Tumblr Turns To Ads … Kinda

Tumblr is another of the latest social media darlings and for good reason. There are more than 50 million users of Tumblr which is a pretty big number. Consider that Instagram claimed 30 million users and had Facebook open up its wallet to the tune of $1 billion (well apparently at least Mark Zuckerberg without his board decided it was a good move).

But back to Tumblr. In true Internet sensation fashion Tumblr is looking for ways to turn their neat free service into something that makes money to support itself. It has shunned the idea advertising for a while. Business Insider notes

In a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tumblr CEO and founder David Karp said, “We’re pretty opposed to advertising. It really turns our stomachs.”

Then in fine Business Insider fashion they oversenationalize a statement (are they sure they are not owned by the Drudge Report?) by saying

How times have changed. Karp announced at Ad Age’s Digital Conference that on May 2, Tumblr will start offering advertisers the ability to buy an ad unit on Tumblr Radar, which highlights the site’s top posts and gets approximately 120,000,000 impressions a day.

“I was probably being an idiot then,” Karp said of his earlier renunciation of all advertising. His conversion is relatively recent—on April 12 he told Ad Age that advertising was “a complete last resort.”

Not that I want this to be a referendum on Business Insider’s coverage but Karp’s comment about advertising being a last resort comes from an Ad Age interview with him where he ACTUALLY said

Our attitude toward all this attention on Tumblr, which we could very easily throw a Google Adsense on and be profitable tomorrow — that’s so far down the list, I mean, we’re selling our desks to avoid that, it’s a complete last resort.

Of course AdSense would be a last resort for a site like Tumblr. Advertising in some form, however, is not and yesterday they revealed plans to helps brands use Tumblr Radar’s success to “advertise” starting May 2.

To get a more accurate (read less sensational) version of what was announced at the Ad Age Digital Conference yesterday let’s turn to GigaOm.

Tumblr is finally ready to start opening the doors to brands. It will begin with a new tool for placing branded Tumblr posts into its Radar feature starting May 2, said Tumblr founder David Karp, speaking at the Ad Age Digital Conference Wednesday. The details are still being worked out but Tumblr will allow brands to buy a presence on the site through Radar, a feature on the Tumblr dashboard which highlights editorially selected posts.

This whole process seems a little cryptic in that we are about 2 weeks away from the product being offered and the details are still being hashed out. I guess if you don’t have to have revenue to be successful these days you don’t need a solid plan to announce things either. Is that a good way to do things? In the Internet world, apparently so.

Maybe the new term for not being clear about exactly what it is that you are doing can be called being Karp-tic? Karp continued giving precious little detail about this step into business maturity.

“I don’t know that this will be the primary (revenue generator for Tumblr) but we expect it to be a big part of the business going forward,” Karp said.

And the GigaOm post continued to create more questions than answers

Tumblr still has a lot of questions to answer about its revenue strategy. It’s unclear how easily advertisers will be able to place their posts on Radar and how much they will need to spend.

In the end the story is that the more popular a social outlet becomes it has to ultimately succumb to the need to generate revenue. When sites like Tumblr hit these big numbers then shuffle their feet and get all “Aw shucks, guys, I don’t know about this revenue thing……” it simply means they never planned to have to truly deal with it from the start. No wonder there is talk of bubbles since this way of “running” a business is the norm.

How do you feel about the potential commercialization of Tumblr? Will they be able to pull this off and still maintain the creative integrity they seem to stand on?