Trouble’s brewing over at Reddit, with various popular subreddits set to ‘go dark’ next week, in protest over changes to Reddit’s API pricing.
Late last month, Reddit announced that it would be upping the price of its API access, in order to make money off of big-name developers that have been using Reddit data to fuel their systems. Most notably, various generative AI tools have been using Reddit and Twitter as key sources of conversational input in order to build their models, which those businesses are now on-selling to their own customers, essentially making billions, largely via Reddit and Twitter conversation.
Twitter increased the price of its API access back in March in response, and now, Reddit’s also looking to build a more equitable system for its API use - though much like Twitter, the change will also impact many smaller third-party Reddit clients and tools, which many people currently use to access the app.
The most notable example here is Apollo, a Reddit reader app that provides an alternative Reddit experience. The Apollo app is used by millions of Reddit users, and provides additional functionality, including screen-reader compatibility, helping a broader audience to access the app.
Under the new API access charges, the maker of Apollo claims that he’s been quoted around $2 million per month to keep the app running, which will price him, and many others out of the market, and will have a big impact on the broader Reddit community.
As a result, many subreddits are planning a 48-hour blackout to protest the changes, in the hopes of getting Reddit to see the error in its ways, and allow smaller tools like Apollo to continue accessing its API at their current rates.
As reported by The Verge:
“Some of Reddit’s biggest communities including r/videos, r/reactiongifs, r/earthporn, and r/lifeprotips are planning to set themselves to private on June 12th over new pricing for third-party app developers to access the site’s APIs. Setting a subreddit to private, aka ‘going dark’, will mean that the communities taking part will be inaccessible by the wider public while the planned 48-hour protest is taking place.”
That’s a big move, which will have a big impact on Reddit usage, and could hurt the app’s broader effort to improve its business standing and attract more advertisers to its platform.
The controversy itself will already have some impact, with unrest among the Reddit community likely to spook some potential ad partners who may have been considering their subreddit outreach options.
Then again, it’s only two days, and Reddit is within its rights to demand more from developers for using its API. But much like Twitter, the broader changes, designed to address large-scale usage, will also impact smaller developers, who do play an important role in facilitating engagement and activity in the app.
And a lot of subreddits are taking part. Right now, as it stands, it looks like Reddit is going to be very quiet indeed on June 12 and 13.
It’s a significant move, which will definitely get Reddit management’s attention – but whether they switch course on their API pricing as a result remains to be seen.
Reddit seems unlikely to shift, but it could look to make concessions, especially if the change is likely to impact overall Reddit usage in a significant way. Reddit definitely can’t afford to lose users, as it seeks to win over more ad partners. At one stage, back in 2019, Reddit had 430 million monthly actives, but a raft of changes to its content rules, which led to the removal of many of the most controversial subreddits, had impacted this, with Reddit now reporting 57 million daily actives instead.
Daily and monthly active user counts are not directly comparable, but it’s unlikely that Reddit has anywhere near 430 million monthly users now, with only a fraction of that coming to the app daily.
As such, Reddit does need to take this threat seriously, though the difficulty, then, is how you might be able to set parameters around any such provisions or concessions, in order to ensure fair application of its API rules.
It’s a potentially tough spot, but Reddit will likely need to come up with a solution to avoid broader impacts.