How Tumblr Can Save Yahoo

There’s a pony in there somewhere, and its name is Tumblr

Mark Coatney
Jan 13, 2016 · 10 min read

Mistake No. 1: Tumblr is a Terrible CMS for a Conventional Publisher

I completely get how this happened. Sometime a few years ago in Sunnyvale this conversation happened:

Mistake No. 2: Tumblr is a Conversation Platform, not a Broadcast Platform.

This is a common one. It’s a trap that Yahoo falls into from the start by calling these Tumblrs “Digital Magazines,” because to do so means accepting a print lens for what should be a digital product. It means Yahoo is thinking of itself as a “publisher” when it should be thinking of itself as a “host.”

Mistake No. 3: The Tumblr Community is not the Yahoo Community

A fundamental disconnect Yahoo needs to reconcile in using Tumblr to power its digital magazines is that few of them cover topics that are of prime interest to the majority of the existing Tumblr community. And those that do don’t cover those topics in a way that resonates with the Tumblr community.

Mistake No. 4: The Yahoo Community is not the Tumblr Community

That said, Yahoo can grow the Tumblr community, by creating good content and expanding the definition of what works on Tumblr. While Tumblr has, either consciously or by default, become a network for teens (More than one person has described Medium as “Tumblr for adults,” and there’s a lot of truth to that), Yahoo provide use cases and introduce Tumblr to a whole new kind of user. This is crucial for Tumblr’s long-term prospects; while there’s nothing wrong with being solely for teens, that’s not a particularly secure position in the marketplace.

Mistake No. 5: Yahoo isn’t doing anything to bring more users into the Tumblr ecosystem.

This is the biggest missed opportunity of the Tumblr deal. With their digital magazines, Yahoo has tens of millions of people looking at these Tumblr pages every day…and they don’t know that they’re Tumblr pages. It’s as if Yahoo had bought Twitter and decided to produce Yahoo Style as a page of Twitter Cards, with no way for anyone to actually use the functionality of the service (come to think of it, this is kind of how Twitter Moments works, but that’s another story).

How Yahoo Can Save Tumblr

Yahoo’s business model has always been a conventional publishing one — assemble a big audience and sell advertising around it. The best version of Tumblr’s business model is an evolution of this — assemble a big audience and bring advertisers into the same system, using the same tools as any other user to reach an audience. That’s a model I still very much believe in. For one thing, it very neatly sidesteps the adblocker issue, since the ad platform is the same as the content platform. And it provides the potential for better brand advertising than a banner format allows.


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Thoughts on Media

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Mark Coatney

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I am part of the problem. Ex Tumblr, Al Jazeera, Forbes, Time, Newsweek. Consultant, WordsTK

Thoughts on Media

Hand-picked articles about journalism, media, and writing. Curated by @awwstn