What’s it all about Alfie? New media entrepreneurs



It might be a beanie to you, but it’s also big business for a new media empire

It’s a conundrum. We live in a world where we have never been better connected. Friends on Facebook, Followers on Twitter, Connections on LinkedIn – and they are only the social networking sites I use.

The sites my children are on remain a mystery to me. My daughter has un-friended me from Facebook, a sure sign of the onset of teenage years, and she won’t let me have her Twitter name so I can follow her.

She is not afraid, however, to taunt me about the miserably low number of followers I have compared with her. She is sitting on four figures, while I am a miserable three. To be honest, I am happy not to have endless tweets about One Direction.

Today we must count our wealth in Twitter Followers rather than cash. That was brought home to me yesterday when I parted with £20 to buy a book and a hat.

The book was by the video blogger (vlogger is the technical term I think) Zoella Sugg (knocked down to a fiver on Amazon). The limited edition beanie was courtesy of her partner in crime Alfie Deyes. It was a mere £12-odd plus postage and packing.

I was forced to enter my credit card details when her savings account card was rejected by Alfie’s online shop. “I’ll pay you back,” one of the great lies of the 21st century.

In just 19 words, I couldn’t be bothered to count the characters, Aflie announced to his Twitter followers: “I’m so excited to announce my new piece of limited edition merchandise! Go grab one before they’re all gone”.

Alfie (2.08 million followers) was so excited, he couldn’t be bothered to insert an apostrophe between the I and the M – but I suppose we got the point, and don’t start me on apostrophes.

The trigger phrase was “limited edition”.

It had to be bought, and it had to be bought then. This was not a considered purchase.

Note, it’s not a valuable limited edition of 10, like a fine art print; or a limited edition of 100 like a beautifully hand-bound book; or indeed a measly thousand, like the reproduction plates you see sometimes in Sunday supplements.

You can be pretty sure that there are tens of thousands of limited edition beanies – each bearing the legend “Sorry about my hair” (apostrophe’s do not apply). Quite how the word limited applies is anyone’s guess.

Anyway, enough of Alfie’s followers were persuaded to part with hard cash to ensure the hat (made of 100 per cent soft and chunky acrylic) sold out in less than 24 hours.

Zoella’s ghost-written first novel, Girl Online, (you won’t see it listed for the Costas) had the highest first-week sales ever recorded for a debut novel. Now that’s a feat when better first books don’t even shift a couple of hundred.

This edition – full price £12.99 – is the second copy to come into our household. The first bought (you’ve got it) on the day it was released was lost somewhere between County Armagh and Stirlingshire.

It would be easy to knock Alfie and Zoella. But what we have here are new age entrepreneurs who are exploiting a new technology to build lucrative media businesses.

But interestingly, they are not just focused on new media. These businesses exploit the traditional too.

Zoella’s book could just as easily been printed on one of Caxton’s presses – though heaven only knows what they would have made of it in the middle ages. As for Alfie’s hat: grannies have been knitting beanies since the day needles and yarn were invented.

Quite how this pair will be able to reinvent themselves as they grow older is anyone’s guess.

But if they play their cards right, their audience will grow old with them, and with clever branding and merchandising they have the capacity to establish new media empires with enough forward momentum to challenge existing strong brands.

They also represent the maturing of the web – as the focus moves from the platforms which deliver content, to bespoke content itself. How long before Zoella and Alfie are floated on the stock market? And how long before they jump headlong into the Sunday Times Rich list?

Where there are customers, there’s money to be made. And for all their street cred, Alfie and Zoella know that only too well.