Companies exist to make money for the owners and shareholders, and they’ll often do it at the expense of basic morality and common sense. That’s why the rise and fall of Tumblr is so perplexing. Verizon has announced that it’s selling the blogging platform to Automatic, the owner of WordPress for a mere $3 million. Just a few years ago, the site was worth $1.1 billion. That means under the stewardship of Yahoo and Verizon, Tumblr has lost a whopping 99.8 percent of its value.
How can a web property go from being worth more than Facebook paid for Instagram to (comparatively) worthless? Tumblr was one of the early, high-profile acquisitions by Yahoo after former Googler Marissa Mayer took the helm. The first hit to Tumblr’s value came just three years after the 2013 acquisition. Yahoo announced its advertising sales on Tumblr in 2016 fell far short of expectations, and it wrote down $712 million of Tumblr’s value.
Things continued to worsen for Yahoo across the board until Verizon acquired the company in 2017, cutting Mayer loose. Both Yahoo and Tumblr ended up under Verizon’s Oath subsidiary. Verizon left Tumblr alone for more than a year, and then someone realized there was (gasp) porn on the site.
Tumblr has long acted as a safe haven for people who wanted to post saucy pictures, as well as members of the LGBTQ community who wanted to speak frankly about their sexuality. The site’s lax moderation policies allowed this content to proliferate over the course of years. Verizon was, apparently, uncomfortable with hosting adult content, so it announced a blanket ban earlier this year. Purging all that content drove away users and dropped Tumblr’s value to almost nothing.
Automatic isn’t going to be Tumblr’s savior, based on statements from CEO Matt Mullenweg. Verizon’s ban on adult content will stand, but the service won’t be folded into WordPress. The two sites may begin sharing more features over time — Tumblr could get some more advanced editing tools from WordPress, and WordPress could adopt some of the mobile-focused features of Tumblr.
So, any remaining Tumblr users won’t have to migrate to WordPress pages, at least for now. Who knows what the future will bring? If nothing else, Tumblr’s domain is worth money, and Automatic got that for a pittance.