“That feeling when you hit a million followers, make more money than your mom, push a diet pill scheme, lose your blog, and turn 16.” Not something most of us can relate to, but most of us aren't Tumblr Superstar Teens.
“When I began reporting on the world of Tumblr teens, I first wanted to explain the absurdist comedy of Pizza and dozens of other Tumblrs like hers,” writes TNR's Elspeth Reeve.
“But I soon discovered a secret world hidden in plain sight, one in which teenagers, through wit and luck, had stumbled into a new kind of viral fame and fortune, by outsmarting internet ad networks and finding ways to earn thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars from their intentionally unambitious jokes.”
When Tumblr launched in 2007, the simple layout—text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, video—was its primary appeal: less bloggy than Blogger, less puzzling than WordPress. Tumblr’s templates were more customizable than Facebook, making it a good place to put your portfolio, perhaps some journal entries. But the defining feature of Tumblr culture is reblogging: Any user can repost content from any other Tumblr and add their own comments. All of these likes, reblogs, and comments pile up in a log of “notes” appended to the original post as it travels through the network’s feed. Celebrating someone else’s brilliance is part of the content you offer, giving exposure to both the creator and the reblogger.
To grow a following on Tumblr beyond people you know, you have to post more than updates on your personal life—you need stuff that will resonate with strangers. Viral fame on Tumblr in the early 2010s was an uncertain path to fortune. The most common was the Tumblr-to-book phenomenon: The creator of Hipster Puppies closed a five-figure book deal in 2010. While other social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn generated billions upon billions of dollars, Tumblr gradually evolved into a fast-moving conversation focused on jokes, art, and sex. The culture of Tumblr began to be dominated by teens—weird teens.