island-based computer repair company SwiftLife sued Swift for trademark infringement.)

A similar fate befell the Jeremy Renner app, which was created by celebrity app-makers at EscapeX and which I downloaded in March 2017 due to the type of self-preservation-irrelevant curiosity that only happens to people who work on the internet. When you opened it, Renner’s cover of “House of the Rising Sun” autoplayed! This app is free but ranks Jeremy Renner fans on their “activity,” which is based on their accrual of stars, which can of course be purchased, starting at $1.99 for 200 stars.

It took about six months — much longer than The Swift Life, so kudos! — for things to go totally haywire for the app, as the Ringer’s Kate Knibbs detailed in an October 2017 report. The community on the app was almost unbelievably toxic, not least toward Renner himself, who was the target of excessive “bullying” from a “really sour little group of people,” according to EscapeX’s director of engagement. Renner’s business manager told the Ringer that the app was redesigned in the middle of 2017 to allow more content moderation, but followed up with, “I don’t even know if we’re going to keep [it].”

Jeremy Renner’s app.

The subscription model that the Kardashian-Jenners leaned into so heavily was also widely unsuccessful and maybe even more embarrassing, given the lack of self-awareness it implied. Kristin Cavallari — best known as one of several villains on MTV’s The Hills and then as one of the many former stars of The Hills who rebranded as a lifestyle mogul — tried it around the same time as Kim, Kylie, Kourtney, and Khloé. Her initially free Official Kristin Cavallari App launched in 2014 and became $2.99 a month in June 2015, as documented by Allie Jones in the iconic Gawker series 500 Days of Kristin:

Since 2014, Kristin Cavallari has occasionally updated the Official Kristin Cavallari App for iPhone and Android with nonsensical items like “Best Bathing Suit For Different Body Types” and “The Secrets of Bone Broth,” which is her right as an American citizen. She has generously provided these semi-coherent musings free of charge...

Until today.

What was once free is now $2.99.

Per month.

I can’t find Cavallari’s app in the App Store currently, and she hasn’t tweeted about it since April 2016. It just faded into the ether, probably because dozens of her own fans informed her that her ideas were simply not worth any price point she could think of, and that they would rather read Lauren Conrad’s blog for free (which, incidentally, describes itself as a “VIP pass” to all things LC).

The failure of celebrity apps is one of failing to put the cat back in the bag, or the pore-minimizing secrets behind the paywall. These celebrities built their fortunes on disclosure and affability in the first place, offering opinions and “behind-the-scenes” details for free, all over the internet, and it was simply not reasonable to expect people to suddenly shell out — no matter the amount.

Also, even die-hard fans are people, and all people gathering online need rigorous moderation features to keep them in line. We’re terrible! If companies like Twitter and Instagram can’t do it, it’s sort of ridiculous to think some tiny, cookie-cutter app-making company with no public accountability can. The age in which we believed in the impossible was short, and bright, and stupid, and it is now over.

The one survivor of the celebrity app-ocalypse will, of course, be Martha Stewart — the only celebrity who ever has any new and useful information to give us.

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