Reddit’s unpopular decision to revise its API pricing in a move that’s forcing third-party apps out of business has taken a weird turn. In an AMA hosted today by Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman, aka u/spez on the internet forum site, the exec doubled down on accusations against the developer behind the well-liked third-party app Apollo, which the company had previously accused of operating inefficiency and not being a good “API” user.
Despite community backlash — which includes a site-wide protest from thousands of communities known as subreddits — Huffman’s AMA confirmed the company has no plans to revise its coming API changes. What’s more, Huffman continued his accusations against Apollo, calling out the developer, Christian Selig’s, “behavior and communications” as being “all over the place” and saying he couldn’t see Reddit working with the developer further.
Selig had been among the first to highlight that Reddit’s new API pricing would effectively make it impossible to continue to operate the Apollo app. He explained that, under the new terms, it would cost him $20 million per year to do so — money the app doesn’t make. This week, Selig announced the app’s last day would be June 30, ahead of the July 1 implementation of the new API pricing.
Other third-party apps are also closing down, including Sync, RIF, and Reddplant, to name a few.
But Huffman seemingly has an ax to grind with Selig in particular, first accusing the developer of extortion, per Selig’s extensive post on the situation between himself and Reddit.
According to Selig’s interpretation of the situation, he raised the question as to why Reddit was choosing to change its API terms to put third-party apps out of business, rather than just buying them out, as the company did with Alien Blue (an older Reddit client that it acquired in 2014.) He said that if Apollo was costing Reddit $20 million per year, Reddit should cut him a check to put an end to the app. The remark doesn’t sound like a serious ask from his telling. If fact, he clarified on the call, “…this is mostly a joke.”
If anything, it comes across as a means of trying to understand why the company would make a move that’s sure to generate ill will among its wider community. (As it has.)
A Reddit representative on a call with Selig, however, first seemingly interpreted his comment as a “threat,” Selig said. But on the call, they cleared up the misunderstanding and the contact apologized. Selig came with receipts — he recorded the call (which is legal where he’s based in Canada.)
But in a subsequent call with moderators, Huffman referred to this conversation as Selig “threatening” Reddit.
That stance hasn’t softened on Reddit’s side, Huffman made clear today.
In the AMA, one user asked Huffman to clarify, “what were you thinking with your attempt to discredit Apollo by claiming that Christian threatened and blackmailed you?”
The response was surprising. Unlike most companies, which try to soften their blows behind corporate PR speak, Huffman answered rather plainly.
“His ‘joke’ is the least of our issues,” the CEO wrote. “His behavior and communications with us has been all over the place—saying one thing to us while saying something completely different externally; recording and leaking a private phone call—to the point where I don’t know how we could do business with him.”
It’s an odd turn of events for Apollo, whose iOS-first and user-friendly design just this week saw it featured during Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, ahead of Reddit’s API policy change that will now put it out of business.
Other prominent developers have come out in support of Selig following this debacle.
Halide co-founder Sebastiaan de With tweeted on Thursday calling Selig “one of the nicest guys in our indie app world,” and said Reddit management was lying, slandering, and vilifying him. Others quote tweeted and agreed.
Unless Reddit’s board chooses to intervene, it doesn’t seem that Huffman is concerned much about the fallout from these decisions, site-wide protest or not.
He fended off a number of questions, politely phrased and not, from users upset over the API changes. These ranged from those questioning the model (why not a profit-sharing model like Epic does with Unreal?) to those asking about the compressed timeframe to broader questions about Reddit’s shift to being more about profits than community engagement. (“We’ll continue to be profit-driven until profits arrive, the CEO replied. “Unlike some of the 3P apps, we are not profitable.”)
“Some apps, like Apollo, Reddit is Fun and Sync have decided this [API] pricing doesn’t work for their businesses and will close before pricing goes into effect,” Huffman explained. For the other apps, we will continue talking. We acknowledge that the timeline we gave was tight; we are happy to engage with folks who want to work with us.”
In the comments, though, ReddPlanet’s developer (u/lupeski, aka Tony Lupeski) said “this is a blatant lie,” noting that he had tried multiple times to get in contact with Reddit regarding these changes and had been ignored. Another indie app developer said they had filled out a request for Enterprise API access 3 times and had received no response.
As for the rest of the AMA, there’s little more to report beyond what Reddit had already shared. The company is seemingly unmoved by the community backlash over its API changes and has no intention to delay or reconsider. It will still maintain its carve-out for a handful of accessibility-focused apps, as stated.
Huffman also clarified that while The NYT piece positioned the API pricing changes as a way to limit access to its forums, which have become a training ground for large language models (LLMs), that’s not the only reason behind this move — the company is also spending “tens of millions of dollars” per year to support the third-party app ecosystem, and that needed to be reigned in. (And it’s in “active discussion” with companies using Reddit as training data for their AIs).
The exec additionally noted that access to mature content will be limited via its Data API as of July 5, 2023, as part of a broader effort to provide additional guardrails under a “stricter” regulatory environment, but explicit content was still being allowed.