Tumblr CEO David Karp says at least 70 users have turned blogging into book deals

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Session Name: Tumblr and The Future of Media

Speakers: Matthew Ingram David Karp

Matthew Ingram 00:08

Here we go. David, thanks very much for joining us here.

David Karp 00:13

Thank you for having me, everybody. Very excited to be here.

Matthew Ingram 00:16

I wanted to ask you, first of all, whether– last time we talked, I think it was in the fall, at RoadMap and you had just passed 20 billion or was it trillion? Anyway, 20 billion page views and 80 million blogs hosted?

David Karp 00:34

Yes. Big milestone for us this year was we passed a 100 million blogs just a few weeks ago. Actually, that probably marked one of the last times that I had really gone out talking about page views as our metric. Which we’ve really started to drop externally and internally as mobile makes up much more of that time spent on Tumblr. Internally, our big numbers are aggregate time spent on Tumblr and per user time spent. We haven’t released any of those numbers just yet but are getting there. I can tell you it’s on the order of tens of billions of minutes a month spent on Tumblr. The per user number, which we’re really proud of, is about 14 minutes per visit. So time spent when you open up the app, go to the blue Tumblr dashboard, it’s 14 minutes on average today, which is pretty freaking cool.

Matthew Ingram 01:21

How would that compare to Facebook, do you know?

David Karp 01:24

Yes, it’s about a minute-and-a-half higher than a Facebook visit.

Matthew Ingram 01:28


David Karp 01:29

A few minutes higher than an average Twitter visit.

Matthew Ingram 01:30

Does Mark know that?

David Karp 01:31

He does. I’ve made sure he does. The reason for that, I don’t think, is that Tumblr is so much better, I think it’s very different behavior. People come here for the same reason they turn their TV on when they get home at the end of the day, right? It’s media, it’s something to do before checking your email. It’s a chance to go and see stuff that you enjoy and lets you escape from the real world. That media experience is one that ends up consuming a fair bit more time than just the amount of time that you spend checking your friends’ updates on Facebook, checking updates on Twitter or FourSquare.

Matthew Ingram 02:09

I know my daughter, who is 18, probably skews those time spent numbers to the high range. I would bet she probably spends about 3, 000 minutes on Tumblr a day. I don’t even know if there are 3, 000 minutes in a day, but she’s just on it all the time. It’s like eating and breathing and Tumblr, it’s her whole life. There’s a whole community of people that she connects with and she doesn’t even know them in the “real world.”

David Karp 02:43

That’s our big effort right now. For the people who brave through, for the people who find the stuff they love on Tumblr, it is that experience that really can consume you. It is full of incredibly talented and aspiring creators who are making some of the most compelling content in the world right now. Our big effort this year, though, has been 80 million… closer to 90 million today. 90 million posts created on Tumblr every day by a 100 million bloggers.

Matthew Ingram 03:12

90 million a day?

David Karp 03:13

Creating 90 million posts each day. We’ve got 45 billion posts on Tumblr today. It spans a really, really wide diversity of content, which is why so many different types of people use Tumblr to create and find stuff that they love on Tumblr. Our big, big effort for the last few months has really been on getting you guys, when you first show up on Tumblr and every time you show up on Tumblr, to the stuff, getting you guys to those posts. In those 45 billion posts, getting you guys to the ones that you’re going to love and letting more people find that experience on Tumblr that keeps them there for 3, 000 minutes a day.

Matthew Ingram 03:54

Do you do that with algorithms or are human beings doing it?

David Karp 03:56

A number of different things. It’s a different set of tools, we’re finding, that work well on a small screen versus on a big screen. There are a lot of different vectors for how people come into Tumblr. So, if you land on a blog on Tumblr today and you were linked there from somebody who said, “You gotta check this out. This is perfect for you.” We know a little bit more about you in that first visit, because you’re looking at something and you’re clicking around, and we have some signals that this is what you like. First is, you go to Tumblr.com for the first time and we need a few more signals before can drill down, narrow down to the stuff that you really care about. Lots of different ways that people come into Tumblr, making sure that all of them find something they love when they get here is a big, big part of where our energy is going these days.

Matthew Ingram 04:41

You’ve got all those engaged minutes. You’ve got people creating millions and millions of blog posts. Clearly, there’s tons of engagement, but how do you monetize that? I’m sure this is a question you get regularly. You’ve raised a lot of money in venture financing, I’m sure they’re interested. Do you charge those people for things or do you charge advertisers to show them things, or some combination of those?

David Karp 05:06

My hope is that we’re doing everything that adds value. We’re doing all of those different things, over time, that build a great business and add value to the network. The one that we’re hinging our business on today, and certainly the foreseeable future, is advertising. With this much engagement, it was a natural for us to start there and a natural big business for us. We launched our first ad products at the beginning of last year. They were really hinged on this thesis that we’ve spent the last few years building tools to serve creators, to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of an audience they deserve. It’s all advertising has ever hoped to do, is create their most compelling advertisements and get it in front of an audience that responds to it, that cares about it, that it resonates with.

David Karp 06:00

Interestingly, that’s not what digital advertising, last year, last few years or today, I think…

Matthew Ingram 06:07

The whole industry is being disrupted.

David Karp 06:10

I would say that the big networks today have pushed digital advertising in very specific directions. It’s very much about hyper-targeting little blue links. It’s all about bottom of the funnel. West Coast loves to talk about harvesting intent. It’s not the kind of advertising that I’ve loved, growing up. It’s not the kind of advertising I’d be particularly excited to see on television.

Matthew Ingram 06:33

So, you’re saying the other end?

David Karp 06:35

We focused on higher up in the funnel, the kinds of advertising that creates intent, giving room for those most creative advertisers to make their best work and get in front of the audience they deserve.

Matthew Ingram 06:45

You believe that there is still growth in the market?

David Karp 06:48

I think we’ve started to prove it. I think we’ve started to see really terrific examples of it over the last few months, since we started really ramping up our advertising effort over here.

Matthew Ingram 06:57

So, that type of advertising is not dead, as far as you’re concerned?

David Karp 07:00

I think it hasn’t had a home on the web, to date. I think we’re starting to give them one. I think that advertising has been out there in the world in print and in traditional media. But the web, for whatever reason, these big networks were forcing these incredibly creative advertisers, these guys who got into the industry with these Mad Men aspirations, they were forcing them to A, B, and C test a tiny, little blue link that’s out there in a big stack of little, blue links, next to your friends’ news feed.

Matthew Ingram 07:31

Is Tumblr profitable?

David Karp 07:33

Not today.

Matthew Ingram 07:33

Will it be?

David Karp 07:35


Matthew Ingram 07:36


David Karp 07:38

Honestly, it’s not a milestone that is particularly important to us. I’m excited to invest a lot of money into a lot of things that are going to make this a big, big business in the long run and a very important network to many hundreds of millions of creators and many billions of consumers. Getting to profitably as quickly as possible, when we have incredibly supportive investors and a big opportunity in front of us, is not something that that…

Matthew Ingram 08:03

But it is going to happen?

David Karp 08:04

Absolutely. I don’t think any of us are sweating that right now.

Matthew Ingram 08:08

I have to ask you about something that happened recently… the Storyboard Project that the editorial team was disbanded, the Storyboard Project was shut down?

David Karp 08:19

Yeah, this is one I’m actually happy to get a chance to talk about in person, because I worry that this wasn’t captured– I think it was captured pretty well in some of the write-ups about it, but I just wanted to emphasize it’s not a knock on that team at all. We hired some brilliantly talented people to do something that I think was really ambitious, which was this experimental marketing effort where we hired a team of journalists to report on our community. We gave it a shot. We gave it a year. After evaluating it at the end of the year, decided that it wasn’t really the right tool in our toolbox for the kind of marketing that we’re hoping to accomplish.

Matthew Ingram 08:54

Was it not working?

David Karp 08:56

It was working in some regards. It wasn’t working in the ways that we had intended for it to work.

Matthew Ingram 09:01

What did you want to see from it that you didn’t?

David Karp 09:04

My hope was that we were going to start to surface stories. To me, marketing Tumblr is really about surfacing all of the incredible stuff that’s going on here, showing you guys and those hundreds of millions of creators that are using Tumblr today, showing you the ones that you’re going to care about. Showing you the ones that you had no idea or had no idea existed. One of the ways that we were hoping to do that was to literally start the Tumblr Beat to get people surfacing those stories all the time. Storyboard was a particular take on that, some spin on telling stories about the things going on inside Tumblr. Like many creative ambitions, some work, some don’t. This one didn’t work the way that we had intended for it to work. It’s not to say that we’re not going to still be telling stories, and finding ways to report on our own community and surface those creators. But, I don’t think that was the right way for us to be doing it.

Matthew Ingram 10:06

It sort of felt like… I forgot who wrote about it. There was a satirical memo making fun of your blog post. Someone said these people did a great job and we really thought they did excellent.

David Karp 10:19

Again, not a knock on them at all. They knew it from the outset– we knew this was something that hadn’t been done before.

Matthew Ingram 10:33

So, just an experiment?

David Karp 10:34

Again, an experiment in marketing and telling stories about a network that’s kind of unlike– there aren’t many networks quite like this, that are homes to hundreds of millions of independent creators who are doing their own thing and aspiring to big things. How you market that is new. That’s pretty “blue sky” and something that we’ve been trying a lot of different things for. That particular effort was not the right one going forward.

Matthew Ingram 10:58

I know in an earlier panel, Jacob Weisberg from Slate was talking to Eric Martin from Reddit and Dan Roth from LinkedIn, and he was describing how Facebook had an editor at one point and they were trying to use the platform as a unique…

David Karp 11:12

I think they shut theirs down, too.

Matthew Ingram 11:14

They shut theirs down, too. He was saying, “Facebook shut theirs down, Tumblr has shut their thing down. Does this mean that new media entities like Tumblr, this isn’t an ambition that they have? That they’re just platforms, they don’t want to create content or curate content?”

David Karp 11:33

I think there’s something to that, which is we don’t want to be too prescriptive, ever. We certainly want to help get you to the stuff that you’re going to love on Tumblr. At the same time, we don’t want to say what great Tumblr content is. We don’t want to say what great content is. We don’t want to say that these are our favorite blogs. That is one of the challenges that you have to balance when you bring in editorial voices in the mix. You don’t want to color it too much. You don’t want to scare off anybody, and you don’t want to overemphasize one community while another making another community feels neglected.

Matthew Ingram 12:07

Yet, you do have that challenge of 90 million posts. Even if it’s guided by algorithms, how else do you show people things that you think might be interesting to them? The New York Times has editors who pick things and say this is what you should read.

David Karp 12:23

One thing is to power those communities to do that themselves. We’re not going to be able to cover the entire network. We’re not going to be able to see and read every one of those 90 million posts that’s created every day.

Matthew Ingram 12:33

You don’t read them all?

David Karp 12:34

I try. [laughter] That’s all I do at work is come down my dashboard… and see everything. Much of what’s brought Tumblr to this place– you guys came to come here and listen to me today. The reason that hundreds of millions of people are using this thing is we set up a space, we gave these creators a place where they could create their best work and build an audience. Build an audience in a very meritocratic way. That wasn’t us pushing the button to say, “Oh, you’re it. We’re going to bounce you up to the top.” It was these guys showing up, doing their best work and earning an audience. Again, giving those creators paths to… you can think about it in both directions. One is building discovery tools to get the audience to the creator. The other way to think about it is give the creator the tools to reach that audience.

Matthew Ingram 13:34

Is that something you’re working on, giving them more tools?

David Karp 13:37

I would say we’re doing it. Everything that Tumblr is today is because we’ve been giving those creators those tools. There’s so many ways to think about discovery, helping people find the stuff they love on Tumblr. We’re working on all of it. There’s so many ways to tackle it.

Matthew Ingram 13:52

Anybody have any questions? There’s a mic or you can just shout out, if you don’t want to go to the mic.

David Karp 13:55

Please raise your hand, I would love to answer any questions.

Matthew Ingram 13:59

So, giving them tools to reach that audience, to connect with that audience, to grow that audience. What about monetize that audience, helping them do that?

David Karp 14:08

This is actually a pretty cool thing. We’ve left the thing wide, wide open, right? Compare that today to a YouTube, where they basically prescribe one model where you sign up for their partner program. If you pass a certain threshold, you can sign up for their partner program, they’ll draw a badge in your stuff that you have no control over, and then they send you a check at the end of the month, which is pretty cool. So, if you are into the model where someone takes care of the whole thing…

Matthew Ingram 14:31

Some people are making substantial amounts of money.

David Karp 14:34

Some folks have accomplished some pretty huge things through Tumblr as well, and through those audiences that they’ve built on Tumblr as well, too. By the way, a lot of those top YouTube creators, those film makers, are leveraging Tumblr, not just as a creative tool but for building an audience as well. But, they prescribe one model. My only knock on that, and I think it’s brilliant and they’ve done something amazing for a few genres of creators. For beauty, for comedy, for film, for dance and music, they’ve got a model that serves a whole bunch of creators and is a short path to getting a check from Google every month. My concern from that, though, is the same thing that Google did with the blogosphere. Which, if you remember, was this wide open… what are the words to describe it?

Matthew Ingram 15:29


David Karp 15:30

It was. It was a little bit of chaos, but at the same time it was original, it was beautiful, it was wide, wide open. There was a huge diversity of stuff that people were creating in the blogosphere, back in 2002, 2005 when it was really on its way out. If you remember, when AdSense came along, 2005-2007 looked very different. Very quickly, the blogosphere started to homogenize, started to line up behind AdSense to figure out how they could get a buck. My concern is that in the same way that AdSense really colored the blogosphere and turned it into a very particular thing that, I would say, poisoned a lot of… maybe not use such hard words, but really, really had a strong affect on a lot of the originality, beauty, and diversity of that original blogosphere. And everything that it turned into. Remember, it was growing incredibly quickly before Google got there, right? Google just showed up with one path to monetize it.

Matthew Ingram 16:31

And with that one path to monetize it, everybody lined up behind that and again, just changed it for ever after. My concern is that you have this big, wide open, beautiful, democratic network like YouTube today… when you look at the tools for monetization on YouTube, sure they’re democratic. They’re pretty open. All you have to do is pass the threshold and then you get in.

Matthew Ingram 16:54

And it’s working.

David Karp 16:55

It’s working. You get some cash out of AdSense work, too. My concern is that already you can see those YouTube creators lining up behind one business model that works particularly well, in one particular way.

Matthew Ingram 17:08

How do you avoid that with Tumblr?

David Karp 17:10

This is where– and this is not like any brilliance on our part, this was just us starting in a place where we wanted to keep the network wide open, never prescribe anything, and give our creators as much room to do anything that they could imagine. One of the things that that led to was a whole lots of business models, and sort of commercialization, types of commercialization getting built on top of Tumblr. What that looks like today is 70– we just passed 70 book deals to come out of blogs on Tumblr. Two months ago, we had three in one month, three TV development deals from three different networks.

Matthew Ingram 17:44

This is not something that you have… creators have done this?

David Karp 17:45

This is not something that we have a hand in, this is they show up, they do their best work, they build a big audience and they commercialize that in any number of ways. Those examples are ones of people thinking about how they even graduate out of Tumblr. They want to do something in traditional media and for them publishing a book, coolest thing in the world, they idea of…

Matthew Ingram 18:04

Shouldn’t you get a share of that? You had the platform.

David Karp 18:09

We’re monetizing it on the other side with all of that engagement that these creators are building and bringing in. That’s one example of folks who are…

Matthew Ingram 18:18

So, it’s up to them, as a creator, to find their own monetization method, is that what you’re saying?

David Karp 18:23

Here’s the important thing to consider, though. That one that I described, those were traditional networks, studios, publishers, that traditionally allowed a very narrow set of creators through. Now, folks that couldn’t have made it through in that first shot, they can come to Tumblr. They can build that audience, they can prove themselves and they can be ushered through the big studios, the big networks. They can, not shortcut per se, but when that was previously inaccessible, they can prove themselves and get access. Even more interesting to me than just the folks that are going into the traditional media paths, are the people who are using any number of these new, emerging platforms. This, to me, is one of the most exciting pieces to these big, open, creative… I should say what’s so exciting to me about Tumblr as a media network today, is this new generation of creative commercialization tools. I’ll explain that in a moment. These new tools for commercialization that are emerging and being built on top of these other networks. Great examples of that are people who don’t have to go to Harper’s for the book deal, they self-publish the book on Kickstart. There are performers who are building an audience online and then selling out shows with Songkick or funding their tours through Indiegogo. There are people who are documentarians or film makers who are building the audience, showing off their animation, showing off their sketches, showing off their work. When they’ve got the 5-minute short film, when they’ve got the hour-and-a-half documentary, they sell it themselves on VHX. Just think about your opportunities as a creator to build an audience. Again, to even be seen, you needed some A&R person, you needed some label to take a chance on you. Now, you can build the audience on your own. You can do your best work. Let’s even start there. Doing your best work use to require Pro Tools and Photoshop and any number of these big, honking creative suites that used to cost thousands of dollars. Now, you can make work that looks about as good on your phone with an app that costs like two bucks. You’ve got a choice of millions of these apps that cost about two bucks.

Matthew Ingram 20:37

We are out of time, I’m afraid. We could go on, I’m sure, and that’s a great note to end on. Please thank David for coming.

David Karp 20:45

Guys, thank you for having me. Sorry to ramble. [applause]

Matthew Ingram 20:47

No, no. That was great.