Tumblr, the New York-based tech company slinging a “hipster blogging” and social networking platform headed up by race-relations expert and digital wunderkind David Karp, has “leaked” what’s presumably the first of two efforts to monetize their platform with enhanced features. It looks to be — strangely enough — custom themes.
On Tumblr, the ability to design your own blog is made fairly simple, and the “themes” — or template designs — built for it by various designers are more or less available for free right now. When Tumblr first started building a user base, a few people tried making money by doing personally customized themes for various clients, but it proved both too expensive and not important enough to attract a sizable customer base willing to pay for the time it took to assemble one, or the absurd price some people were charging for it.
Earlier today, Tumblr’s iPhone developer Jeff Rock posted a screenshot on his blog with the caption See? Social networks can make money. It linked to a marketplace page on Tumblr, for Tumblr staffer Peter Vidani, who’s now selling a custom-built theme for users to purchase. The theme is selling for $9, and currently appears to be the only one for sale. There’s a button to “install” the theme and a pop-up flash window to purchase it with over an apparently secure credit card transaction.
Custom themes have long been a vital part of Tumblr’s culture. Vidani and Tumblr designer Jacob Bijani were essentially hired at the company after founder David Karp and lead developer Marco Arment saw their work on the platform. The question remains to be seen as to whether or not this is actually going to bring Tumblr any kind of substantial revenue.
Other themes appear to remain free of charge, and Tumblr’s not about to scale back the ability for users to accessorize their blogs with free themes (unless they want to be read the riot act by their user base). And for a theme to stand out as “worth” purchasing, it’s going to have to utilize some kind of design ability only available to Tumblr staffers, or at the very least, something pretty spectacular that anybody could, theoretically, do. Also: What’s to stop people from simply copy-pasting the theme’s codes from friends who purchased it into their own blogs?
As for what the second feature they’re going to monetize with is, it remains to be seen (or hinted at by the company). A few people have guessed an “internal analytics” system, but again: something users could get for free using Google. So: Is Tumblr’s “monetization” a serious plan to sell things people could otherwise obtain for free? Or are they just “monetizing” for fun, without serious ambition of bringing a dedicated and substantial revenue stream into the company?