What Happens when you try to make an author out of a social media socialite?

Can celebrities famous for their lives online successfully transition over to the print industry?

Over the past fifteen years there has been a huge shift in what it means to be a celebrity; rather than being known for their craft, career or talent, a select few have been celebrated for their lavish lifestyles. Even more recently, many of them have chosen to write a book. But how does one successfully transition over to the print industry when you’re only known for your extremely active social media accounts?

In the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of discussion on what will happen to the book industry as digital starts to take over. But surely, it’s also important to see how those who have their career online make the transition over to print. Two examples of this are Zoella and Kim Kardashian, both extremely successful within in the bounds of their respective target audiences, released books within six months of each other, Girl Online (November 2014) and SELFISH (May 2015). Despite having the same job, in regards to their brand and product, they both took extremely different routes. Zoella rebranded herself as an author and wrote a fiction novel and Kim Kardashian put her brand into a photobook. These decisions undeniably affected the response they received from their target market and critics.

A Girl who started Online

Known almost exclusively by her online name, Zoella, Zoe Sugg has spent the last seven years cultivating an online brand empire. She has successful maintained long term partnerships with some of the biggest businesses on the British high street, such as Superdrug and WHSmith. In 2014 her brand grew expediently with the release of her debut fiction novel, Girl Online.

 

In the first week of its publication, The Bookseller announced Sugg had successfully “sold 78,109 copies….– more than JK Rowling, Dan Brown or EL James achieved with their first books”. One of the most prominent reasons behind these incredible figures is Suggs dedicated fan base of around 35.1 million across all her online platforms. But how did she manage to transfer the majority her online viewers to read a physical book? To answer this, you must ask: who will be buying the book? The parents. In a world where it’s becoming progressively harder to control what the young and impressionable look at, parents want to know that, if their child is going to be on be online, that they have a role model who will influence them in a positive way. This is exactly what the Zoella brand achieves and most distinctively so in her novel which preaches the importance of online safety.

Zoella Girl Online book signing at Waterstones Bluewater, Britain - 26 Nov 2014
©Glamour Magazine

Ever since the start of her career, Sugg has successfully created a persona (also known as her brand) that is uncanny to the everyday young teenager. Her channel is fixated on subjects and interests of a young girl growing up. She has triumphantly retained the same character that she had nine years ago, despite coming up to her late twenties. This causes her viewers to have a stronger connection between who they think she is and they also feel like they are growing up with her. With such a strong connection, it meant that Penguin could almost guarantee a strong reception to her book, despite nearly all her of her previous brand deals being executed exclusively online.

When entering an industry such as book publishing it’s crucial you build a positive reputation of yourself. But there is one aspect of her novel that caused Zoella to potentially lose the respect of her industry peers and more importantly, potential customers, and this was by hiring a ghost-writer.

When Sugg labeled herself as an author rather than a Youtuber writing a memoir, it suggested she wanted to branch out from her online presence. Yet expanding her audience is something that the Zoella brand may have been unsuccessful in. For an online brand, it is one thing to maintain the trust between the product and a regular customer but a whole different challenge to create a new relationship with a potential customer. When Girl Online was published, critics speculated whether she had hired a ghost writer. It was in December of that same year that a representative from Penguin announced “to be…accurate…Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own.” (Flood, Hannah 2014). It was from then on, that Sugg received a huge amount of criticism from websites such as the Independent. Reporters theorised the damage it would cause her brand which was built on being an honest and hardworking individual. It may also be the reason on why she hasn’t attempted to write a novel different from series she’s already created. Instead she’s only focused on developing the Girl Online Franchise.

It’s hard to criticise such an immensely triumphant franchise and whilst she did successfully integrate having a life online into a fiction novel, Zoella is proof that if you are going to try and stray from being a known only online and transverse to one of the most prestigious industries you must be honest with your audience. Stay clear of branding yourself as something that you fundamentally are not.

A SELFISH business venture

Unlike Zoe Sugg, Kim Kardashian West did the complete opposite. Instead of rebranding herself into an author she put her brand into a book. Published by the self-declared “most beautiful book shop in New York” Rizzoli, SELFISH is a 448-page book, which is literally filled with hundreds of seen and unseen ‘selfies’.

selfish_cover-updated-w-sticker.jpg
Copyright: Rizzoli

The Kardashian brand have a reputation for making items that have huge demand with limited availability (as can be seen in the Kylie lipstick range), by doing this they ride on the prospect that their products becomes more prestigious, one for the elitist. So, ideally if you combined a book, an authoritative and respected commodity, with a brand, known for producing desirable items, surely it would sell out almost immediately. This could have been one of the arguments behind Kardashian West’s concept. Her regular customer is most likely not interest in reading a book, yet there was a clear attempt to get past this. Her brand also doesn’t run on customer trust unlike Zoella. Kardashian West’s image is about decadence, luxury and self-exposure, so how do you guarantee physical sales? By marketing her product as a coffee table book and doing a pre-release, the photobook had to potential to gain recognition from those who don’t follow her online whilst still catering for her current fans. As stated by MENDO a coffee table book is a beautiful item which has the ability to pull in all different types of people, “from business men to art students”.

 

Unfortunately, what could have been an extremely successful concept, in reality, did not come through. In April of 2015 Kardashian West had a limited-edition presale comprising of 500 signed copies of her upcoming book. Despite the hefty price tag of $60 the customer response from this looked extremely positive with a sell out in less than a minute. Although, after this, sales dropped and only achieved 32,000 in first three weeks, a tiny number in comparison to what Sugg had achieved six months prior. Considering Kardashian West’s following is nearly five times (165.5 million) larger than Sugg’s, her book’s failure was extremely surprising. One would have assumed, with such a large audience, her book would be an instant success.

Kim’s attempt at making an autobiography through pictures, whilst seems like a perfect concept for a lifestyle socialite, lacks anything intriguing. Most importantly, why would her fans pay $10 for content they’ve already seen for free and this is what the sales figures seem to reflect. This may be the crucial reason behind the books hesitant beginning, Kim Kardashian West’s life is already plastered all over the internet. Any promoting that she would have attempted to do, such as her infamous ‘when you have nothing to wear’ naked selfie, most likely blended into the rest of her social presence.

kimk©Instagram: Kim Kardashian West

SELFISH is arguably the opposite to what can be learned from Zoella’s novel. It shows us that if you are a socialite famous, for being famous, you must work extremely hard to distinguish your celebrity memoir from what your fans already know about you. Because she didn’t re-brand her as an author customers lacked interest. As previously argued by her critics why would fans pay out $10 for something they’ve already seen for free. A problem we’ve seen widespread across the internet with multiple industries.

The Aftermath

Despite the ghost writing controversy, she encountered along the way, Zoe Sugg has continued to promote her sequels, Girl Online: On Tour, which have gone on to be extremely successful. Kim Kardashian remastered her book (October 2016) but is not promoting nearly as much, rather she focusing on her other business ventures. Possibly reflecting her personal views on the success of her book.

SELFISH and Girl Online both beg the question is it possible to create a successful book off of just your social media presence and lifestyle brand. Both Sugg and Kardashian West are extremely affluent from a result of what they’ve achieved digitally. Yet by looking at the response they received, in either criticism or sales, it’s crucial to know that if you do make the move from digital to print you must prove that what you have to offer is worth its weight in gold. It must have substance to survive the print industry and be profitable, and this is what Zoe Sugg got right in her transition. Books demand respect, time and deep consideration, they are not just a regular brand deal.

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Feature Image: © (ANTHONY DELMUNDO/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
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