Reddit is in trouble right now. After announcing the changes in April, news surfaced that many of the most popular third-party Reddit apps would be shut down by the end of the month. Additionally, five of the most popular subreddits will shut down for two days starting June 12, and every other post on the Internet’s front page protests Reddit’s API changes.
What is going on? We’re here to update you on the Reddit API changes, the Reddit blackout, and why everyone is losing their minds on one of the most popular social media platforms on the internet.
What is an API, anyway?
Let’s start from the top. API stands for Application Programming Interface and allows two applications to communicate with each other. As the name suggests, it’s an interface where apps can send data back and forth without actually logging into the app itself.
In the case of Reddit, it has long maintained a free API. This means that anyone building an application could request data from Reddit and use it to build their application. Someone could build their own application with their own interface and as many additional features as they want, then use the Reddit API to populate it with things like subreddit information, posts, comments, and user profiles.
Whenever an app does this, it sends a request to the API. Then, whenever you want to view a post, the third-party app requests that post from Reddit and sends it back to the API if you want to comment. The important part is that the API is not the application itself, so other apps can access information on Reddit without the app revealing all of its inner workings.
APIs are used for all kinds of different things. For example, Amazon’s API is why price tracking services like CamelCamelCamel exist. And if you’re a PC gamer, the Steam API is what populates a service like SteamDB. In many cases, the API can display information that isn’t displayed in the main app, as is the case with Amazon and Steam, allowing developers to build their own apps around the service instead of just duplicating it.
Reddits API pricing, explained
Reddit launched a free API seven years ago, but announced in April that it would be making changes. Those changes included charging for API access. This means that developers who have built an app for Reddit will now have to pay for requests.
It’s becoming more common, especially after Elon Musk took over Twitter. Similar to the situation with Reddit, Twitter has started charging for API access, blocking dozens of third-party apps.
With a paid API, developers typically have to pay on a per-request basis. The more popular an app is, the more requests it has to make, the more money it costs. One developer claimed that Reddit charges $12,000 for every 50 million requests, or $0.24 per 1,000 requests. That may not sound like a lot, but Apollo, a popular Reddit app for Apple products, can make over 7 billion requests in a month. That equates to nearly $2 million a month and over $20 million a year.
This is also a high price. According to the developer, they pay $166 for every 50 million API calls to Imgur, putting into context how expensive Reddits API changes are. Reddit says its free API model wasn’t sustainable, as users visiting the site through third-party apps may not see the ads Reddit serves on its website and first-party app.
Why is Apollo closing?
The situation with the Reddit API changes centers around Apollo, a very popular third-party Reddit app for Mac and iPhone. The app will shut down on June 30, just over a month before Reddit’s new API pricing goes into effect.
According to the developer, Apollo would need to immediately add 12,000 new subscribers to its app at $5 a month to break even with the cost of Reddit’s API. This doesn’t even account for free users. Apollo, made by a single developer, was free to use with optional subscriptions if you wanted additional features.
The math seems like it just doesn’t matter for Apollo. To illustrate this point, the developer assumes that Reddit spends approximately $0.12 per user per month. With the API change, Apollo would have to spend $2.50 per user per month.
The impact on third-party Reddit apps
Apollo is not alone in shutting down. In response to the API changes, several apps announced that they would also be discontinuing the service. These include ReddPlanet, Sync, and Reddit is Fun (RIF).
Reddit’s API blackout, explained
In protest of Reddit’s API changes and the effect it has on third-party apps, thousands of subreddits have announced a 48-hour blackout. The protest, called Reddark, includes nearly 8,000 subreddits, most of which have been set to private as of June 12. This means that users cannot visit, post or comment on these subreddits until the admins make them public again.
Six of the most popular subreddits participate, including r/gaming, r/food, r/funny, and/aww, all of which have over 30 million subscribers. In total, Reddark represents over two and a half billion users on Reddit.
Even though the Reddit blackout was supposed to end on June 14th, over 6,000 subreddits are still private. These include r/aww, r/videos and r/music.
Reddit API AMA
Following the backlash, Reddits CEO Steve Huffman hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) focusing on API changes. The company announced it was updating its API terms, but it doesn’t look like it will be bringing back popular apps like Apollo.
The company is sticking to its price tag of $0.24 per 1,000 API calls, which is the same number Apollo quoted. However, Reddit says that apps that use fewer than 100 requests per minute through the OAuth client ID will be able to use the API for free. According to Reddit, over 90% of the apps available today fall into this category.
The executive also addressed a few other API changes during the AMA. Reddit says it will restrict access to explicit content via its API starting July 5, and moderation tools that require API access should continue to have free access. Additionally, Reddit says that accessibility-focused apps like RedReader will continue to have free access to the API.
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