Major Reddit communities will go dark to protest threat to third-party apps


Update June 8th, 5:12PM ET: Apollo developer Christian Selig announced his app would shut down on June 30th. His announcement post on Reddit refuted Reddit’s accusations that his app was inefficient and contained a partial transcript of a call from a Reddit moderator where the company’s CEO apparently says that Selig tried to blackmail the company.

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.

As a Reddit post about the protest, that’s since been cross-posted to several participating subreddits, explains:

On June 12th, many subreddits will be going dark to protest this policy. Some will return after 48 hours: others will go away permanently unless the issue is adequately addressed, since many moderators aren’t able to put in the work they do with the poor tools available through the official app. This isn’t something any of us do lightly: we do what we do because we love Reddit, and we truly believe this change will make it impossible to keep doing what we love.

A complete list of the hundreds of communities taking part (known in Reddit parlance as “subreddits”) includes dozens with over a million subscribers each.

The protest comes after the developers of several third-party Reddit apps have said the future of their services have been threatened by the company’s new pricing. The developer behind Apollo, for example, said that at its current rate of making 7 billion requests per month, it would need to pay $1.7 million for access to Reddit’s API, or $20 million a year. “I don’t see how this pricing is anything based in reality or remotely reasonable,” developer Christian Selig wrote. “I hope it goes without saying that I don’t have that kind of money or would even know how to charge it to a credit card.”

However, one of Reddit’s employees has argued that the new API charges should be affordable if third-party apps are efficient with the API calls they make. “Our pricing is $0.24 per 1000 API calls, which equates to <$1.00 per user monthly for a reasonably operated app,” they wrote. “Apollo as an app is less efficient than its peers and at times has been excessive — probably because it has been free to be so.”

But the developers behind other third-party Reddit apps have expressed similar concerns. Reddit is Fun said it would have to pay a figure “in the same ballpark” as Apollo to continue to operate and that it “does not earn anywhere remotely near this number.” The developer behind Narwhal said it will be “dead in 30 days” as a result of the charges.

The potential for third-party apps to cease operations is particularly problematic for subreddit moderators, who say they often rely on these tools to manage their communities. “In many cases these apps offer superior mod tools, customization, streamlined interfaces, and other quality of life improvements that the official app does not offer,” moderator BuckRowdy wrote in an open letter that’s since been co-signed by the moderators of numerous other subreddits. “The potential loss of these services due to the pricing change would significantly impact our ability to moderate efficiently.”

As well as the new API pricing, the open letter also raises concerns about the ability of third-party apps to show ads (a key source of revenue), and new restrictions that would prevent NSFW (not safe for work) content from being made available via the API.

Reddit spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt tells The Verge that the vast majority of people who use the API won’t need to pay for access, and noted that the Reddit Data API is free to use within Reddit’s rate limits as long as apps are not monetized. Rathschmidt also notes that API access is free for mod tools and bots, and says that Reddit is in contact with “a number of communities” over the company’s API terms, platform policies, and more.

Reddit has seen several protests like these throughout its history. In 2021, for example, hundreds of Reddit communities locked down to protest the site’s handling of a controversy around a former UK politician it had hired (Reddit later confirmed it had cut ties with the individual). Moderators took similar collective action the previous year in protest over Reddit’s hate speech policies.

Reddit’s planned changes to its API pricing come months after Twitter outright banned third-party clients and announced a much more restrictive pricing structure for access to its APIs. Reddit is reportedly planning to go public later this year, which could help explain the restructure fees for API access.

Check out Christian Selig’s interview with Snazzy Labs’ Quinn Nelson below for more background on the controversial changes.

Update June 5th, 9:02PM ET: Added information from Reddit.