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Tumblr’s Post+ Program May Get the Site Taken Down

The new, widely-hated beta feature may cause the legal death of the entire site.

A woman (face not shown) works at a laptop.
Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

On July 21, 2021, the Tumblr staff announced a new program — Post+ — was entering beta testing. This sparked huge amounts of vitriol and anger from the regular userbase of Tumblr, and has been mocked, criticized, and railed against constantly since.

But why? What’s so wrong with wanting users to be able to support other users directly as they do on so many other sites? Well, the community would like to explain it to you.

What is Post+?

Post+, according to the announcement made by the Tumblr staff on July 21, is a “new tool that allows creators to make some of their posts exclusive to paid supporters and allows people to support their favorite creators.”

This feature is, they stress, totally optional. The team has added a new settings menu specifically for the feature, called “Posts and Subscriptions,” where users can manage their Post+interactions.

The subscriptions come in monthly charge levels of $3.99, $5.99, or $9.99 and allow access to exclusive posts that function in much the same way that regular posts do.

Post+ was launched with the intent to allow bloggers to make money off of their blogs no matter what they created, and for users to support their favorite blogs.

A screenshot of the Post+ announcment on the Tumblr help desk.
The original Post+ announcement. Via Tumblr Help Desk.

Community Outrage and Immediate Backlash

Because it’s Tumblr, there was an immediate and intense backlash against Post+ from the community — and I mean the entire community. Blogs about everything from fandom to writing to various aesthetics made a point of creating posts detailing exactly why they detest the idea of a subscription service from Tumblr.

“we are never more united on this website than when Tumblr does something f****** stupid again” — Tumblr user manic-nightmare.

Most users point out that the culture on the — lovingly nicknamed — hellsite is based almost entirely around the free distribution of ideas. “Tumblr is one of the last remaining websites where conversations and connection between people can be made freely without a paywall put between the users,” says user Pomodoko.

They continue that the main users of the website want it to be an escape from the constant popularity contest of regular social media. Other users pointed out that in the original announcement, the staff made it clear that you can’t block users who pay you (though I haven’t been able to verify this), which opens the door for unmitigated harassment on a site where harassment is already the norm.

The angry sentiment is repeated by a huge number of users, who are definitively against the idea of having to pay other users for content when they come to the site for fanfiction and memes. So, of course, the biggest reaction has been in the aggressive memeing of the move.

A Tumblr post screenshot. The Eric Andre “bitch” meme, with the first image labeled “subscribe to a monthly subscription of $9.99 to unlock post!”, the second labeled “subscription paid”, and the third with the original text of “bitch.”
User couldnt-think-of-a-funny-name pulls no punches on the staff.

Tumblr’s Financial Freefall

Many Tumblr users point out that the system looks and sounds like a blatant money grab, especially considering Tumblr’s rocky financial past.

After the company’s massive $1.1 billion sale to Yahoo in 2013, the site took serious hits. The new owners didn’t seem to value maintenance at all, so much so that the site going down became a regular and much teased-about problem.

In 2018, Tumblr received massive backlash for a ban on nudity and NSFW content. It was supposed to make the site more advertiser-friendly by removing content that might be deemed inappropriate. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually work. It just made automated “porn bots” significantly more common and annoying.

When Yahoo was acquired by Verizon, the new owners of Tumblr decided it wasn’t worth enough to keep, and sold it to WordPress — ironically, the blogging style that Tumblr’s original creator David Karp was trying to avoid using when he made the site— for a measly $3 million.

The introduction of a subscription service that Tumblr itself would be taking a “small cut” of directly from creators seems ludicrous to users who have seen the website develop over time. Still, this isn’t the community’s biggest gripe with Post+. Their biggest concern is the legality of it all.

The Legal Issues of Fandom Paywalls

The Post+ blog mentioned that the new program was a way “to empower your favorite artists, fanfic writers, or maybe even that one mashup Supernatural/Studyblr blog you’ve been following since 2016.”

Except, you can’t legally financially support a Supernatural fan blog.

Yes, the biggest issue Tumblr users point out with the new Post+ system is that some naive users, spurred on by comments like this one from the official Tumblr team, may try to monetize their fan media content.

Fan media is any writing, artwork, music, or editing that’s done using the characters and official content from published works like book series or television shows. It’s the bread and butter of fandoms, the main reason many people enjoy Tumblr (its multimedia capability and easy reblog features make sharing and enjoying fan media simple), and totally illegal to monetize in any way.

See, according to the US Copyright Office, a work is only transformative if it does not affect the potential market for the original work and it is either a complete reimaging using only the basic concepts of the original or a direct satire.

Most fan media is not a complete reimaging — it takes the existing characters and world and builds on them. Additionally, under most major publishing contracts, no fan media of any kind can be approved by the original creator as it’s seen as a threat to the market.

A hand holds three American $100 bills, which are on fire.
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Monetizing Fandom Spaces Has Never Gone Well

The only way fans have gotten around this in the past — and there have been many, many attempts to completely quash fan media — is to ensure all fan media is noncommercial and for free, private consumption only. If you’re not charging for it, you can’t affect the market, and the work can count as transformative.

If Tumblr users attempt to charge for any kind of fandom work — fanfiction, fanart, edits, music videos — they could be sued by the owners of the works, including big names like the CW (owners of Supernatural), the BBC (owners of Doctor Who), or one of the most legally strict property owners, Nintendo. If enough of these suits build up, the entire site could be taken down.

Fans who use Tumblr to share their tribute work have expressed an incredible amount of fear about the idea of its monetization. “All it takes is one person accidentally putting Loki fanart behind a paywall and Disney can and will sue anyone and everyone involved,” says user balderich-the-dead, “including both the original creator and the site itself. Such things have completely killed websites in the past, and I doubt our staff are equipped to weather the storm.”

Conclusion

It seems that we have only to wait and see what the Post+ feature will actually look like and whether anyone will really use it, because no matter what the community says, it seems that the executives behind Tumblr are bound and determined to launch the program.

I can’t see this going well. We can only hope they realize their mistake before it’s too late.

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Cat Webling

Cat Webling

Hello! I’m Cat, author and amateur fandom historian based out of Kansas. I write about literature, theater, gaming, and fandom. Personal work: catwebling.com.