Verizon will sell the image-centric blogging website Tumblr to Automattic, owner of the blogging tools suite WordPress, according to the Wall Street Journal. The terms of the sale were not disclosed, but Axios reports the amount was “well below” $20 million.
That would be a staggering discount against the $1.1 billion paid for Tumblr by Yahoo in 2013 as part of an ambitious turnaround effort by Yahoo’s then-CEO Marissa Mayer. But Mayer’s turnaround foundered, and the Tumblr deal in particular was a flop. By early 2016, Yahoo had written down Tumblr’s value by $230 million, and by 2017, all of Yahoo was sold to Verizon for just $4.48 billion.
Tumblr is in some ways comparable to Instagram. Though it has text capabilities, it acts primarily as a way for users to post images, and includes social sharing features. But where Facebook turned Instagram into a giant in its own right since acquiring it for $1 billion in 2012, both Yahoo and later Verizon made moves that hampered Tumblr’s growth.
Management decisions by Yahoo reportedly led to heavy staff churn and missed sales goals at Tumblr. After the sale of Yahoo, Verizon’s media group (known until recently as Oath) notoriously chose to ban adult content on Tumblr in 2018. That policy resulted in a predictable traffic hit, and alienated a contingent of edgy artists and communities which had long been central to Tumblr’s success.
Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg told the Journal that his company intends to maintain the ban on adult content, but the company that owns WordPress would seem to be a more comfortable fit for Tumblr in many ways. Mullenweg said his team will look for ways that WordPress and Tumblr can share services and functions.
It’s also possible that Tumblr is still a viable business as a social media platform, if not at a scale that would rival Facebook or Pinterest. It’s currently ranked #77 in worldwide internet traffic by Alexa.com, and still boasts highly influential users including Taylor Swift, who frequently interacts with fans on the site.
Mullenweg is himself a longtime Tumblr user, and used his personal Tumblr page to post an announcement of today’s acquisition. He wrote that Automattic is “absolutely committed” to preserving “the passion and sense of community that so many people around the world – and around the web – have come to associate with Tumblr.”
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