Last week, Zoella was a name I wasn’t aware existed, let alone could be attributed to an actual person. But this week, her story (or more to the point, someone else’s story) is all over the Internet. In agreeing to a publishing deal with Penguin, where a ghostwriter was employed to transform her story into a readable novel, Zoe Suggs has come under a wave of criticism from her fans. And it’s ridiculous.
Suggs has been amongst the first people to find fame in a relatively new way: by producing vlogs, giving make-up tutorials to her audience, she has built herself a profile of Internet fame without the help of any talent shows, TV producers or anyone under the influence of Simon Cowell. And as much as fans of her videos typically fit the same demographic as those which shows like the X Factor are aimed at, they have certainly grown to love her for her lack of big time marketing.
Because, namely, anyone could be a vlogger. If you’ve got a webcam and something to talk about, there’s nothing stopping you doing the same thing as Zoella. No rounds of auditions, no casting of votes, just the simple process of uploading your content to the web and (hopefully) watching your audience grow. Even if it doesn’t, you’re still up there, in the cloud of those producing their own content for their own chosen audience. They’re ordinary people, Zoe Suggs is an ordinary young woman. And that’s where the problem began. Her fans clearly believed that by purchasing her book, they thought they were buying not only into the Zoella brand, but the brand of self-success – the possibility of achieving something similar without leaving their bedrooms. And then it came out that that wasn’t the case.
I don’t think Zoella’s audience is stupid, no matter what conversations on Twitter may suggest. When Zoella’s ghostwritten book was compared to One Direction releasing a perfume, and the fact that they clearly didn’t all train to become expert perfumists beforehand, people were missing the point. When teenage girls buy perfume with a famous boy’s face on the front, they know they are buying into that brand. I did the same thing myself as a teenager with a certain Pop Idol star’s merchandise. I knew nothing I was buying had probably ever been near the boy himself, but loved the idea of collecting anything related to him.
With Zoella, it’s different. Buying her book was buying into the notion that fame can still occur outside of the boundaries of endless talent shows and scripted marketing campaigns, by doing something fairly ordinary, and they felt cheated. Would they have preferred a book with ‘co-authors Zoe Suggs and Siobhan Curham’ on the front? No. I don’t believe they would. I think a genuinely produced item would have been preferred – something Zoella’s fans could have bought with the knowledge that only Zoe’s talents and ideas were behind. I don’t personally know what that could be, because once you take someone famous for bedroom-based YouTube vidoes out of their bedroom, I’m not sure what on earth could realistically have been mass produced without the help of a team inevitably taking over.
So are Zoella’s fans right to be hating her right now? No, of course not. But they are entitled to be upset. The whole thing reminds me of a young girl seeing her older sister as her best friend – playing together, having fun, getting on great, then bam, as soon as the older sister’s friends are around, the young girl is no longer cool to be seen with. She’s shunned and has to retake her place as the insignificant one around the big girls. By taking on a publishing deal of this scale, Zoella left her fans where she found them – in their teenage bedrooms, all the while she was hanging out with the cool kids at Penguin. And now she’s having to do the same thing the older sister does as soon as her friends have left the house – go back and grovel, tell them she treated them unfairly, and will they, please, still be her fan?