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New YouTube store is a big step – but is it in the right direction?

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Last week YouTube opened its first physical store in King’s Cross, London.

Over the years YouTube has grown exponentially, with some creators on the website reaching global celebrity status. One of the ways they are able to build a career in such a precarious industry is to sell merchandise related to them and their channels.

It is unsurprising therefore, that YouTube has created a centralised space for this merchandise in a way that finally infiltrates “irl”.

This is certainly useful for regular YouTube fans. Those who watch multiple YouTubers can benefit from having all the merchandise in one place, and being able to properly look at, feel, and compare what they’re buying. They may also find something they like from a YouTuber they don’t watch, which grows the business of the website in general.

Unfortunately this is still a little optimistic at this point, as the shop is surprisingly small. I predict that they will expand, and that they’re just playing it safe to start, or perhaps are experiencing licensing issues with the multiple individual creators from across the world.

That said, there was considerable hype around the store on its opening day, with free prosecco and cake drawing a fair number of people.

It was a nice space to be in – fairly colourful but modern and sleek, and it matches the aesthetic of the YouTube creator space. The staff were friendly and enthusiastic and facilities like the free photo booth all made it a fun place. This will work well when the store starts hosting events such as book signings, and having a single space for these will likely be practical for creators and fans alike.

Likewise, the store is not just a smart business choice for fans, but will benefit creators. The most obvious way is that it provides another source of economic support. I don’t know exactly how the system works, but it is likely that having merchandise in the store takes away some of the stress of business management for the creators whilst still earning them money. Having a physical space and making a clearly business-focused move also works to legitimise the business of being a YouTube Creator, something which still challenges many.

However, though all of this is undeniably positive for the creators, currently it is only benefitting those already at the top. The store mostly features those of the “Gleam Team”, a group of some of the most famous YouTubers who are part of the Gleam network, including Zoe Sugg, Alfie Deyes, Caspar Lee and so on. Those featured from outside Gleam are also international superstars, such as Dan and Phil and Pewdiepie.

These are the creators that already have millions of subscribers, and are notorious for their pay-checks that likewise go into the millions. In terms of the store providing monetary support, these creators don’t need it, and it is failing the smaller creators who are struggling to afford doing YouTube full time. There is no trickle down in YouTube; if the big YouTubers get bigger, it just makes it harder for smaller YouTubers to infiltrate and get featured on the site.

Another problem with the featured creators is that they were all white, able-bodied and mostly straight. Given that YouTube prides itself in giving anybody a platform, this lack of diversity is very disappointing. It does play into the wider problem of YouTube’s lack of diversity; for example the Stand Up To Cancer campaign was widely criticised for the featured creators all being white. By only selling products of a poignantly small selection of the top creators, the store is quite literally funding these problems.

Diversity isn’t the only moral problem with the store. The increasing commercialisation and “selling out” is a topic widely discussed within the community. One of the biggest concerns is the youth of many of the viewers who will be buying these products. Many feel that it is wrong to exploit the fanaticisms of these young, impressionable people.

This is especially the case with some of the products I looked at in the store, which were quite appalling in terms of them bearing little resemblance to the creator, their content, or even being their own work. Furthermore, the relationship between creator and viewer is often billed as a friendship, with many strongly rejecting the word “fan”. Therefore, the opening of the store brings into question their integrity, as it directly encourages the commercialisation of this “friendship”.

The morality of the commercialism of YouTube is an extremely complex one, but the business is simple. The store is an opportunity for creators and YouTube itself to earn more money, which in turn can see it grow and move onto greater things. Only time will tell whether they will improve the diversity and small creator support, or indeed whether having a physical realisation of an online world will draw enough traffic to be successful.

As my friend and YouTuber Dani Surname eloquently summarised, YouTube currently feels “like 1920’s Hollywood; there’s a lot of problems and a lot of scandals but it’s still exciting and whirlwind - and I want to know where it’s going.”

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