Zoella, YouTube, and the £50 advent calendar

Keeping count: Zoella has 12 million subscribers and reportedly earns £50,000 per month.

Is the UK’s biggest YouTuber exploiting her fans? She has faced heavy criticism over the price of an advent calendar which parents called “tat”. Some say it is part of a much deeper problem.

On the 12 days of Christmas, Zoella gave to me… one ceramic bauble, two cookie cutters, one pen and notepad, a 130g candle, a fluffy keyring, a 30ml orange-scented room spray, one candle holder, and a bag of confetti.

These are the contents of the YouTube star’s “All You Need is Xmas” advent calendar. A fellow YouTuber found equivalents of the contents on Amazon for £21.57. Poundland offered them for £13.

The pricetag of Zoella’s calendar? A whopping £50 in Boots, which led angry buyers to leave a series of one star reviews. “Do not Buy! What a load of tat,” read one. “Definitely not worth the money,” said another.

In response, yesterday Boots slashed the price to £25. And on Tuesday night, Zoella (Zoe Sugg) uploaded a vlog arguing that prices are not up to her. “I’m all about the creativity,” she said. “The price of any product is up to a retailer… It’s quite obvious that the decision was the wrong decision.”

It is true that the shop which sells a product is the only one which can set its final price. But Boots says that it sells products at their recommended retail price (RRP), which is set by the manufacturer or supplier. The calendar, branded with Zoella’s name, is produced by ZS Lifestyle Ltd, one of four companies of which she is the sole director.

She has apologised to those who feel “let down” by the calendar, and for a series of nasty tweets which were unearthed from several years ago. Meanwhile her fans have defended her against the backlash.

It is not the first time that she has been accused of letting down or misleading her audience. In 2014 she was criticised for using a ghostwriter for her trilogy, Girl Online.

Last month, parents complained after spending over £100 to attend HelloWorld, an “immersive” live show where fans were told they could meet YouTubers. Instead, many said they queued for hours without meeting anybody.

Vlogging around the Christmas tree

Some say that the latest scandal is part of a much bigger problem on YouTube. Vlogger Jaack Maate argues that many of his most popular peers are “exploiting” their young fans by selling them (or their parents) expensive, poor-quality merchandise. This is dishonest and unfair. “We need to stop idolising these YouTubers,” he said recently. “We’re not just viewers any more. We are customers.”

Leave Zoella alone, argue others. It is hardly unusual for a businesswoman to want to make money. And it is not “exploitation” to create products and sell them to a loyal audience; in the end, it is the customer’s decision whether something is worth the price it is sold for. As the blogger Emma Gannon put it: “If she was a guy in a blazer, instead of a young woman online, no one would say anything.”

You Decide

  1. Are you a fan of Zoella?
  2. Do YouTube celebrities exploit their audiences?

Activities

  1. What is the meaning of “exploitation”? Without looking it up online or in a dictionary, write your own definition. Then discuss with a partner: is it fair to accuse Zoella of exploiting people?
  2. In groups, set up your own (fictional) manufacturing business. Design an advent calendar, deciding which items should go behind each door. Work out how much it would cost to make, and then decide on a recommended retail price. Take it in turns presenting your ideas to the class.

Some People Say...

“I'm sure if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be doing classic guitar solos on YouTube.”

Peter Capaldi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Zoe has said she spent around a year designing and testing the calendar, along with other products in her Christmas range. However, once the creative process is over, she does not get involved with financial decisions. Although we do not know exactly how much she earns from her YouTube channel, sponsorship deals and merchandise, she is certainly very wealthy. She and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes bought a home worth £1.7 million in 2014.
What do we not know?
Who decided the calendar’s RRP, how much it cost to make, or whether Zoella is telling the truth about her involvement in those decisions. We also do not know whether the scandal will affect her brand overall. Although many fans remain loyal, the parents of her youngest viewers may have been put off buying her products.

Word Watch

YouTube
The video platform was founded in 2005. It now has over one billion users and 100 hours of video is uploaded each minute.
Retailer
A company that sells products directly to customers.
Manufacturer
A company that makes products to sell. Sometimes those products will be designed in-house, and sometimes there will be a separate design company.
Supplier
A company that provides goods or services to others. This could include manufacturing (making things) or distribution (getting the products where they need to be).
Four companies
ZS Beauty Ltd deals with Zoella’s make-up and beauty products. This and ZS Lifestyle are officially listed as wholesalers, meaning they sell products in bulk to retailers. Zoella is also the sole director of Pippin Productions Ltd and Zoe Sugg Ltd.
Tweets
After the calendar scandal, some posted screenshots of old tweets in which Zoella mocked overweight and LGBT people on television. She has now deleted them.
Ghostwriter
Zoella said that the books’ stories and characters were her own invention, but admitted that author Siobhan Curham helped her write it.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.