Reddit is getting ready to slap third-pary apps with millions of dollars in API fees, and many Reddit users are unhappy about it. A widespread protest is planned for June 12, with hundreds of subreddits planning to go dark for 48 hours.
Reddit started life as a geeky site, but as it has aged, it has been trying to work more like a traditional social network. Part of that push included the development of a first-party app for mobile devices, but the 17-year-old site only launched an official app in 2016. Before then, it was up to third-party apps to pick up the slack, and even now, the revenue-focused official app is generally considered inferior to third-party options.
Reasonable API pricing would not necessarily mean the death of third-party apps, but the pricing Reddit communicated to some of its biggest developers is far above what other sites charge. The popular iOS client Apollo announced it was facing a $20 million-a-year bill. Apollo’s developer, Christian Selig, hasn’t announced a shutdown but admitted, “I don’t have that kind of money or would even know how to charge it to a credit card.”
Other third-party apps are in the same boat. The developer of Reddit is Fun has said the API costs will “likely kill” the app. Narwhal, another third-party app, will be “dead in 30 days” when the pricing kicks in on July 1, according to its developer.
Selig broke the news of the new pricing scheme, saying, “I don’t see how this pricing is anything based in reality or remotely reasonable.” Selig said Reddit wants to charge $12,000 for 50 million requests, while Imgur, an image-focused site that’s similar to Reddit, charges $166 for 50 million API calls. A post pinned to the top of the new /r/Save3rdPartyApps subreddit calls for a pricing decrease “by a factor of 15 to 20,” saying that would “put API calls in territory more closely comparable to other sites, like Imgur.”
Reddit is Fun (RIF) developer /u/talklittle said Reddit’s API terms also require “blocking ads in third-party apps, which make up the majority of RIF’s revenue.” Talklittle says the pricing and ad restriction will “force a paid subscription model” onto any surviving apps. Reddit’s APIs also exclude adult content, a major draw for the site.
While Reddit is a company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the content moderation and community building is all done by volunteer moderators. This means that you get fun civil wars, where the users and mods can take up arms against the site administrators. The full list of subreddits participating in the June 12 shutdown is currently over a thousand subreddits strong. Many of the site’s most popular subreddits, like r/gaming, r/Music, and r/Pics, are participating, and each has over 30 million subscribers. The Reddit administrators have yet to respond.
Advance Publications, which owns Ars Technica parent Condé Nast, is the largest shareholder in Reddit.