WordPress fans and news outlets have been abuzz this week with news that Automattic, the company behind WordPress and headed by Matt Mullenweg, has purchased blogging platform Tumblr.
What does this acquisition mean for the future of Tumblr? Is the reported purchase price of $3 million really true? Why did the value of Tumblr drop so substantially in just a few years? Read on to find out what we know so far about the future of Tumblr.
Automattic’s Vision for Tumblr, According to Matt Mullenweg
In an interview with The Verge, Matt Mullenweg confirmed the purchase of Tumblr by Automattic along with some of the specifics of the sale (but not the exact purchase price).
WordPress vs Tumblr
Perhaps one of the reasons that Mullenweg decided to invest in Tumblr is to leverage its social aspects for the overall benefit of WordPress. As he noted in the interview, “The people who love Tumblr use it every day. They have more daily active users than WordPress.com has monthly active users”.
Admitting that Tumblr has “really cracked a lot of the social side of it,” Mullenweg went on to say that some of WordPress’s features both current and historic have been “inspired” by features first built by Tumblr.
Part of the acquisition of Tumblr included bringing over the full employ of 200 Tumblr staff. This begs the question: did Mullenweg purchase Tumblr and its 200 staff to ensure the future of Tumblr, or did he purchase Tumblr so that he could access the collective knowledge and vision of its 200-strong employee base? Will these employees continue working on Tumblr, or will the blogging platform fall by the wayside as Mullenweg diverts Tumblr’s staff towards “cracking the social side” of WordPress itself?
“Tumblr pioneered a lot of what later would show up on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, all sorts of other places. So, it’s always been a very creative team, and I really am looking forward to seeing that just unleashed.”
Will this creativity be unleashed on the new Tumblr, or directly on WordPress itself?
The Purchase Price
One of the most newsworthy aspects of the deal that saw Tumblr more from Version to Automattic was the purchase price which – although it hasn’t yet been confirmed – is thought to be around $3 million. While a hefty sum in anyone’s language, questions marks are raised when you consider it was only a few years ago that Tumblr was sold for $1.1 billion.
Mullenweg was cautious at best about the reason for the significant drop in price, firstly claiming to not know why Verizon sold Tumblr for so little, saying, “There might even be a corporate reason for the purchase price to be lower, for taxes or something” and then hinting that Verizon agreed to accept a lower price in exchange on the condition that all current employees at Tumblr be included in the sale.
Stating that Verizon was more interested in finding the “best home for Tumblr” rather than maximizing the sale price, Mullenweg stated that Automattic’s offer to retain all employees is what won them the deal.
“I am aware of some of the details of some of the bidders. You know they were not planning to keep much, if any, of the team going.”
This begs yet another question – is Tumblr more of a liability than an asset? Could it be the case that Verizon was looking to offload its 200-strong employee base because of its financial responsibilities towards the staff?
It’s hard to believe that a corporation with responsibilities to shareholders would prioritize “finding a good home” for a blogging site over maximizing their bottom line. Reading between the lines, it appears as if Verizon may have accepted a lowball offer from WordPress in exchange for relieving them of the liability associated with a staff of 200 people they no longer had very little need for.
As Mullenweg admitted, “We do definitely want to grow Tumblr’s revenue. Right now, they’re burning a lot of money.”
Tumblr’s Infamous Porn Ban
Less than a year ago on December 2018, Verizon implemented a site-wide adult content ban across Tumblr. This occurred as a result of the Tumblr app being rejected by both the Apple and Google app marketplaces once it was discovered that, not only did adult porn make up an enormous amount of Tumblr’s content, but child pornography was also rampant.
The content ban saw users leaving the site en masse and running campaigns on other social media sites in an attempt to convince other outraged Tumblr users to boycott the site.
The porn ban will not be lifted under Tumblr’s new Automattic rule, but Mullenweg didn’t rule out implementing greater levels of moderation to allow more legitimate adult content – such as artwork – to still appear on the site. It can be assumed that any moderation policies will fall in line with relevant app marketplace rules. A social media or blogging site without accessible apps from Google Play and the Apple Store is unthinkable in this age, where mobile website access is now at greater levels than desktop usage.
Matt Mullenweg has had a lot to say about the acquisition of Tumblr, but what will actually play out in the coming months and years is still anyone’s guess.
One of the main questions that remain is whether Tumblr, in its current form, has any real future. There are those that nostalgically remember Tumblr in its heyday as a self-policing group of communities and fandoms where everything was possible, everyone was accepted, and everyone got along.
But was Tumblr truly this hippy-esque gathering of communities, arms interlinked, everyone singing Kumbaya? Or was there also a seething underbelly to Tumblr, awash with spam, state-sponsored US election content, and a mess of child pornography that saw the Tumblr app rejected by both the App Store and Google Play?
Whatever Matt Mullenweg’s real plans are for Tumblr, we can make a few guesses – moderation will be key, advertising will be prioritized, and the new Tumblr of 2019/2020 may not have much in common with old Tumblr in its heyday from 2013 to 2016.
Or, perhaps Tumblr will fall by the wayside as the 200-strong team of Tumblr employees are put to task increasing the daily engagement and social aspects of WordPress itself.