Automattic Acquires Tumblr, Plans to Rebuild the Backend Powered by WordPress

Automattic has acquired Tumblr, a long-time friendly rival company, for an undisclosed sum. Just six years after Yahoo acquired Tumblr for $1.1 billion, the company is said to have been acquired for “a nominal amount” from Verizon, who indirectly acquired Tumblr when it bought Yahoo in 2017.

Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg declined to comment on the financial deals of the acquisition, but a source familiar to Axios puts the deal “well south of $20 million.”

Tumblr is Automattic’s biggest acquisition yet in terms of product users and employees gained. The microblogging and social networking website currently hosts 475.1 million blogs, for which Automattic will now assume operating costs. All 200 of Tumblr’s employees will be moving over to Automattic, bringing the company’s total employee count over 1,000.

Mullenweg took to the Post Status community Slack channel for an impromptu Q&A this afternoon where he discussed more of Automattic’s plans for Tumblr. He outlined a brief roadmap for Tumblr’s future that includes re-architecting its backend with WordPress:

  1. Move infrastructure off Verizon
  2. Support same APIs on both WP.com and Tumblr
  3. Switch backend to be WP
  4. Open source Tumblr.com client similar to Calypso

“WordPress is an open source web operating system that can power pretty much anything, including Tumblr.com, but it’s also a large property so will take a bit to figure out and migrate,” Mullenweg said.

Automattic doesn’t currently have plans to change the frontend Tumblr experience. Mullenweg said the Tumblr mobile app gets 20x more daily signups than the WordPress app. “It’s working amazingly well, despite being fairly constrained in what they can launch the past few years,” he said.

Tumblr changed its adult content policy in December 2018, banning pornographic content which reportedly accounted for 22.37 percent of incoming referral traffic from external sites in 2013 when it was acquired by Yahoo. Automattic has a similar content policy in place for WordPress.com and Mullenweg confirmed that the company does not plan to lift the ban on adult content.

“Adult content is not our forte either, and it creates a huge number of potential issues with app stores, payment providers, trust and safety… it’s a problem area best suited for companies fully dedicated to creating a great experience there,” Mullenweg said in response to questions on Hacker News. “I personally have very liberal views on these things, but supporting adult content as a business is very different.”

Automattic’s Tumblr Acquisition Opens Up New Possibilities for E-Commerce, Plugins, and Themes

Beyond this initial roadmap Mullenweg outlined, he also said he thinks “e-commerce on Tumblr is a great idea,” with simpler features developed first. In the past, Tumblr users who wanted to add e-commerce to their sites would need to use a service like Shopify or Ecwid and generate a Tumblr-compatible widget. Users would have to move to a self-hosted site on another platform in order to get more full-featured e-commerce capabilities. Automattic has the ability to build e-commerce into the platform using WooCommerce or any number of other existing solutions for simpler sales features.

An emerging Tumblr/WordPress plugin and theme ecosystem is also a possibility but may not affect the wider WordPress ecosystem as much unless Automattic opens up the Tumblr marketplace to third-party developers. Mullenweg said once Tumblr’s backend is on WordPress, the idea of plugins can be explored. Whether that is on a private network, like WordPress.com, or a new breed of self-hosted Tumblr sites, is yet to be seen.

Automattic’s apparent bargain basement deal on Tumblr is good news for the preservation of the open web, as the company is committed to supporting independent publishing. Migrating Tumblr’s infrastructure to WordPress also expands WordPress’ market share with a significantly younger user base. A study conducted by We Are Flint in 2018 found 43 percent of internet users between the ages of 18 to 24 years old used Tumblr.

Tumblr’s primary demographic thrives on community and its current feature set is built to support that. If Automattic can preserve Tumblr’s distinct community and convenient publishing, while invisibly re-architecting it to use WordPress, users could potentially enjoy seamless transitions across platforms to suit their publishing needs. This improves the likelihood that this generation of internet users will continue to own their own content instead of tossing it away on social media silos that feed on users’ most important thoughts, writings, and memories.

“I’m very excited about Tumblr’s next chapter and looking forward working with Matt Mullenweg and the entire team at Automattic,” Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio said. “I’m most excited for what this means for the entire Tumblr community. There is much more to do to make your experience a better one, and I’m super confident that we are in great hands with this news. Tumblr and WordPress share common founding principles. The plane has landed on a friendly runway. Now it is time to freshen up the jets.”

In the announcement on his Tumblr blog, Mullenweg said he sees “some good opportunities to standardize on the Open Source WordPress tech stack.” This migration will undoubtedly be a formidable technical challenge and Mullenweg promised to document the team’s work after it is complete. In the meantime, the Tumblr team has new functionality they plan to introduce after the acquisition is officially closed.

“When the possibility to join forces became concrete, it felt like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have two beloved platforms work alongside each other to build a better, more open, more inclusive – and, frankly, more fun web,” Mullenweg said. “I knew we had to do it.”

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10 Comments


  1. Seems like tumblr is meant to “tumble” along from one buyer to another. Anyways, congrats to Matt and the Automattic team on the shiny new object in their stable.

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  2. It may be too early to make a bet, but I think that in the future, through my point-of-vision, Tumblr will be like the “Automattic blogging platform”, competing directly with Ghost and Medium, for example, while WordPress becomes a “Modular CMS” for other things.

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  3. Wow, this is the great news of the day. I think good days are coming for tumblr users. I am eagerly waiting for WordPress powered back-end for Tumblr.

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  4. I’m surprised the price would tank that much.

    I think this is a very good thing for Tumblr, Automattic and WordPress. This is awesome to see :)

    One thing where I see WordPress.com failing, is in the area of providing an idiot proof easy to use interface for churning out content easily. Tumblr seems to be much better that, so hopefully it can continue and keep it’s current simplicity (mostly based on what I’ve heard from others – I have very little experience using Tumblr).

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  5. In the quest for 50% of web, adding almost 0.5 billion sites will make a dent. Congrats!

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  6. Really enjoy the simplicity of Tumblr, at least until the “porn ban” that screwed up the UX of it, banning lots of non-porn, even non-erotic content.

    I like the way it works more as a network and not as an isolated website. A WordPress.com blog doesn’t have the same flow, therefore I’m skeptic on how it can be managed with WordPress.

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  7. My friends and I used to use it all the time in high school, but between all the social media websites that exist today, tumblr died out. I also remember the app being extremely buggy and difficult to use. Honestly probably wouldn’t go back to it at this point.

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  8. Wow! This is really an interesting news. Not sure how much greater of an impact this would have on the UI/UX of Tumblr. Already love it though.. But Tumblr and WordPress together are really going to be awesome in my opinion. Looking forward to see how it evolves from here.

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  9. For me, I think this a nice move by Automattic to acquire Tumblr. I’d suggest they add more features to both the frontend and the backend instead of planning to rebuild just the backend, A total revamp is necessary if they want real value for the investment.

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  10. Great news, we have photo a blog on Tumblr, what we think that the present application of tumblr is little buggy. Aside wordpress is costlier if both option merged then may it will be a good outcome. Looking forward to see how it evolves from here.

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