If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” is a truism that Yahoo! wants to monetize with its $1.1bn cash purchase of Tumblr blogging platform.

With 108m bloggers generating 13 billion page views per month on the NSFW-oriented (Not Suitable For Work – read – adult content) Tumblr, Yahoo! is hoping to turn eyeballs into advertising revenue (perhaps using its other recent purchase Summly to curate and summarise Tumblr topics).

Will it work where Yahoo! has failed in the past (think Geocities, del.icio.us, Flickr..)?

The challenge is simple - convert Tumblr into profitable advertising space.  But the solution is less evident.

Tumblr generated just $12m in revenue in 2012 – valuing the company in the real world at $36m – not $1bn. If plastering pixel-spam on Tumblr dashboards and posts was a really good idea, wouldn’t Tumblr have done it already? Facebook has held off haemorrhaging users by not turning Instagram into advertising space (yet), and Google has gone on record promising not to pollute Glass-vision with ads. Perhaps Yahoo! has something different up its sleeve – more than old-style interruptive advertising imported online? But given the ‘adult’ nature of much Tumblr content, how many big advertisers would want to take the PR risk advertising alongside explicit content?

So what if Yahoo! pivots Tumblr away from advertising and towards commerce?  We’re not talking the roaring trade that Tumblr could do in selling ‘adult toys’ and ‘adult content’ – but a bigger social commerce opportunity… Here are three ideas;

  1. Since so many Tumblr blogs are themed (most fetishes appear to be covered), could Yahoo! allow bloggers to post a ‘shop’ button on the blog’s menu, that picks up the ball that Google shopping recently dropped with a decent price comparison/top picks).  A revenue share with Tumblr users – a la YouTube – could work? Think Google Shopping 2.0
  2. Building on the themed nature of Tumblr blogs, the blogging network would make a ideal platform for a new generation of group-buy commerce – allowing like-minded people to come together and get great prices if they buy in bulk. Think Groupon 2.0
  3. The simplicity of Tumblr would make it ideal as a next-generation e-commerce platform, making it easy to sell their stuff to communities of people passionate about a subject.  Tumblr has a real opportunity to tie this content + commerce knot, and become a leading e-commerce solution.  Think Etsy 2.0