Yahoo pledges ‘not to screw up’ Tumblr

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Yahoo Inc. promised Monday “not to screw up” Tumblr’s reputation for “cool” when it takes over — even as many of the trendy social network’s 300 million users took to the site to complain about just that possibility.

Yahoo announced Monday it will purchase Tumblr for about $1.1 billion in cash, after news of the sale broke over the weekend. The deal is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Well aware of Yahoo’s history of buying promising startups only to run them into the ground, CEO Marissa Mayer was quick to assure Tumblr users that her company would take a hands-off approach with the social network to ensure that it keeps the creative style that has attracted millions of teens and young adults to the site.

That means Tumblr’s current management will continue to operate the social network independently from Yahoo’s bosses, and site’s look and feel will largely stay the same, without the banner and pop-up ads that often frustrate users on other sites.

The headline of Yahoo’s announcement quipped, “Yahoo! to Acquire Tumblr: Promises not to screw it up,” in a sign that the company has no qualms about poking a shot at itself.

Tumblr’s 26-year-old founder David Karp, who will stay on as CEO, offered the same message to his site’s users.

“Our team isn’t changing,” he wrote. “Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission — to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve — certainly isn’t changing.”

Investors had little reaction to the sale, with Yahoo’s stock price closing Monday unchanged, at $26.58.

Yahoo is hoping the move will help it reach a younger generation of Internet users.

“It’s like buying a whole new audience,” suggested Brian Solis, a technology analyst with Altimeter Group.

Analysts say Yahoo will try to monetize Tumblr from behind the scenes without making big changes to the site’s culture or visual content. That could include advertisements inside of users’ news feeds, rather than annoying banner ads, they say. In this way, the deal could also give Tumblr a boost.

“It’s a good idea for Tumblr, because they do have an incredibly engaged audience, but they haven’t necessarily monetized it as well as they could have,” Mr. Solis said. “They need help in the business department.”

But the promise to keep the culture the same and make money at the same time could prove challenging, especially considering Yahoo has a history of failed social media investments, most recently Flickr. In 2005, Yahoo purchased the then-popular photo-sharing social network for $35 million, but it has tailed off since then.

“Flickr, after it was acquired, just faded,” said Jeff Kagan, a technology analyst from Atlanta.

Mr. Solis agreed, noting that “there’s a lot of skepticism because Yahoo has acquired a lot of cool companies in its history and essentially ran them into the ground.”

This scares many Tumblr users who fear the same thing could happen to their preferred social network.

“If Yahoo! wants to be cool again it could just drop the exclamation point,” Tumblr user @jamiemottram wrote. Another Tumblr user, @nopelarry, warned: “bye never signing into tumblr again.” A third said “it’s been real good knowing you, Tumblr.”

But tech analysts say Yahoo won’t necessarily repeat past mistakes because Ms. Mayer is new to the company and will take a completely different approach than past CEOs.

“That was the old Yahoo,” Mr. Kagan said. “I wouldn’t say that would happen now. Yahoo is a different company now that Marissa is running the show. So it’s quite possible that this could be successful.”

Mr. Solis also voiced confidence in Ms. Mayer’s ability to get the job done.

“There’s this skepticism that Yahoo’s going to do the same thing with Tumblr — take this cool brand and make it uncool,” he added. “But Marissa knows what she’s doing.”

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