Major subreddit admins are going to war with Reddit over monetization changes that will kill many third-party apps

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Hundreds of subreddits of all sizes and topics—including some of the big ones—will temporarily go dark beginning on June 12 in protest of changes to Reddit's API that they say will make it effectively impossible for third-party apps to operate.

Reddit first announced its plans for new Developer Terms in April, saying that while the release of its data API in 2008 enabled the creation of "thousands of fantastic applications" including moderation tools and bots of various sorts, it's time for changes to be made. "Expansive access to data has impact, and as a platform with one of the largest corpora of human-to-human conversations online, spanning the past 18 years, we have an obligation to our communities to be responsible stewards of this content," Reddit chief technology officer Chris Slowe wrote.

As part of those updated terms, Reddit said it would begin enforcing rate limits on access to its free data API, and launch a "premium access point" for developers who want "additional capabilities, higher usage limits, and broader usage rights." The new data API and developer terms were slated to go live on June 19.

Greater detail on the new rate limits were shared last week: Applications using OAuth for authentication would be allowed 100 queries per minute, while those not using it would be capped at just 10 queries per minute. Larger-scale applications would have to move to an "enterprise" access tier as of July 1; Reddit said it had already "reached out to the most impactful large scale applications in order to work out terms for access."

It turns out that those terms are harsh. Christian Selig, creator of the popular Apollo client for iOS devices, said he was told that 50 million API requests will cost $12,000, a figure far higher than he "ever could have imagined." It works out to roughly $20 million per year to keep Apollo running.

"I'm deeply disappointed in this price. Reddit iterated that the price would be A) reasonable and based in reality, and B) they would not operate like Twitter," Selig wrote. "Twitter's pricing was publicly ridiculed for its obscene price of $42,000 for 50 million tweets. Reddit's is still $12,000. For reference, I pay Imgur (a site similar to Reddit in user base and media) $166 for the same 50 million API calls.

"While Reddit has been communicative and civil throughout this process with half a dozen phone calls back and forth that I thought went really well, I don't see how this pricing is anything based in reality or remotely reasonable. 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. This is going to require some thinking. I asked Reddit if they were flexible on this pricing or not, and they stated that it's their understanding that no, this will be the pricing, and I'm free to post the details of the call if I wish."

Selig's not alone: Developers of other popular Reddit apps are in the same boat, he told Vice: "We were expecting bad, but when we saw [the pricing] we were like, 'This has to be a joke'."

The r/Blind subreddit shared similar concerns, saying that many of its members are vision impaired and "depend on those third party apps to make sure that this community remains a safe, fun, and productive place." Like Selig, the moderators also made note of Reddit's inflexibility.

"Those of us who are blind are no strangers to the need for collective action," the r/Blind mod team wrote. "From the protests that resulted in the ADA passing in the United States, to world-wide protests driving forward accessibility of some of the Internet's largest websites, collective action is a step our community has taken in the past, often with some success. It is with a heavy heart that we come to you now, and say that it's time to bring this tool out of the toolbox once more.  

"In solidarity with thousands of other subreddits who are impacted by this change, we will be shutting down the /r/Blind subreddit for 48 hours from June 12th to June 14th.  You will not be able to read or make posts during that time.  Our Discord server will remain open, and we invite anyone who would like to interact with the /r/Blind community to join us there."

Blind is actually one of the smaller subreddits taking part in the protest. According to this "incomplete and growing list of participating subreddits," the Aww, Music, and Pics subreddits (over 30 million subscribers each) are also in on the action, as are hundreds of others ranging from EarthPorn, LifeProTips, explainlikeimfive, videos, and tifu to more niche subreddits like AssholeDesign, retrogames, idiotsinplanes, freesoftware, and HardwareSwapUK. Subreddits featuring adult content are also well-represented in the list because the data API changes will also restrict access to sexually explicit content by third-party apps, making them effectively inaccessible on popular readers.

There's some variation in the actions that different subreddits are taking. Most seem to be opting for a 48-hour blackout period, but some are going for shorter 12 or 24-hour spans, and others are playing by ear: The pcgaming subreddit, for instance, is asking for user feedback on the decision because a 48-hour blackout means the subreddit will be private during the Xbox Extended Showcase on June 13. 

What happens after the initial round of protest also remains to be seen: The Videos subreddit, for instance, said that if the protest period ends with no change, it'll "use the community and buzz" it builds as "a tool for further action."

All of this, of course, was entirely predictable. As Selig said, Twitter faced widespread ridicule for its high API pricing scheme, so it should come as absolutely no surprise at all that Reddit's maneuver has inspired a similar response. "The Twitter API pricing bar was universally understood to be a comically high bar," Selig said. "We thought, as long as Reddit is nowhere near that, we’ll be OK. But they came within spitting distance of it. It’s given whiplash to everyone I’ve talked to."

Reddit doesn't seem inclined to change course just yet: A representative told Vice that after speaking with developers after the API changes were first announced, "our stance on third-party apps has not changed."

"Reddit data for commercial use will need to adhere to our updated API terms of service and premium access program," the rep said. "We’ve had a long-standing policy in our past terms that outlined commercial and non-commercial use, but unfortunately some of those agreements were not adhered to so we clarified our terms and reached out to select organizations to work with them on compliance and a paid premium access tier."

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.