Yahoo's Mayer Promises: We Won't Ruin Tumblr

$1.1 billion deal represents Yahoo's bid to win new users and remain relevant.

Thomas Claburn

May 20, 2013

3 Min Read
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In her announcement of Yahoo's $1.1 billion acquisition of social blog service Tumblr on Monday, CEO Marissa Mayer deferred the usual celebratory remarks and opened with a peremptory defense of the deal.

"We promise not to screw it up," Mayer said in a statement. "Tumblr is incredibly special and has a great thing going. We will operate Tumblr independently. David Karp will remain CEO. The product roadmap, their team, their wit and irreverence will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve."

Karp at least has the irreverence down: His take on the deal concluded with "F*** yeah" rather than more socially acceptable qualifiers of sentiment.

The audience with which that would resonate is exactly the audience that Yahoo wishes to recapture after its years in the wilderness under indecisive management. That's why Mayer's first order of business is: keep Tumblr users from jumping ship.

[ Want to know more about the deal? Read 3 Things Tumblr Brings Yahoo. ]

In a post to the Tumblr blog, Karp, too, focused on reassuring users rather than hyping the acquisition. "We're not turning purple," he said, in reference to Yahoo's corporate color. "Our headquarters isn't moving. Our team isn't changing. Our roadmap isn't changing. And our mission -- to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve -- certainly isn't changing."

Move along. Nothing to see here. Back to business as usual. If this approach becomes commonplace, acquisition announcements will begin with apologies.

Zachary Reiss-Davis, social marketing analyst at Forrester Research, said in a phone interview that the value of the deal is that it will let Yahoo add a new large group of users to its existing user base. He also said that Mayer's commitment to Tumblr users is appropriate.

"It made a lot of sense for Marissa Mayer to say that Yahoo would not screw this up because she knows Yahoo has had a mixed track record of managing acquisitions in the past few years," he said.

One such acquisition was Geocities, a similar website service that Yahoo bought in 1999 for $3.5 billion. And clearly some users already see a reason to flee: WordPress founder Matthew Mullenweg said in a blog post Sunday night that the number of Tumblr users exporting their content to WordPress had jumped from a typical 400-600 posts per hour to 72,000 in a single hour.

However, Mullenweg appears to believe that this surge is statistically insignificant. In a follow-up comment to his post, he wrote, "I don't think there will be any sort of exodus from Tumblr. For most folks habits overcome Internet-outrage. Even if a million people left, that's just about a week's worth of signups."

Unlike many other recent deals done by Yahoo's peers, this one isn't really about the mobile market. However, it could help Tumblr become more relevant to Yahoo's 300 million existing mobile users.

Reiss-Davis said it is difficult to say whether Tumblr is worth $1.1 billion to Yahoo, but he noted that Yahoo can only do a few such deals given its limited cash reserves. Tumblr reportedly generated $13 million in revenue last year.

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