In an earnings call this week, Yahoo announced that it’s taking another write-down on Tumblr, the company it purchased for $1.1 billion in 2013. This time, the write-down is $482 million; add that to the previous write-down of $230 million, and you’ve got a company that’s lost nearly two-thirds of its value post-acquisition. Those numbers are … not promising. Couple them with Yahoo’s slow effort to sell some or all of its assets, and the health of Tumblr does not look great.
This is concerning, of course, to Yahoo’s bottom line, and to its potential buyers. But it’s even more concerning to Tumblr’s large and highly engaged community of artists, photographers, fans, porn cartoonists, and meme weirdos, who are worried that the looming sale of the big but insular platform’s mother ship will leave its users high and dry.
To make matters worse, the site — which has continually struggled to serve ads that don’t annoy the crap out of users — launched ads that autoplay audio in users’ dashboards this week.
This combination of sketchy ad practices and the Yahoo write-down have led to some hand-wringing across the social network, which is mostly concerned it’ll go like Geocities did — quickly and unceremoniously shut down, its contents disappeared forever.
A cursory searching of the network shows users sharing the usernames of other social-media accounts and panicking about staying in touch with friends after the rug suddenly gets pulled out from under them (which it won’t be).
Tumblr, which will be ten years old next year, is still one of the oddest spaces on the web. It’s about as as big as Instagram, measured by monthly active users, and Tumblr still occupies a hugely influential space on the internet — the place where weirder memes, like Dat Boi, usually get their start. Its problem is that it’s never been able to monetize that energy, in part because of lackluster corporate stewardship, in part because its users are largely desktop-based, in part because it’s anarchic and dirty in a way that Instagram isn’t. (One cutting irony is that many of Instagram’s biggest and most popular accounts have made their success off the back of screen-captured and unattributed Tumblr content.)
But Tumblr users are passionate about the site almost because of its flaws, not in spite of them. For all of its problems, it’s the best social network for rallying around fandoms, to what occasionally seems like an unhealthy degree.
And that, among other things, is why it won’t shut down soon, and certainly not overnight. According to stats provided by the company, there are more than 300 million Tumblrs on the platform (the number of active users was unspecified), and the key demo of young people under 34 makes up 50 percent of their audience.
All of this is to say, there are many things about Tumblr — its size, its user base, its trove of data — that make it a very attractive prospect for a potential buyer, and which mean it’s the type of company that won’t disappear all at once, and probably won’t be sunset anytime soon. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Tumblr said, “No, Tumblr is not shutting down. We appreciate that our passionate community will rally together for what they love.”
“I’m not concerned at all tbh,” said Cates Holderness, the BuzzFeed employee who elevated The Dress from Tumblr dispute to international sensation.
Another heavy user I spoke with expressed similar nonchalance. “The reaction from the platform users feels overblown. Everyone is freaking out and providing resources on how to back up your blog, but nothing truly disappears on the internet, so is there really all that much to fear?” they said. “People hate change and that’s what they’re reacting to here, as they do anytime Tumblr changes the tiniest detail of their experience.” Tumblr fans are notoriously finicky about design changes and often turn UI tweaks into memes of their own.
Most users are, as they’re wont to do, responding with that particularly Tumblr-y style of self-deprecation.