Over 8,000 subreddits went dark or read-only in protest of Reddit’s API pricing, which will shut down many third-party apps like Apollo and Reddit is Fun because of the high fees.
The blackout, which began on Monday and will last for 48 hours, is a coordinated effort between tens of thousands of moderators and millions of Reddit users. Participating subreddits will be private during the blackout, so that non-subscribers can’t view existing content, and subscribers can’t post or comment on new content. Some protesting subreddits will be in read-only mode. Participants are encouraged to speak out about the API changes by leaving negative reviews of the official Reddit app, as well as boycott the site in favor of non-Reddit platforms to dent its traffic.
Moderators in r/ModCoord are keeping track of participating subreddits in an ongoing thread — as of Monday afternoon, 28,606 moderators are participating, and 8,300 subreddits pledged to go private in support of the movement. Some subreddits pledged to permanently shut down unless Reddit “adequately addresses” its users’ concerns, according to a post in r/Save3rdPartyApps. The most popular subreddits participating the blackout include r/funny, r/aww, r/gaming, r/Music, r/Pics, r/science and r/todayilearned. The collective userbase across all of the protesting subreddits totals 2.8 billion, which includes a significant overlap of users who subscribe to multiple protesting subreddits. Users can watch subreddits go dark in real time on Twitch.
“The two-day blackout isn’t the goal, and it isn’t the end,” an instructional post in r/Save3rdPartyApps said. “Should things reach the 14th with no sign of Reddit choosing to fix what they’ve broken, we’ll use the community and buzz we’ve built between then and now as a tool for further action.”
When reached for comment, a Reddit spokesperson pointed TechCrunch to Reddit CEO Steve Huffman’s AMA post from last week, where he addressed changes to Reddit’s API.
“We respect when you and your communities take action to highlight the things you need, including, at times, going private,” Huffman said. “We are all responsible for ensuring Reddit provides and open accessible place for people to find community and belonging.”
Until now, API access — which allows a third-party app to communicate with a website, has been free. Upvoting a post, commenting, browsing subreddits and all other interactions users have using a third-party app requires API requests. Reddit responds to the requests with corresponding data. API access also allows third-party apps to provide accessibility features for users who are blind or visually impaired, and allows moderators to use “superior mod tools, customization, streamlined interfaces, and other quality of life improvements” that the official Reddit app doesn’t offer, an open letter in r/ModCoord notes.
“The potential loss of these services due to the pricing change would significantly impact our ability to moderate efficiently, thus negatively affecting the experience for users in our communities and for us as mods and users ourselves,” moderator BuckRowdy wrote in the open letter. “We understand that Reddit, like any company, must balance its financial obligations. However, we believe that the longevity and success of this platform rest on preserving the rich ecosystem that has developed around it.”
Starting July 1, API access will be priced based on data usage, which will be prohibitively expensive for many third-party apps. The cost is unsustainable for many of the indie developers running widely-used apps, including Apollo, Reddit is Fun and Sync — all of which announced plans to shutter by June 30. The new pricing would cost Apollo $20 million per year, Apollo developer Christian Selig said in a recent post, which is “just not economically feasible” even if the app increased its subscription fees. The changes to Reddit’s API policy also restrict NSFW content, and as BuckRowdy pointed out in the open letter, will allow “spam, karma farming, link-dumping and other types of behaviors that ruin subreddits” to run rampant.
The Reddit spokesperson said that the company is not planning any further API updates, and that the pricing changes are based on usage levels that the company measures to be comparable to its own costs. Reddit spends millions of dollars on hosting fees, the spokesperson said, and the company needs to be compensated to continue supporting high-usage third-party apps. The spokesperson also said that developers are responsible for the efficiency of their apps, and pointed out that Apollo is “notably less efficient” than other third-party apps. As long as the apps are not monetized, Reddit API is free.
Existing non-commercial moderation tools, like Toolbox, Context Mod, Remind Me and anti-spam detection bots will continue to have free access to Reddit API. The company will also make an exception for certain accessibility apps. The spokesperson directed TechCrunch to a post in r/modnews from last week.
“If the usage is legal, non-commercial, and helps our mods, we won’t stand in your way,” the post said. “Moderators will continue to have access to their communities via the API, including sexually explicit content across Reddit. Moderators will be able to see sexually-explicit content even on subreddits they don’t directly moderate.”
Reddit’s front page was quiet on Monday afternoon. The most popular post of the day was a thank-you note from Selig in r/apolloapp, with over 137,000 upvotes.
“I think showing humanity through apologizing for and recognizing that this process was handled poorly, and concrete promises to give developers more time, would go a long way to making people feel heard and instilling community confidence,” Selig said in the post. “Minor steps can make a potentially massive difference.”