It appears Automattic (who owns WordPress.com) has picked up Tumblr as well as about 200 employees from Verizon, according to the Wall Street Journal and confirmed in Post Status Slack by Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg.
Tumblr has had a rocky road since their sale to Yahoo! for $1.1 billion. Yahoo! is owned by Verizon — whose entire content and platform lineup is a mess. It was reported in May that Verizon was shopping Tumblr.
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.”
Matt tells me in Slack the initial goals for Tumblr are:
Tumblr will stay a separate brand. There is a dedicated Tumblr community even after years of neglect and confusion. Even still, Matt says Tumblr’s user base is, “several times larger than [WordPress.com].”
The backend will change technology, but the front-end experience will stay similar to what it is today, as they, “don’t want to change what’s working.” Matt said Tumblr’s interface is “working amazingly well, despite being fairly constrained in what they can launch [the] past few years.”
There are several potential wins here for Automattic. For one, they gain a committed community, likely for pennies on the dollar compared to the $1.1 billion Yahoo! paid — classic Yahoo!.
While the WSJ called the purchase amount “nominal” (I’m working to learn more here), Matt says he considers the brand, “super valuable, but right not now making as much as they could or should.”
Dan Primack of Axios is reporting a “source familiar” put the price, “well south of $20 million.”
Now Dan Primack is saying it was for less than $3 million.
Automattic has put much more energy in recent years toward effective monetization and I have no doubt that can do significantly better than the sprawling organization Tumblr was under.
Again on Hacker News, Matt noted, “We’ve been evolving Automattic to be more of a Berkshire Hathaway-inspired model and businesses with a lot of autonomy, and this continues that trend.” This is interesting, particularly as Berkshire is known to let portfolio companies operate quite independently, and of course Buffet is famous for being a savvy value investor; Tumblr is definitely a deep value play at this price.
With this acquisition, Automattic has an opportunity to diversify their own brands — WordPress vs WordPress.com is always very confusing (no doubt legacy and tech media will screw it up talking about this acquisition). And inevitably different cultures and web communities drift to different spaces online (think Instagram and Facebook, for instance).
Tumblr is a very browse-heavy platform. The potential for eCommerce on such a platform could be really interesting. Matt said in chat that he thinks, “ecommerce on Tumblr is a great idea.” I can also see a world where Tumblr could be shaped into a primarily mobile product — a more direct (more privacy focused) implementation of what Instagram is, with a similarly simplistic interface.
I would really love this, and Matt hints at some alignment on that front. In response to a comment speculating they’d wind Tumblr down, he said they plan was the opposite, and that, “the web needs open and independent publishing and social media more than ever.” I know from my own conversations with Matt that he’s thinking of this and the way he plugged “social media” in that statement makes me think it’s top of mind.
If Tumblr is open sourced, it makes me think a plugin ecosystem could work there as well. Matt says that, “when it’s on WP backend that thing can be explored.” So, not off the table, but it doesn’t sound like an immediate priority. I think they initial idea here is to revive a huge community and keep to the basics.
I have worked on WordPress my entire adult life — 16 years now — and so the democratization of publishing is near and dear to my heart. Tumblr and WordPress have always been very philosophically aligned there.
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 terms of response from the tech space, everyone loves to have a say, and this move is well regarded so far. It’s nice when a company makes a save-attempt on something presumed “dead”.
The CEO of Tumblr, Jeff D’Onofrio, said the following on Twitter:
I’m very excited about Tumblr’s next chapter and looking forward to working with @photomatt and the entire team at Automattic. I’m most excited for what this means for the entire Tumblr community. There is much more to do to make your experience a better one, and I’m super confident that we are in great hands with this news. Tumblr and WordPress share common founding principles. The plane has landed on a friendly runway. Now it is time to freshen up the jets.
I have more questions and I’m getting them answered. This story is developing Stay tuned to this page.