There’s been a lot of talk about how Twitter missed an opportunity by focusing on becoming a media company, more than a platform. The idea being, there was a huge opportunity for Twitter to make money selling access to data, or an expanded API, or tools for corporations, then there is for eyeball rentals.
Tumblr has been getting many of the same comments. The relatively small radar box, which has transitioned from being solely a place to feature popular content in the community, to being sometimes occupied by brand posts that have been paid to feature, has gotten some backlash from people who either feel this is a waste of opportunity, or that the ad unit has damaged their experience. I’m not going to touch on that today, because the negative impact of ads is a totally subjective concept.
But the other moves that Tumblr has made, from selling themes and sharing profits with designers, to the pay per use highlight feature, to the pinned posts feature, all lead in one direction: Tumblr seems intent to create paid tools for publishers, that help them engage and build their audience. Publishers can be brands, but they can also be individuals - the pricing scheme is the same for both, and I’ve seen users pay for these tools happily, $1, or $5 at a time.
This gets me thinking about future options:
Single Post Analytics: rather than offering a paid analytics suite that is priced out of the range of most users, Tumblr could consider letting users to pay $5 or $10 to have ongoing tracking of a single post, to significant detail. Even basic google analytics functionality, but for views within the dashboard, would be well worth it for any post directly related to a campaign, or any piece of content that was part of testing a new initiative, or featured a new product. Individual users would likely also pay for this when they were posting something that really mattered to them (like a link to a kick-starter campaign, for example). The other benefit is, since analytics wouldn’t be constant, most users would be unlikely to have this data change everything about the way they post.
Explore / Tag Promotion: this trends closer to traditional advertising, but with a little oversight, could make a valuable product for publishers, and a valuable tool for readers. Tumblr’s Explore and Tracked tags functions are key sources of information and inspiration for me. The list of popular tags ranges across interests and industries, and is curated by a group of volunteer editors, as near as I can tell. If tumblr was willing to let users and brands 1) pay $10 to get featured under an appropriate tag, and 2) pay $20 to pin posts within tags (similar to the pinned posts function), this would solve two major problems on the platform - how to build an audience, and how to convince brands that they have to generate meaningful content that has an appeal outside of the brand association.
Undoubtedly, this would piss some people off. But, if both were applied carefully, I would assume they are things that every brand who takes the platform seriously would pay for, and that many of the artists and creators that consider the platform a means of expression would pay for as well.
From my vantage point, Tumblr’s monetization strategy is to create paid tools that reward publishers. ALL publishers. Creating a brand-centric analytics package (similar to what some Twitter ad purchases make available) has the unintended side effect of making the users, who created the value of the community, second class citizens. The two suggestions above are both things that could make an equal playing field, assuming they are priced in such a way that the average person could use them once in a while.