Reddit users revolt over plan to charge API fees

Reddit’s plan to charge third-party apps that make heavy use of its API for their mobile apps has drawn massive backlash from the platform’s users.

Ars Technica reports that hundreds of subreddits protesting the move plan to go dark for 48 hours from 12 June 2023.

Some of these subreddits have committed to going offline permanently unless Reddit addressed concerns over the plan.

Reddit has claimed that the costs to maintain its API for large-scale apps were in the “double-digit millions” every year.

The company said its “simple math” suggested that third-party apps could pay less than $1 per user per month to make up this cost.

“Our pricing is $0.24 per 1,000 API calls, which equates to <$1.00 per user monthly for a reasonably operated app,” Reddit said.  The platform plans to implement this pricing from 1 July 2023.

However, it acknowledged that it would cost certain third-party apps much more than the $0.24 per 1,000 API calls.

“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,” Reddit stated.

“Apollo requires roughly 345 requests per user per day, while with a similar number of users and more comment and vote activity per user, the Reddit is Fun app averages about 100 calls per user per day.”

The table below provides a breakdown of the estimated costs of the API for third-party apps with 1,000 daily active users.

It should be noted that while Reddit’s calculations were based on server calls from Reddit is Fun (App 1) and Apollo (App 2), both those apps have significantly higher daily active user (DAU) counts.

Apollo has told Tech Crunch it has around 900,000 daily active users, 900 times more than in the example given by Reddit.

Multiplying the total annual cost example of $30,222 by 900 comes to a figure of $27.2 million, over half a billion rand at the time of publication.

Apollo developer Christian Selig has also hit back at Reddit’s claims of the app’s “excessive” API usage.

“I’ve long communicated with Reddit that the API response headers are often incredibly wrong, claiming that 500,000 requests have been used within the first second of a rate limit reset period,” Selig said.

“Reddit has said they’re looking into it but delivered nothing actionable beyond saying if users are in shared university dorms, their requests may be pooled together by IP and cause it to be inflated.”

“University dorms don’t hold students requesting half a million requests per second, and even if they did somehow measuring by IP is ludicrous when you have auth tokens to go off of.”

Selig said the pricing was not based in reality or remotely reasonable.

He explained that image-focused site Imgur charged $166 for 50 million API calls, compared to the $12,000 it would cost for the same number on Reddit.

Reddit late to the mobile party

Reddit is 17 years old but has only offered an official mobile app for about seven years.

Before that was launched, users had to turn to third-party apps for the best Reddit experience on a smartphone.

Even after the launch, many users stuck with third-party apps, saying they offer superior features and functionality.

“Many moderators aren’t able to put in the work they do with the poor tools available through the official app,” explained Reddit user Save3rdPartyApps.

Reddit said it could completely block these apps, but it recognised their valuable contribution to the Reddit ecosystem.

However, the protesters and third-party app developers have argued that Reddit’s proposed pricing would effectively shut them down anyway.

Even the apps that are able to meet Reddit’s more “reasonable” cost of less than $1 per user per month, like Reddit is Fun and Narhwal, said the API charges would likely kill them.

Now read: This website wants to be the Rotten Tomatoes of YouTube channels

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Reddit users revolt over plan to charge API fees