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:

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.


  1. Tumblr still confuses the crap out of me. You can’t make comments on any of the posts like you can on real blogs. It seems like a long-form version of Twitter, where all you do is reblog something someone else said. Doesn’t seem very interactive. I’ve never used my Tumblr blog.

  2. Jeez, Beat. Love your articles but this one is screaming for some proofreading.Jarring bolts of WTH to my head as I tried to read.I know it is hurry up and publish but still, this is not up to the usual greatness of this site. Sad face…..

  3. Yeah, Elayne. One of the many reasons I don’t use Tumblr.

    If you don’t know that you should not sacrifice your original work to websites where you have little to no rights, industry folk might need to offer some online workshops to the community.

  4. why is Yahoo! moribund?

    they don’t have the buzz that they used to, but financially the company is in decent shape. as a company they’ve nearly doubled in value in the last year.

    they’re no Google but their still worth about as much as CBS with higher earnings per share. sounds more like a branding problem to me.

  5. All the burgeoning cartoonists I’m meeting and working with are using Tumblr to get their comics out there. It’s a pretty cool world to just make stuff, throw it out there, and get feedback on it. It feels like a non-stop mini-press con in a lot of ways. Right now, the majority of the comics I read and discuss are stuff on Tumblr. I’m heartbroken over the Yahoo news because Yahoo ruins everything.

  6. It was pointed out to me over the weekend that one of the reasons TUmblr works is that it is nearly troll free due to the lack of commenting. You can put up something you labored over and not have some idiot tear it down in the very next breath. It’s also the reason why it has a majority of female users.

    Sorry about that rough first draft! It was a wacky weekend around Stately Beat Manor.

  7. Yahoo should keep it independent and then after a year and half sell it to Google, Facebook or even HP at 2 bn. That’s the greatest thing Yahoo can do to tumblr grow it and then sell it

  8. I find it confusing what Yahoo wants with Tumblr in the first place, other than to be seen as “doing SOMETHING.” That’s usually a terrible reason to spend even a few dollars, never mind a few billion, but hey, Yahoo. Track record.

    I have my doubts that this will be a long term problem for comics folks, as the elements of Tumblr that are attractive seem like they can be easily ported to other platforms that would undoubtedly emerge if Yahoo does something stupid.

  9. I wouldn’t agree Tumblr is troll free. The trolls just set up their own Tumblrs and repost your content with their mocking below it and it’s visible on your dashboard when you log in. I generally like the trolls better, though, because they force me to look at my work in a new way. A lot of the trolls are really funny, too. Plus, you can always go to their Tumblr page and see what they like and don’t like to give you an idea how much weight you should give their words. It’s not troll free, but I guess it’s a higher class of troll?

  10. I use it.

    Tumblr is only good if you’re willing to mark your material with a Creative Commons license. If you demand full control it’s not for you. It’s also not for you if you’re trying to monitize via adviews. Though you can add links to your oh so clever Star Wars/ Adventure Time mashup tshirt.

    It’s really just a promotions tool.

    As for trolls and comments: They’re not much of a concern. You can easily block trolls and you’ll find you won’t miss this sort of commenting interaction.

  11. I think Tumblr could do well to add a built in moderated commenting feature (something you could turn on or off in your theme). Right now you can use Disquss, but not everyone has that. I’ve noticed many creators are migrating over from formspring, and many more people are using it as a formal blog with written content due to its super simple interface, and share-ability.

    I think really Tumblr could become an amazing comics place if they brought a bit more blogginess to it. Its not just for images anymore. The creative community is really thriving in this platform, and there are little corners for everyone.

  12. This is silly. Yahoo and or Tumblr is not the future of anything. Its simply a part of it. Someone will create another site one day soon where all young cartoonists will get behind and create buzz about until a Yahoo or Google or whomever buys them…then everyone will lament the death of the future of comics again and this over-reactive process will start all over again.

    Comics in all forms are alive and well and will continue to be that way as long as creative minds want to draw (hopefully) awesome images and tell (hopefully) fantastic stories. The medium will always be around in one form or another as long as their is a demand – Tumblr run by Yahoo or not.

  13. Forget comics. What about the cat gifs, porn and social justice crusaders? Where are they going to if Tumblr goes south?

  14. Woo! Reads way much better now, Ace! Thanx! Seriously, I think Tumblr will survive, but like many sites, will lose its “draw” over time and be just another one of the top couple hundred sites that people use without its being “revolutionary”. IOW, and IMHO, it will not end up being a very good investment for Yahoo.

  15. tumblr innovated the idea of microblogging, and there definitely is a place and demand for it. If it dies off, there will be something else. Quite frankly i’d be shocked if some smarty pants developers in a garage somewhere aren’t starting up the next bigger, better tumblr as we speak. That’s how it all goes…

  16. Just want to clarify. That was someone who attended the TCAF panel I was on who was paraphrasing what they thought they heard. I actually said: “IF you put your work on Tumblr, put your name on it”. What I dislike about Tumblr a lot is people reblogging without proper credit.

  17. The fact is that Yahoo’s past sins are no indication of their present plans. Terry Semel who made a mess of Yahoo is long gone. Use Tumblr if you like it — if they fuck it up go elsewhere. It’s the Internet — shit changes constantly, or hadn’t anyone noticed?

  18. @heidi I’m only just seeing this but your comment “one of the reasons TUmblr works is that it is nearly troll free due to the lack of commenting. ” surprises me. Tumblr is filled with Trolls who reblog and comment and send messages. And that’s just using the Tumblr functions not the add on of Disqus which brings in a slew of other commenters. Tumblr works well for comics for a lot of reasons (it’s easy to sign up, there is an existing community of interest, it’s very visual) I’d say the biggest reason why I’ve come close to walking away from it is the trolling.

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