Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Verizon Sells Tumblr to Automattic

Julia Alexander (Hacker News):

Verizon has agreed to sell Tumblr to WordPress owner Automattic Inc. for an undisclosed amount, TheWall Street Journal reports.

Verizon, which first acquired Tumblr in 2017 after it purchased Yahoo, started to explore a sale earlier this year. Automattic reportedly bought Tumblr for less than $3 million, according to Axios, a stunning drop in value from the $1.1 billion Yahoo paid for it in 2013.

Marco Arment:

This is pretty cool. Can’t think of a better owner today than Automattic for Tumblr’s huge creative publishing community.

Matt Mullenweg:

Will do our best to make you proud about this next chapter for @tumblr.

Matt Mullenweg:

When the possibility to join forces became concrete, it felt like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have two beloved platforms work alongside each other to build a better, more open, more inclusive – and, frankly, more fun web. I knew we had to do it.

In the underlying technology of our platforms, I think there are some good opportunities to standardize on the Open Source WordPress tech stack, but the front-end user experience on Tumblr will evolve on its own path. It has been so successful already, and we want to keep that going.

Colin Devroe:

This is good for a variety of reasons. It ensures Tumblr will very likely be around in some form or another in perpetuity while still retaining its unique posting UI that its community no-doubt loves. I know I love it. I wish I had the same thing for my WordPress blog. Maybe I will get that now?

Brian Krogsgard:

The most recent controversy for Tumblr was a community revolt over the treatment of adult content. Matt says Tumblr’s new adult content policy will stay in place under the new ownership. On Hacker News, he said, “Adult content is not our forte either, and it creates a huge number of potential issues with app stores, payment providers, trust and safety… it’s a problem area best suited for companies fully dedicated to creating a great experience there. I personally have very liberal views on these things, but supporting adult content as a business is very different.”


Tumblr will remain a separate brand. There is a dedicated Tumblr community even after years of neglect and confusion. Still, Matt says Tumblr’s user base is “several times larger than [WordPress.com’s].”


Update (2019-08-16): Daniel Jalkut:

A 950-employee, completely distributed company, is taking on 200 employees who are accustomed to urban office life. I think that will be one of the most interesting challenges in this merger.

Matt Mullenweg:

Tumblr is multi-office, so does have a distributed aspect. But I see moving toward being natively distributed as taking a few years, and we don’t want to disrupt things that are already working.

Nilay Patel:

One thing that jumped out in this interview: the real sense that Tumblr didn’t lose nearly as many users due to the porn ban as people think.

Fred Wilson:

Tumblr was both a blogging platform and a social media application and while I always loved the versatility of the platform, native mobile applications benefit from simplicity, not complexity.


David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, always focused on making Tumblr a “positive” experience. That is why he refused to have comments, even though I pushed him to do it and hacked Tumblr by putting Disqus on mine. That is why he made the primary (only?) form of engagement a heart.

And it worked. Tumblr was a happy place and using it made people feel good about themselves.


Chris Mohney:

Your one million paying Tumblr users just brought in $24 million for the year—or, almost double what Tumblr made the first year it sold advertising. Assume the Tumblr active user base is more like 20 million, and/or entice more of them to pay, and/or offer various Tumblr-appropriate upsells, and/or implement and charge for all the years’ worth of community-driven functionality asks … well, getting to the $100 million revenue goal that Tumblr publicly shot for (and likely never achieved) seems not unreasonable.

And you do this without selling ads. I will forever and repeatedly die on the hill that pursuing advertising as Tumblr’s revenue strategy was what killed the site’s independence and alienated users long before the porn ban. I personally believe the management/investor/industry advice to sell ads was not only bad advice, but quite possibly given in bad faith and maybe even predatory in nature. Advertising has pros and cons depending on the situation, but anyone who looked at Tumblr back in the day and saw a Facebook-style infinite-ad-revenue reservoir was fooling themselves and/or others. Demonstrably so.

Buzz Andersen:

Tumblr is my go to example of a company that could have evolved into a fine independent business but instead was destroyed by the decision to “go big” with venture capital.

Nick Heer:

Automattic will obviously be a better steward of Tumblr than Yahoo or Verizon were, but I question whether the unique qualities of its communities can experience a resurgence. It has felt for years like it has been dying a protracted death, and its 99% discounted sale price speaks to that.

Matt Mullenweg (Hacker News):

First, [Verizon] chose to find a new home for Tumblr instead of shutting it down. Second, they considered not just how much cash they would get on day one, but also — and especially — what would happen to the team afterward, and how the product and the team would be invested in going forward. Third, they thought about the sort of steward of the community the new owner would be. They didn’t have to do any of that, and I commend them for making all three points a priority.

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

I respect Mr Mullenweg's thoughts here, but it seems like Tumblr did take a pretty big hit over the shuttering of adult content. I just do not understand the big deal. Still hope for the best, but I am already a little underwhelmed.

Also, has Verizon's purchase of Yahoo and AOL done anything but lose money for them?

[…] Das war die härteste Kritik, die ich am Kauf/Verkauf/an Tumblr an sich gefunden habe. Es gibt natürlich auch positive Stimmen und die hat, wie immer, Michael Tsai zusammengefasst: Verizon verkauft Tumblr an Automattic. […]

Considering that Tumblr wasn't making much money, was sold for chump change (while retaining high costs from hundreds of employees) and that WordPress already has tons of available Tumblr-themes available, we can make some educated guesses at what happened and why. The Tumblr brand has some value, it retains a small but vibrant SM community, and the software's main calling card is the reblog, which doesn't exist on WordPress.

As long as WordPress can afford to digest the costs of Tumblr's infrastructure (hardware, development, employees), or reduce those costs, it can afford to experiment with it as an alternative SM platform, something which could be useful if other platforms - from Pinterest to Medium to Facebook - make missteps or fade out. I don't think it's likely it will ever be a breakout success, any more than LiveJournal is, and certainly not with other platforms around new and old (blogspot, tiktok, Mastodon-based). But as long as it can continue at least to putter along it should be able to continue for years.

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