In Review

Break the Internet: exploring the ‘bizarre and chaotic’ world of influencing

Olivia Yallop argues that we should take the influencer phenomenon seriously

Influencers, it’s fair to say, don’t enjoy a good press, said Elle Hunt in New Scientist. Since the word took on a new meaning in the mid-2010s – standing for those paid by brands to endorse their products online – it has been “tied to an image of a young woman hawking dubious diet teas to boost her currency on social media”.

Yet in this rigorous and authoritative book, Olivia Yallop argues that we should take the phenomenon seriously. For a start, influencing is big business: it is worth at least $10bn per year globally. For another, its emergence connects to broader changes in the realms of advertising, work and online culture.

Yallop, a digital strategist, is an ideal guide to this “bizarre and chaotic” world, said Eleanor Margolis in The Guardian. Many of her chapters are “gonzo dispatches” – from an “influencer bootcamp” she attends, or “a VIP influencer party with a ‘million follower’ policy”. Yet her book also considers broad themes such as “the commodification of the self, and the increasingly blurred line between leisure and work”.

Top influencers earn astonishing sums, said James Bloodworth in The Times. PewDiePie (above), a Swedish YouTuber best known for films of himself playing video games, pulls in around $8m a month. That’s modest compared with ten-year-old “kidfluencer” Ryan Kaji – the highest-paid YouTuber of 2020 – who raked in $29.5m from advertising and $200m from merchandise for his “unboxing videos”, or toy reviews.

But such cases, Yallop reminds us, are very rare: few online content creators become wealthy, and most are prey to the same problems – low pay and a lack of job security – that “immiserate others working in the creative industries”. Refreshingly free of the “usual sneering anti-influencer condescension”, Break the Internet is “persuasive and well-written”.

Scribe 288pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99

Break the Internet book cover
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To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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