Is Zoella to blame?





Breaking sale records at 78,109 in the first week, Zoe Sugg beat JK Rowling. But is the youtube sensation to blame for the “decline in teenage literacy” as The Guardian's headline suggested?

Firstly, if you saw the headline and followed her followers in attacking  The Guardian, I wouldn't have blamed you. It was classic click bait. The writer, Zoe Williams, has written about Zoe Sugg on other occasions, praising her. In the article, she barely even discusses the books. She mentions her role of a internet star and the teenage-like persona the 26 year old adopts. Still, it got me thinking. 

Zoe knows exactly what she is doing.  

 ‘Zoella’ (Zoe Sugg) has become a household name between millennials. Starting her youtube channel in 2009, she now has over 11 million subscribers with her most popular video reaching over 20 million views. She has a line of beauty products, collaborated with magazines, digital ambassador of Mind charity and released a book series of that goes under the title “Girl Online”. 

Granted, the reviews on Amazon mentioned the basic vocabulary and plot line, but that allows it to be an ‘easy read’, something that encourages many to read. Reflecting on my own teenage self, I couldn’t put down Louise Rennison’s Angus Thongs series. Each story brought me so much laughter and joy as I saw myself in the goofy teen who just wanted a boyfriend.  Zoe Sugg’s teen books are not a new concept. Easy reads for the younger generation have been around for years. For those who just want to sink into a book, someone else’s world but theirs, does it matter if the book is Girl Online or Girl on the Train? (Girl on the Train is fantastic by the way). 

I understand the importance of having a strong vocabulary but if Zoe can encourage young people, some who may have never read a book because they have been too busy watching her vlogs, it could be a good starting point. Her book series may very well be making the social media obsessed young generation, ‘logging off’ for a moment to pick up the book. The way she organises her videos and colour schemes are for her teenage followers. Followers who are interested in beauty, boys and buys. 

That is what the teenagers want to know. The amount of beauty, fashion blogs, vlog and the aesthetically pleasing instagrams continue to promote a very visual, virtual way of life. It isn't Zoe Sugg's fault. She is purely a product of it and using it to enhance her brand, just like brands have been doing for decades. 

She also is the face of a book club, in association with WHSmith, which could encourage readers. However, I would suggest that she could involve more thought provoking books within this collection, classics or more challenging. Though her own books and youtube content can be similar, her book recommendations could easily encourage a wider range, without swerving away from her 'sweet' brand. By doing this, Zoe Sugg could involve her followers in other matters that she hasn't discussed on her channel but in a more subtle way-if it is the fear of change that is causing her to stay with the same genre of content. 

Whether you agree she should be ambassador for mind and other charities or be paid 5000 a month, you cannot disagree that she knows exactly what she is doing. She released a book for them. A smart move since book sales have increased for the first time in 5 years And that’s the thing that I think critics are forgetting. It’s for her audience. Personally, I believe she could now be using her platform for another use (that’s for another post) but I admire her work ethic and sheer determination to continue her online legacy. 

Maybe it isn't that her "basic" books are stopping people from reading more hard going reads. Maybe it's the result of the digital era that we are submersed in. We are so connected to online that praises marble flatlays, instagrammable coffees and who's dating who, that interests are being limited. 

While her books may not be Le Carrรจ, she is moving those watchers to readers. How many times have you switched the laptop off or put the phone down and replace with a book?