When I set out to make a filmmaking blog over three years ago, I had an important choice to make - what platform would host it? In the years before I actually had a successful blog on MySpace (whoa) and I quite liked that I didn’t have the burden of ads on that site. At the time there was this little upstart called Tumblr, which had the ad-free ethos of MySpace, which has since disintegrated into the oblivion of ads and revenue streams after its acquisition by NewsCorp.
Tumblr had several things going for it. The first was an easy and intuitive interface, ‘tumbling’ if you were, that allowed for quick and easy access to a variety of topics and individuals that you curated on your own - you really didn’t have to search for things that interested you, they just sort of arrived on your doorstep. That was a completely new way of thinking, of processing information, and I liked the idea of being a part of that. The reach for any given piece of information was multiplied tenfold.
The second was Tumblr’s eschewing of ads. There would be no annoying banners, pop-ups, etc. - unless you wanted them, and that would remain your choice. That’s empowering in terms of your content and the overall personality of your blog. A quick kerfuffle with Google Ads and I was forever divorced from the idea of ad revenue, because the minute we are bound to ads, we are subject to regulation and filters of taste. For those who don’t want to read the post I linked to above, Google accused me of posting ‘lewd or provocative images’ and being a ‘sexual fetish site.’ Uh, okay. So I torpedoed my tiny ad and donated the revenue to Doctors Without Borders, which apparently was also against the rules.
I didn’t want restrictions of what I could and could not post on this blog. Film and art is about expression, about tacking difficult subjects, and to have an ad company dictate what you can and cannot post is ridiculous. Tumblr allows me to post what I want. If I want to post this, I can:
Or in the same breath I can post this, to simply make an important point:
Tumblr always allows adult content, and ‘adult’ content is not limited to pornography, as the geniuses at Google Ads would like to boil it down to. ‘Adult content’ is also challenging topics like body image, sexuality, freedom of expression, depression, anxiety, death, infidelity, violence, doubt and self-worth amongst many others. If we place limits on one, we no doubt infringe upon the others, as it is all inextricably tied into one another. I think Tumblr fundamentally understands this, and is one of the few major online entities that does.
It was for these two reasons that I chose Tumblr as my blogging platform of choice, and I’ve been loyal ever since, and the fans of this blog have been loyal to it in return. We have a relationship that is outside of revenue creation, which is something that business-folk don’t seem to really understand. When the Lilith blog really started catching on a few years ago and surpassed 40k followers, I was asked why I wasn’t running ads or why I wasn’t making the switch to a more profitable platform that could generate money for me. I responded with the aforementioned two reasons, and made the point that my Tumblr blog does generate revenue for me, but in the form of patrons of my work, of people who buy my films and help spread the word of my work on my behalf. It’s a mutual exchange, one that does not involve the direct exchange of money. But it is profitable - not for the blog, but for everything that the blog supports.
It’s a concept that I fear will fall upon deaf ears at Yahoo, which if you haven’t heard by now, has acquired Tumblr for a paltry $1.1 billion in cash. IN CASH. I don’t fault Tumblr for this move - it’s their god-given right to make money, and would you turn down $1.1 billion? You’d be a fool if you did. So bravo, David Karp. You did the right thing.
But the onus (anus? - god bless you, Tumblr) is now upon Marissa Mayer and the Yahoo staff to really see Tumblr for what it is, which is an aggregator of people and ideas. The billion dollar question with social media has always been how do we monetize it, how a social media company can make a profit. And here’s my assertion, which is that a social media company is not supposed to make a profit. It’s job is simply an extension of marketing, a driver of revenue, and not a source of it.
Oh this is just too easy.
Given that Yahoo has paid such a pretty penny for Tumblr, their board and investors will want to see revenue - after all, the goal of any business is to maximize shareholder wealth. But Yahoo has to see Tumblr as wealth in a different sort, as a source of social revenue, and not as a potential goldmine for ads. By going the route of ad revenue, the company will put the burden of revenue upon its audience, which will alienate the audience and ultimately be counterproductive to what Tumblr is even about.
I know, I know. I feel the same way.
In a perfect world, Yahoo should see Tumblr as a gateway of access, and profitability must be measured in tertiary purchases and traffic, and not in revenue derived from ad placement. It’s job is not to make money, its job is to expose new things to the world - it is an ad in and of itself. Yahoo just purchased a $1.1 billion dollar ad, one that is constantly evolving and is honest and unfiltered. I’m hoping they see the value in that, and not as just another Flickr, or just as another popular website that is populated with a desirable demographic. Having gone through business school, the possibility of the latter is unfortunately very high.
In this regard, Yahoo paid way too much for Tumblr, but I’m happy for Mr. Karp and Co. for their big payday. They earned it. He will likely be retained as CEO but for the first time in his life, he will now have a boss, and his autonomy, no matter how it’s phrased to preserve it otherwise, is forever gone. This is the bed he’s made, and I’m curious as to how it will all play out. The questions of this move loom - will my work on this blog be plied with ads against my choice? Are my efforts now simply to make Yahoo money, and my benefit is simply the right to exist? In the future will it cost us money to share media deemed unsuitable by some vague board who want to keep their sponsors happy?
Sharing is fun.
This is definitely a case of Big Brother is watching, and the ball is in Yahoo’s court. Time for them to make the right decisions - the future of this blog, Stoya’s blog, and countless other creative and important blogs depends upon it. It’s a pretty big deal.
Tumblr - where cats and artists can peacefully coexist and be themselves.