The stunning success of Tumblr continues to filter its way across the internet landscape.
The rapidly maturing microblogging platform recently passed 250 million page views per day, shocking even founder David Karp.
As the platform gains traction, its users develop the artform. Perhaps nowhere is this as prevalent as the magazine brands that are bringing their voices to Tumblr.
Mark Coatney started the trend two years ago when he was at Newsweek. He built a loyal following by using the platform to defend the publication’s sale and subsequent newsroom turnover. The outlet allowed people both inside and outside Newsweek to see the unvarnished truth.
In June 2010 Coatney left to join Tumblr where part of his job involves bringing more magazines to the platform. For the most part, it’s been a remarkably successful venture.
There are at least 61 publications currently active on platform, including big names such as GQ, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, and The Economist. Vogue, the most followed magazine, racked up thousands of devotees in mere hours when it launched. Many brands see their posts reblogged by dozens and liked by hundreds.
When magazines fail to utilise the platform, it’s generally because they do not interact with the larger community. People‘s initial Tumblr attempt was simply an RSS feed, which did not encourage interaction, and they have since stopped tumbling.
Editors say that while it is hard to gauge direct impact in terms of subscriptions and revenues, a successful Tumblr targets a community that might not be familiar with the print publication or its website.
The success of a magazine Tumblr is a bit more amorphous than, say, 100 blow-in cards arriving at a publication’s distribution office, but that is not to say it’s not tangible.
”It hasn’t been a huge traffic driver for us but it has been, I think, key in bringing new people to Mother Jones as an organisation and as a brand. It’s such a young audience overall and it’s a different demographic from our usual MotherJones.com website reader or magazine reader,” Laura McClure, who helps run the publication’s site, says.
“I don’t know that it’s driving subscriptions but it is driving buzz, which I think in turn drives subscriptions. It’s been a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine for us.”
The Atlantic‘s Jared Keller believes the Tumblr he oversees helps bring a new type of reader to the print product.
“Our Tumblr readership skews a little bit younger [than on our regular site],” he says. “It’s been a really useful tool for introducing the magazine to college students, the people who may not necessarily know of The Atlantic or may think of it as something they found on their parents’ coffee table a couple of years ago.”
GQ senior editor Devin Gordon credits the well-liked microblog he runs with helping show the magazine goes beyond fashion. He points out impressive features in the latest print product and highlights great essays.
Media companies are learning how they can effectively leverage the platform — Coatney says he works with a growing number of PR firms — but his work is far from done in the magazine world. In addition to recruiting American publications, he plans to have an increasing focus on getting international books on to the platform.
“Tumblr is, at this point, almost 60% outside the U.S., but there aren’t as many media people on it. There are a few Canadian newspapers and The Guardian is great in the U.K. but I’d like to do a lot more,” Coatney says. “Brazil is the second largest country, and as far as I can tell there isn’t a big Brazilian media presence on Tumblr yet.”
While the former Newsweek staffer looks internationally, the Tumblr he founded in his old position continues to help define the voice the publication shows to the world.
“The idea that we were kind of feisty and we weren’t worried about getting in trouble or saying stuff that we normally wouldn’t on Newsweek.com was one of the appeals of the Newsweek Tumblr,” Jessica Bennett, who took over from Coatney and his replacement, Katherine Barna, who also moved to Tumblr, says. “People felt like they could actually see what was going on internally without the PR machine. We’ve tried to maintain that voice by being a little bit more honest, a little bit edgier, and more vocal.”
The lack of filter is vital for a magazine on Tumblr. One editor called it the “id” of the publication, while GQ‘s Gordon offered “a peek inside the hive mind of GQ HQ.”
The Tumblr community learns the viewpoint of a magazine and the book benefits as well.
“There are plenty of incredibly thoughtful, intelligent, creative people that publish in new media, and Tumblr as a platform tends to attract creative types; as result, it’s been a great source for really brave thinking and brave ideas, which is something The Atlantic has always sort of striven for,” Keller says.
At its core, both magazines and Tumblr are about ideas. Creating, sharing, discussing, and working with ideas. They can be quick and fun, but they need depth as well.
“You can post LOLcats, if you want, but there is a bar for adding some kind of statement, whether it’s funny, or newsy, or whatever that adds to a conversation,” Newsweek‘s Bennett says.
“It’s smart ridiculousness.”