Zoella and friends: the digital stars taking the book world by storm

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It may have caught your attention a few weeks ago that the kids on your nearby school run were sporting rather more fairy wings, hook hands and witch hats than usual.

The reason? World Book Day: that time when schools across the country are flooded with little Heidis and Grinches, Gruffalos and Wimpy Kids. This year there was even a rogue Christian Grey.

In the midst of this, one mummy blogger noticed what she felt was a worrying costume trend: her daughter’s friends were planning to mark the festival of literature by dressing up as YouTube megastar Zoella.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Zoella (real name Zoe Sugg)’s Girl Online sold almost 80,000 copies the week it was released back in November. Not only was this the best first week sales figures for any debut author, it was also the fastest selling book of the year. Zoella’s fans and subscribers were falling over one another to get their hands on her book –  a work of fiction she’s described as definitely “not autobiographical” (possibly because she didn’t write it herself). It’s no surprise a sequel is already in the works.

Zoella’s biggest supporters are tween and teen girls. SuperAwesome Insight and Innovation’s recent YouTube Tracker showed her completely dominating the Top 20 YouTubers among 8-18 year olds. This is all despite the fact that you could count the votes she got from boys in our panel on one hand.

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But it’s the book deal that’s really worth examining. When SuperAwesome quizzed its panel members in January about the book they most wanted which they didn’t already own, Girl Online came out top (see the word-cloud below). Blockbuster-spawning titles and tween favourites like The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent trailed behind. Demand for Zoella’s book was far from being satisfied. This was great news for Penguin Books, her publisher.

Girl Online was the most desired book for Tweens and Teens in January.

Girl Online was the most desired book for Tweens and Teens in January.

A month later, a new book emerged within our word cloud. Love, Tanya by Tanya Burr (below).

Burr, another British YouTube celebrity, released her ‘beauty guide and autobiography’ through Penguin at the end of January. At the very front of the 800-strong queue that lined up at her subsequent book signing were two 12-year-old girls. Buzzing with excitement, they’d travelled all the way from Leicester just to meet their online hero in the flesh.

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Zoella and Tanya demonstrate how much power YouTube is able to wield outside its own gates. Need to do some marketing? Just put out a blog. Even better: add a link to Amazon and wait for the clicks to roll in.

In many ways, YouTubers are the new soap stars for the ‘digital native’ generation. Teens and tweens make regular appointments-to-view with their favourite online characters, most of who have close personal connections with each other. Number 11 on the 2014 UK bestsellers list was The Pointless Book, authored by Zoella’s boyfriend Alfie Deyes and its recently released sequel now sits at number 7. Alfie’s YouTube Channel, PointlessBlog, has over 3 million subscribers. Jim Chapman, Tanya Burr’s fiancée, has a casual 2 million.

The YouTubers’ books are unlikely to become part of any literary canon. As we’ve seen, Girl Online was ghost written, and reviewers scorned The Pointless Book as “a rip-off Wreck This Journal”. However, once publishers harness the sheer power of the stars’ online devotees, they’ve pretty much guaranteed themselves a hit.

So, when World Book Day rolls around next year, and kids head into school for the big day, don’t be surprised if you end up seeing more Vloggers than Potters.

To find out more about SuperAwesome’s Insights and to get a sample copy of our YouTube tracker, get in touch at insights@superawesome.tv.

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