In recent years, there has been an influx of books released by YouTube celebrities. These are unique in that we as an audience already have a privileged insight into their day-to-day lives (or a probably highly edited equivalent). So how is it that this newly-cornered marketplace has met so much demand?
In 2014 one of the pioneering YouTubers, Zoe Sugg (known online as beauty guru Zoella) reached the top of the bestseller list immediately with her foray into fiction, Girl Online, and it quickly became the “fastest selling debut in history” according to Vice.
But naturally, this expansion of creation from the online realm to that of publishing has met its fair share of criticism; it cannot be avoided that the vast majority of these YouTuber books are not very well received. Girl Online, for example, was called “as sugary as a frosted cupcake” by The Telegraph. It certainly lends to the view that these quasi-celebrities are venturing into the literary industry primarily to expand their revenue rather than their creative efforts.
But can you blame them? The reality is that we live in an era subsumed by celebrity culture – it’s everywhere you look. Reality TV is soaring in popularity, we are becoming addicted to watching and monitoring people that we don’t know on social media – it can come as no real surprise that there is an increased demand for further insight into the lives and endeavours of those we’re preoccupied with on the internet. In this sense, is it even fair to blame YouTubers for giving in to popular demand and churning out these fairly shallow and cliché books?
The idea that the success of this corner of the literary industry is due to the individual being ‘deserving’ of their space in it is a tricky one. Naturally, once the demand for books of a certain nature is realised, more pressure can be placed on the publishing houses themselves for offering these contracts to meet audience consumption.
Another potential angle in response to this relatively new phenomenon considers that, while these books may conceivably be pulling focus from more traditionally serious genres, they can’t realistically be understood to be impinging upon them. You do not generally see, for example, authors of wishy-washy self-help or ‘party planning’ books criticising YouTubers for putting them out of business. In terms of this new market elbowing out texts of more quality – such as well-thought-out mysteries, satires, horrors etc. – it is fairly safe to assume that there would be a clear divergence in terms of target audiences.
In conversations surrounding whether these books are directing focus away from more worthy alternative contenders, it is important to note that, contrarily, they could be introducing and promoting literature to a new generation – young kids and teens who might otherwise rarely choose a physical book over their iPhone. And they are, to their credit, promoting it in all its diversity – alongside the fictional Girl Online is Joe Sugg’s graphic novel, Username: Evie, Lilly Singh’s self-help/guidance book, How to be a Bawse, and Gabbie Hanna’s Adultolescence, a collection of poetry.
Arguably, in this case, outcome trumps intention. You would hope that this inundation of YouTubers into the literary industry springs entirely from genuine creative expression and interest, but even if not (and it’s probably not), these texts can optimistically be viewed as gateways into further explorations of literature for what may otherwise be more online-oriented generations.