The Tumblr community often defines itself as the Wild West of the Internet, and it’s not wrong. A text message with over 70,000 notes says it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social networking site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their publications, for them it is a totally anarchic wasteland.
But like any social media business, Tumblr needs to stay afloat to keep its users sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shit posts, and overly personal diary entries hidden under a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced limited beta testing of its Post + subscription feature, which – if all goes according to plan – will eventually allow Tumblr users to post paid content for subscribers who pay them $ 3.99, 5 , $ 99 or $ 9.99 per month.
Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way – Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week YouTube also announced a tip feature. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter Super Follows that would allow users to create “exclusive stories”. But on a website with a community that prides itself on being a “completely lawless wasteland” to anyone with a platform (except for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are just buzzing), the passage to paid content was not greeted with open arms. .
Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s okay for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their more enthusiastic followers can access paid content or send them tips. So Post + seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue – instead of directing subscribers to other websites, they could create a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a discount. by 5%. That’s not unreasonable, given that Twitter will take 3% of revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch will take 30% and 50% respectively. But Tumblr is not Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr does not allow you to see the number of subscribers of other people and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell if the person behind a popular post has 100 or 100,000 subscribers, and users prefer it that way. But Post + changes that by giving bloggers an icon next to their username that looks like a blue Twitter check.
Tumblr rolled out Post + this week to a select group of handpicked creators, including Kaijuno, writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post + on a new product-specific blog, rather than its established personal blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user to be granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of backlash from angry Tumblrites who did not want to see their favorite social media site transformed. in a hyper-capitalist hell. When Kaijuno received death threats for testing the beta of Post +, Tumblr staff stepped in and condemned the harassment against Post + users.
“We want to know what you like, what you like and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it, ”Tumblr wrote on her personal blog. “What we will never accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have been undergoing since this afternoon. […] all they do is test a feature.
Before posting their post, a Tumblr staff rep reached out to Kaijuno directly to verify them regarding the backlash, but there’s not much there is to Tumblr after a user has been threatened for using their product.
“I felt like the sacrificial lamb because they didn’t advertise Post + ahead of time and only gave it to a few people, which put me in the crosshairs of a base of ‘Users very pissed off when I’m just trying to pay medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,’ Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there would be backlash because people hate any changes to Tumblr, but I figured most of the backlash would be staff and beta testers would be largely spared.”
Why do Tumblr users see monetization as such a threat? It’s not about whether or not it’s worth supporting creators, but rather whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Several long-time passionate Tumblr users who spoke to TechCrunch referred to an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were hacked by spam bots who posted incessant ads for a Ray summer sale. -Ban.
“Tumblr is not the best coded website. It’s easy to break features, ”Kaijuno added. “I think anything that involves trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have had a backlash.”
Tumblr users are also worried about the privacy implications Post + might have – in the limited beta, Post + users only have the option to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact support. Tumblr. If harassed by a subscriber, it could leave a vulnerable blogger in a potentially dangerous situation.
“Ahead of our launch to all US-based creators this fall, Post + will allow creators to directly block subscribers,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Yet the extremely online Gen Z members who now make up 48% of Tumblr know they can’t expect the platform to continue to exist if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay. its staff and server costs. In 2018, Tumblr lost nearly a third of its monthly pageviews after all NSFW content was banned – since then the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.
A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post + started out as a Tip Jar. But Tumblr superiors – who don’t work directly with the community – redirected the project to create a paid subscription product.
“I think a Tip Jar would be a huge improvement,” said the creator of the Normal-Horoscopes Tumblr blog. Thanks to the primary audience they’ve developed on Tumblr, they make a living through Patreon, but they don’t find Post + compelling for their business. “External servicesI have more options, more benefits, better prices, and as a creator I can choose how I present them to my audience.
But a paid subscription service is different in Tumblr’s eyes. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators who do fan art and fan fiction fear that placing this derivative work behind a paid wall – which Post + encourages them to do – will cause them legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.
“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are typically there to make money first and deliver content second,” Normal-Horoscopes said. “It changes the culture of a platform.”
On Tumblr, dissatisfied users are mobilizing to have their subscribers respond to the Post + survey to express their frustrations. The staff are delighted.
“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion of how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. . “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s okay. Constructive reviews fuel the way we create products and ultimately make Tumblr a better place. “
Tumblr’s voice community has been empowered over the years to question whether it is possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protection that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site – despite their lack of trust in the staff – sets it apart from social media behemoths like Facebook, which can bring e-commerce to the forefront without much control. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems difficult for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people who make the social network unique.
Platforms like Reddit and Discord have stayed afloat selling digital products, like coins to reward top posters or special emojis. Every business’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post + highlights the company’s lack of insight into the wishes of its own community.