Is This the Beginning of the End for the Kardashians?

Ratings are down. The hate rages strong. Are the Kardashians finally on the way out?

While it might seem like a clear yes at first glance, the answer is more complicated.

For starters, our feelings about the “Keeping Up With Kardashians” clan, particularly the most famous of the bunch, Kim and her sisters Kourtney, and Khloé, haven't changed much over the years. Kim was the second most-searched for celebrity on Yahoo in 2013 behind Miley Cyrus. And even though folks may loathe them, they're still raking in the dough!

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“They're just much more well known now than they were back in 2009 or 2010," says Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, which measures the emotional connection between consumers and a changing list of about 1,800 celebrities. Current data, he adds, shows that 65 to 70 percent of Americans age 6 and older are aware of the sisters — which might make you wonder how 3 in 10 Americans have avoided hearing about the Kardashians in the last few years. Until, of course, you consider that the average celebrity only scores about 30 percent awareness.

The Q Scores Company also sets positive and negative Q scores for celebrities, based on the percentage of people who categorize someone as one of their favorite personalities and those who consider their feelings about a particular celeb to be "fair" or "poor."

When it comes to their positive Q Scores, Schafer explains that the Kardashians have between 6 and 9 percent, compared to an average positive score of 16 percent. (Lindsay Lohan has a similar number.)

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The Kardashians tend to have a negative scores much higher than the average celeb, too — in the mid to high 60s compared to an average of 18 percent.  This however, has been status quo for the K’s. When consumers were first asked about them in 2009, they were already in the mid to high 50s, Schafer says, because they've been polarizing since their earliest days in the public eye.

Don't feel too bad for the family, though; they they get paid pretty handsomely for living their lives like a soap opera before the cameras. Forbes estimated that Kim earned $10 million between June 2012 and June 2013. The magazine's Dorothy Pomerantz speculates that the future Mrs. Kanye West has the potential to make even more money this year if she chooses to televise her wedding.

"Here's the thing about Kim Kardashian: Yes, we love to say just how much we don't care about her and how fake her fame is and how uninterested we are in the shallowness of the Kardashians, but we don't ever stop watching," Pomerantz says. "Everybody in this country has the power to make the Kardashians go away tomorrow. If they just didn't watch their shows and didn't buy anything that they associated with and didn't follow them on Twitter, they would lose all power. We are giving them power and this power is bringing them money."
Part of the family fortune comes from the long list of licensing and endorsements deals for products such as perfumes, jewelry, nail polishes, tanning gel, the Kardashian Kollection for Sears, and countless others. A big chunk of it, though, comes from their franchise of E! shows.
According to Forbes, the family finalized a $30 million deal with the network in 2012 to keep them on the air until 2015. The show isn't likely to be canceled then either unless the ratings take a big dip or it becomes too expensive to produce, most likely if the cast were to demand more money than the network is willing to shell out.

Nielsen numbers are the only thing that should cause the Kardashian family to worry. Last season the show pulled in an average of 2.4 million viewers, which is remarkably down from Season Eight's average — and the series peak — of 3.9 million. Still, it's worth noting that the highest-rated season is the one when Kim's romance with Kanye began, so we're expecting that there will be more continued interest thanks to the rapper's connection to the Kardashian crew. The 2.4 million rating from last season is also significantly higher than what the show was pulling in during its first three seasons, when 1.4 million average viewers was the high point.

Ratings from the new season, which premieres on Jan. 19, will indicate whether the decline is part of a trend or just a temporary slump. Episodes are expected to focus on the breakups of Khloé and Lamar, as well as Bruce and Kris Jenner, and Kanye's elaborate marriage proposal to Kim, which generated considerable buzz when they played out in real life.

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"They're really smart and they can't be counted out,” Pomerantz says. "They've taken this concept that everybody will have 15 minutes of fame and turned it into a years-long business that doesn't show any signs of slowing down. So even if you don't like them, you've got to respect them for that."

In other words, don't expect the Kardashians to be going away anytime soon.