And just like that, Yahoo head Marissa Mayer becomes the most important person in comics.
As you may have heard, Yahoo is planning to buy Tumblr for $1.1 billion, a move that aims to make the recently moribund internet giant a bit more relevant to the social media world.
Where comics come in, as you may have noticed, is that in recent months the entire future business plans of young and emerging cartoonists have been to put their comics up on Tumblr and hope to find an audience, as immortalized in this tweet with publisher Annie Koyama’s advice:
— Comic Book Junkie (@comicbookjunk1e) May 11, 2013
It should be noted, Tumblr’s own business model isn’t that different from that of the legions of cartoonists hoping to an audience—hang around on a street corner until some bigger media entity gives you a billion dollars. And it worked!
Founded six years ago, Tumblr has attracted a loyal following and raised millions from big-name investors. Still, it has not proved that it can be profitable, nor that it can succeed on mobile devices, which are becoming the gateway to the Internet. Even Facebook faces continued pressure from investors to show it can increase its profits and adapt to the mobile world.
“The challenge has always been, how do you monetize eyeballs?” said Charlene Li, the founder of the Altimeter Group, a consulting firm. “Services like Instagram and Facebook always focus on the user experience first. Once that loyalty is there, they figure out how to carefully, ideally, make money on it.”
The deal—which will use up one quarter of Yahoo’s cash reserves—is one of several acquisitions overseen by recently installed CEO Mayer, but by far the largest. Unfortunately, Yahoo’s previous track record of takeovers is pretty crappy, what with shutting down GeoCities—which Yahoo purchased for a mere $3.6 billion—and letting Flickr lie fallow. These are highly visible cautionary tales.
While many might wonder just how to monetize Tumblr—a site 50% made up of animated gifs of Ryan Gosling—it’s clearly that free spirit of sharing and liking and digging in to obsessions that has given it such a loyal and youthful following. Right now it runs mostly ad free, and you might see that changing soon—or who knows what else. In a move to soothe anxieties, in her very own Tumblr post, Mayer promises not to screw things up and offers some numbers:
We promise not to screw it up. 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. Yahoo! will help Tumblr get even better, faster.
Tumblr has built an amazing place to follow the world’s creators. From art to architecture, fashion to food, Tumblr hosts 105 million different blogs. With more than 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 signups every day, Tumblr is one of the fastest-growing media networks in the world. Tumblr sees 900 posts per second (!) and 24 billion minutes spent onsite each month. On mobile, more than half of Tumblr’s users are using the mobile app, and those users do an average of 7 sessions per day. Tumblr’s tremendous popularity and engagement among creators, curators and audiences of all ages brings a significant new community of users to the Yahoo! network. The combination of Tumblr+Yahoo! could grow Yahoo!’s audience by 50% to more than a billion monthly visitors, and could grow traffic by approximately 20%.
Tumblr as an exposure medium for comics is a business model only intuitively grasped—and yet in the last two months, scores of people I spoke with mentioned it as the preferred model for discovery and audience building. Tumblr’s wide open architecture and anarchic spirit reflects the wide open goals, anarchic career plans, and empty pocket books of a generation that has talent and ambition but only a few paths to traditional success. It was way too good to last.
[Painting by Pene Menn]
The grim, skeletal remains of GeoCities—closed down in 2009 and once home to 38 million user-built pages—are a dire warning to those who place their faith in any platform, and Tumblr rip-off Posterous is another one. I’m fairly confident in thinking if Tumblr turns into something lame, comics and Ryan Gosling will just move onto some other platform, just as they moved over from Live Journal when it got lame. But if nothing else, Mayer’s purchase was well timed.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.