The print magazine industry is dying. Over the past decade, publications around the world have been forced to literally stop the presses. Readers have switched over to more accessible, instantaneous, and cheaper mediums over monthly bibles that seem out of date by the time they hit newsstands. But the periodicals left — and they are few and far between — now duke it out month after month to stay relevant and sell copies. So that’s why Paper magazine’s latest stunt featuring Kim Kardashian’s bare butt isn’t all that surprising.
The reality star has 25 million Twitter followers and almost as many on Instagram. Just one of her selfies has more reach than most mags can hope for in one issue. Paper tag-lined their Winter issue “Break the Internet” and while this certainly didn’t come true, with just 140 characters from Kardashian, Paper is now an entity that everyone knows about. The publication releases eight editions each year, has a paid circulation of 125,000 subscribers. Based in New York City, it was founded in 1984 and is read by a very niche crowd, with its editorials focusing on fashion and pop culture. The website, papermag.com, brings 1.3 million unique visitors per month. Yet a shock-factor photo shoot featuring the reality star has generated hundreds of thousands of tweets, online coverage, and even talked about on morning television shows. A magazine is relevant again because the Internet is talking about it — how ironic is that?
Vogue, which has never had a problem being the talk of the town — just look to the Devil Wears Prada for proof — even called on Kardashian to front an issue. Posing with her now-husband, Kanye West, in wedding dresses, the cover spawned the hashtag #worldsmosttalkedaboutcouple. The fashion bible, which notoriously shunned featuring celebrities on their covers until celebrity culture really exploded in the early 2000s, didn’t necessarily sell record-breaking numbers, but the hashtag campaign is still referenced in connection with the power couple to this day.
But the Paper cover doesn’t so much leverage Kardashian’s massive influence as it does shock and awe. While Vogue certainly used their exclusive access to the First Family of Fashion to generate conversation, Paper’s approach is much more explicit. The bare butt image only grazed the surface of what was in store — the centerfold reveals that and so much more. (You can view the NSFW images here.) Wearing (kind of) a customized dress and accessorized with vintage gloves, and MIKIMOTO necklaces and earrings, she undresses and lets everything (and I mean everything, full frontal included) all hang out.
Magazines have never shied away from gratuitous nudity. Jennifer Aniston, Beyoncé, Zoe Saldana, and even pregnant Demi Moore have taken it all off, granted with creative placement covering up important parts. Famed photographer Helmut Newton was shooting nudity for fashion magazines for years, stirring lots of controversy in his day, along with Guy Bourdin who would shoot naked women for the cover of French Vogue and provocative ad campaigns starting in the ’70s.
While those shoots went the semi-tasteful route, Paper has completely dropped any illusion as to what could be hiding underneath. These clever props — ties, hands, type — almost distinguished their mass market images from pornography. But Paper has blurred the line between fashion magazine and Playboy. Seemingly, what keeps this shoot from being looped in with X-rated publications is the art and high-profile photographer that produced the images. Jean-Paul Goude, who came to fame for shooting his muse Grace Jones and even has work featured in museums around the world, is representing Kardashian as an icon and perpetuating a message.
The bigger questions is why Kim Kardashian? She’s notoriously famous for nothing and yet when appears fully nude it causes mass hysteria. Just last year, Playboy featured Kate Moss, shot by famous fashion and art photographers Mert and Marcus and instead of inciting a frenzy, the edition became a collector’s item. Additionally Lui, a soft core porn magazine, had Rihanna and Gisele Bündchen on covers recently. They’re arguably just as, or even more, well known that Kardashian so didn’t they “break the internet.” It’s not like anyone is shocked to see her naked.
The current state of affairs in the magazine publishing industry means that publications have to resort to hi-jinx in order to sell copies. Brand recognition is the new currency and sales are seemingly irrelevant. It remains to be seen if sex will sell this issue of Paper, especially considering most of the images have already been released for the world to see on the Internet, but if the conversations generated and social media chatter that has come about since the photo shoot’s release is any indication, the magazine won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.