SAN FRANCISCO (TheBlaze/AP) – Yahoo is buying online blogging forum Tumblr for $1.1 billion as CEO Marissa Mayer tries to rejuvenate an Internet pioneer that had fallen behind the times.
The deal announced Monday is Mayer's boldest move since she left Google 10 months ago to lead Yahoo's latest comeback attempt. It marks Yahoo's most expensive acquisition since the Sunnyvale, Calif., company bought online search engine Overture a decade ago for $1.3 billion in cash and stock.
Yahoo is paying mostly cash for Tumblr, dipping into what remains of a $7.6 billion windfall reaped last year from selling about half of its stake in Chinese Internet company Alibaba Holdings Group. Taking over Tumblr will devour about one-fifth of the $5.4 billion in cash that Yahoo had in its accounts at the end of March.
While hailing Tumblr as a fount of creativity that attracts 300 million visitors each month, Mayer told analysts Monday that she is "making a sincere promise to not screw it up."
David Karp, a high school dropout who started Tumblr six years ago, will remain in control of the service in an effort to retain the same "irreverence, wit and commitment to empower creators," Yahoo said.
The deal is expected to close during the second half of this year.
However, as popular as Tumblr has become, the service remains unprofitable. That is likely to raise questions about whether Yahoo paid too much in Mayer's zeal to gain control over a hot service. Facebook Inc. faced similar doubts last year when it bought Instagram, a rapidly growing photo sharing site, that also hadn't been trying to make money. Facebook initially agreed to pay $1 billion in stock for Instagram, but the value had fallen to $715 million by the time that deal closed. Facebook still hasn't proven it will be able to make money off of Instagram.
If this deal pays off the way Mayer envisions, Tumblr could help Yahoo finally get its stock price to $33. That would be a major coup because many investors soured on Yahoo after a previous regime led by co-founder Jerry Yang squandered an opportunity five years ago to sell the entire company to Microsoft for $33 per share. The stock spent more than four years trading below $20 before the recent surge. The shares gained 14 cents to $26.66 in Monday's afternoon trading.
Still, the deal could backfire though if Yahoo's effort to make more money alienate a Tumblr user base that so far has been subjected to hardly any advertising during the service's six-year history.
Mayer is hoping that Tumblr will provide Yahoo with a captivating hook to reel in more traffic and advertisers on smartphones and tablet computers. That rapidly growing market is expected to become even more important during the next decade as people increasingly consume digital content on mobile devices instead of laptop and desktop machines.
More than half of Tumblr's users connect to the service through the mobile app, and engage in an average of seven sessions per day.
Besides offering one of the top mobile apps, Tumblr also runs one of the world's busiest websites, featuring 75 million daily posts about everything from politics to pets. Advertising has been a missing ingredient so far as Tumblr, like many online services in their early stages, focused on building a loyal audience before turning its attention to making money.
Tumblr could help Yahoo recapture some of its cachet with teens and adults in their early 20s, a demographic that has become tougher for Yahoo to reach in recent years as it fell behind the technological curve and struggled to develop compelling services.
Tumblr emerged as a trendy online hangout by providing a service that makes it easy to share blog posts, photos, video and other content in an enthralling mosaic. The service says it has amassed more than 50 billion posts from 108 million blogs. Tumblr users rely on a dashboard to pinpoint the kinds of blogs that they want to track and also have tools to pass along the posts that interest them.
That wealth of content could be interwoven into Yahoo's other services that provide coverage of general news, sports, finance and entertainment. Tumblr also will fill Yahoo's gaping void in the realm of social media. Yahoo so far has had to connect its services to Facebook and Twitter to give its users a social networking outlet.
Having its own social networking service will also give Yahoo more insights into the things that people like - a key to distributing ads to consumers most likely to be interested in a specific products. That data, in turn, should help Yahoo sell more ads and accelerate its revenue growth.
After three successive years of declines, Yahoo's revenue rose slightly last year, but lagged far behind the growth at Google and Facebook. Mayer has vowed to bring Yahoo's revenue growth back to at least the level of the overall Internet ad market.
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