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Tumblr iOS revenue increased 125% since launching its parody of paid verification

Tumblr's parody of paid verification has already delivered the social network and blogging platform a 125% boost in iOS in-app purchase revenue since November, according to a new analysis of the app's in-app consumer spending. The company, now operated by WordPress.com owner Automattic following its 2019 acquisition, launched its response to Twitter's paid verification hustle with the addition of its own purely cosmetic double blue checks -- a sort of tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to the idea that subscription-based verification had any real value.

As it turns out, at least some Tumblr users were willing to pay -- though perhaps not for clout, but because in-jokes have proven to be a more successful monetization strategy for the blogging network than some of its more legitimate attempts to make money, such as its creator-focused subscription, Post+. After being met with community backlash, at one point Post+ was being outperformed from a monetization perspective by crabs -- a goofy paid feature that let users send animated dancing crabs to each other's dashboards.

Perhaps, then, it's not surprising to see Tumblr's double-blue-check joke drive incremental revenue for the service.

According to new data that app intelligence firm Sensor Tower provided to TechCrunch, consumer spending on Tumblr's iOS app increased since November 2022's double-blue-check launch, now totaling $263,000 in net revenue. While that's not a significant figure in the grand scheme of things by any means, it still represents a 125% jump in spending compared with the prior three-month total of August through October 2022.

When looking at more long-term trends, Tumblr's revenue remains up -- but not by as much. Sensor Tower says the in-app purchase revenue on iOS is up 19%, compared with the prior ten months ahead of the blue check's launch (January through October 2022).

It's difficult to directly attribute these increases to Tumblr's double blue check alone, however. Tumblr also offers other in-app purchases, like crabs, paid boosting, and ad-free browsing.

The app additionally saw a flood of new installs after Twitter's acquisition, which may have contributed to higher consumer spending.

Since November 2022, iOS installs jumped 56% compared to the prior three months, totaling 934,000, Sensor Tower's data indicates. Like several social apps, Tumblr benefited from increased interest in Twitter alternatives following Elon Musk's Twitter takeover. Late last year, a number of would-be Twitter rivals -- including Mastodon, GETTR, Tribel, and others -- had seen a sizable jump in installs.

That said, Tumblr's blue check mark and its ties to revenue make for an interesting case study amid a broader trend to move toward paid verification, even if it's only a joke. The "Important Internet Checkmark" in-app purchase, as Tumblr calls it, is today available as a one-off -- not an ongoing subscription like what Twitter and now Meta both offer. (Tumblr's feature has also been upgraded to include rainbow checks, which may turn into crabs at any time, as its parody continues.)

Still, given the slight bump in revenue, it's worth wondering what would have happened if Tumblr had bundled the feature into an upgraded tier of its existing $4.99/month ad-free browsing subscription to boost its recurring revenues. It could have still done so "as a joke," but encouraged a longer-term commitment to the punchline.

Social app subscriptions, like Meta's new paid verification or Twitter Blue, have grown more common in the wake of Apple's privacy changes, which clamped down on platforms' ability to personalize targeted ads, decreasing the ads' effectiveness and, therefore, the companies' revenues. As a result, these businesses looked toward the mobile subscription economy to help make up for their losses.

Snapchat, for example, launched Snapchat+ to add a range of premium features to its app for power users and now has 2.5 million paid users. But unlike Twitter Blue and Meta's newly announced Meta Verified for Facebook and Instagram, it doesn't include verification.

By comparison, Twitter has not yet made a convincing argument for its subscription, as The Information reported only 180,000 U.S. subscribers have paid, or less than 0.2% of its monthly active users.

With Meta now entering the space, it's unclear where this market will head as creators and businesses will weigh the cost of paying for exposure and improved customer service across a range of apps.

And where that leaves Tumblr --- which has opted out of participating in the paid verification space altogether by dubbing it a joke -- is also less clear.

The company, historically, never quite figured out monetization. Throughout its existence, Tumblr failed to grow revenue through more traditional means, including through the founder David Karp's original vision for creative brand advertising and later, its 2013 acquirer Yahoo’s bigger plans for search ads and other formats, under Yahoo's then-CEO Marissa Mayer. Six years later after Yahoo's $1 billion acquisition, its parent company (then Verizon) unloaded the service to Automattic for reportedly less than $20 million.

New owner Matt Mullenweg has spoken about Tumblr's potential to be a better Twitter and his goal to make subscriptions half Tumblr's revenue. The company launched a livestreaming feature in December and today expanded it to the desktop. But recently, Mullenweg also teased plans around Tumblr's participation in the decentralized space known as the Fediverse. That could suggest a different avenue for Tumblr's future and its revenues, far beyond paid verification or its parodies.