Media

Tumblr’s CEO on killing its editorial team, not monetizing like Google & YouTube

Tumblr’s CEO David Karp has been in the spotlight as of late, especially in the blogosphere. A little over a week ago, he published a blog post announcing the killing of Tumblr’s Storyboard, and subsequently, the end of the only 1 year old Tumblr editorial team.

There was clear backlash in the media world, including a certain piece satirizing Karp’s post. Today was the first time he has been able to speak freely and publicly.

Speaking at GigaOm’s paidContent Live conference in New York City, Karp said the following regarding the Storyboard team: “It’s not a knock on that team. We hired a team of journalists as an experimental marketing initiative to report on our community. It wasn’t the right tool in our toolbox.”

When pushed further on why exactly it wasn’t the right tool, he said frankly, “It wasn’t working in the ways we had intended for it to work. My hope was that we were going to surface the incredible stuff that’s going on on Tumblr, stuff you had no idea existed. Storyboard was our take on the Tumblr beat. Like many creative ambitions, this didn’t work the way we wanted.”

In a bit of a contrast to Karp, Aria Haghighi, CEO of Prismatic, and Zite CEO Mark Johnson sang the praises of personalization in content consumption, and how their services are helping users and readers curate and expand the content they are recommended. It seems that Karp has killed the first product to help readers curate the massive Tumblr ecosystem (as of today, the platform has 90 million posts created/day by 100 millions bloggers, totaling at 45 billion posts), but this doesn’t mean it’s Tumblr’s last attempt.

He then spoke about Tumblr’s view on monetization for its creators, making some contentious (although brave) comments, this time against Google and YouTube’s model.

We’ve left the thing wide open. Compare that to a YouTube and their partner program. They’ve built a brilliant, but single model for some creators. My concern is that it reminds me of what Google did with the blogosphere–it was wide open with a huge diversity of stuff that people were creating in the blogosphere.

If you remember when AdSense came along, the blogosphere started to homogenize to get a buck. In the same way that AdSense had a strong effect on the originality, creativity and diversity of the blogosphere, my concern is that with networks like YouTube that are big and wide open, when you look at the tools, already you can see the YouTube creators lining up behind the one business model.

At Tumblr, we want to keep the network wide open and never prescribe anything.

But what does an open, non-prescriptive network mean?

Karp thinks it means success through other platforms. He announced that by today, there have been 70 book deals, and by two months ago, the platform had 3 creators get TV deals.

He’s also keen to see what some of the emerging platforms are allowing. Using self-publishing, how can Tumblr users monetize their audiences? Or for performers, who are building audiences through Tumblr, how they are selling out shows through the likes of products like Songkick?

Clearly, Karp has a long road ahead of him. What we do know is that he’s not afraid to experiment, and he’s not afraid to stick by his decisions. What we don’t know is where Tumblr will be in a year, or even six months.

What we bet we can expect is the continued growth of the platform, and hopefully more of its users being able to monetize their audiences and their creativity.

erica bergerErica Berger is a Brooklyn based media creative and writer, working at the intersection of tech, international issues, and social good. She builds digital products that make people happy, and can be found @GoodBerger.

Photo: Satya Murthy/Flickr


Mobile developer or publisher? VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Fill out our 5-minute survey, and we'll share the data with you.