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Why everyone is freaking out about the Reddit API and blackout right now

Reddit is in trouble right now. After announcing changes in April, news has surfaced that several of the most popular third-party Reddit apps would shut down by the end of the month. On top of that, five of the most popular subreddits are closing down for two days starting on June 12, and every other post on the “front page of the internet” is protesting Reddit’s API changes.

What’s going on? We’re here to get you up to speed on Reddit’s API changes, the Reddit blackout, and why everyone is losing their mind over one of the most popular social media platforms on the internet.

What is an API, anyway?

Reddit logo on a desktop.
Shutterstock

Let’s start at the top. API stands for Application Programming Interface, and they allow two applications to communicate with each other. As the name suggests, it’s an interface in which apps can send data back and forth without actually accessing the app itself.

In the case of Reddit, it has long maintained a free API. That means anyone building an application could request data from Reddit and use that to build their own application. Someone could build their application with its own interface and any additional features they want, and then use the Reddit API to populate it with things like subreddit information, posts, comments, and user profiles.

Each time an app does this, it makes a request to the API. So, whenever you want to view a post, the third-party app requests that post from Reddit, and if you want to comment, it sends that back to the API. The important part is that the API isn’t the application itself, so other apps can access the information on Reddit without the app revealing all of its inner workings.

APIs are used for all types of different things. For example, Amazon’s API is why price-tracking services like CamelCamelCamel exist. And if you’re a PC gamer, Steam’s API is what populates a service like SteamDB. In many cases, the API can display information that doesn’t show up on the main app, as is the case with Amazon and Steam, allowing developers to build their own apps around the service instead of just duplicating it.

Reddit’s API pricing, explained

The Reddit app icon on an iOS Home screen.
Brett Jordan / Pexels

Reddit launched a free API seven years ago, but in April, it announced it would be making changes. Those changes included charging for API access. That means developers who have made an app for Reddit would now need to pay for requests.

That’s becoming increasingly common, especially in the wake of Elon Musk taking over Twitter. Similar to the Reddit situation, Twitter started charging for API access, shuttering dozens of third-party apps.

With a paid API, developers generally need to pay on a per-request basis. The more popular an app is, the more requests it needs to make, the more money it costs. One developer claimed Reddit is charging $12,000 for every 50 million requests, or $0.24 per 1,000 requests. That may not sound like a lot, but Apollo, a popular Reddit app for Apple products, can make upwards of 7 billion requests in a month. That comes out to nearly $2 million per month and over $20 million per year.

That’s a high price, too. According to the developer, they pay $166 for every 50 million API calls to Imgur, putting into context just how expensive Reddit’s API changes are. Reddit says that its free API model wasn’t sustainable, as users visiting the site through third-party apps may not see ads that Reddit serves on its website and first-party app.

Why is Apollo shutting down?

Three iPhones side by side showing the third-party Reddit app Apollo on their screens.
Alex Blake / Digital Trends

The situation with Reddit’s API changes has centered around Apollo, a wildly popular third-party Reddit app for Mac and iPhone. The app is closing its doors on June 30, just over a month before Reddit’s new API pricing goes into effect.

According to the developer, Apollo would need to add 12,000 new subscribers to its app at $5 per month immediately to break even with Reddit’s API cost. That doesn’t account for free users, either. Apollo, which is made by a single developer, was free to use with optional subscriptions if you wanted additional features.

The math seems like it simply doesn’t add up for Apollo. To illustrate this point, the developer speculates that Reddit spends roughly $0.12 per user, per month. With the API change, Apollo would need to spend $2.50 per user, per month.

The impact on third-party Reddit apps

Apollo isn’t alone in shutting down. In response to the API changes, several apps announced they would also be cutting off service. Those include ReddPlanet, Sync, and Reddit is Fun (RIF).

The Reddit API blackout, explained

In protest of Reddit’s API changes and the effect it’s having on third-party apps, thousands of subreddits have announced a 48-hour blackout.  The protest, called Reddark, includes nearly 8,000 subreddits, most of which have been set to private as of June 12. That means users can’t visit, post, or comment on these subreddits until the admins bring them public again.

Six of the most popular subreddits are participating, including r/gaming, r/food, r/funny, and r/aww, all of which have over 30 million subscribers. In total, Reddark accounts for over two and a half billion users on Reddit.

Although the Reddit blackout was supposed to end on June 14, over 6,000 subreddits are still private. Those include r/aww, r/videos, and r/music.

Reddit’s API AMA

Following the backlash, Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) centered around the API changes. The company announced it was updating its API terms, but it doesn’t look like it will bring back popular apps like Apollo.

The company is sticking with its pricing of $0.24 per 1,000 API calls, which is the same number Apollo quoted. However, Reddit says that apps using less than 100 requests per minute through the OAuth client ID will be able to use the API free of charge. According to Reddit, over 90% of the apps available today fall into this category.

The executive addressed some other API changes during the AMA, as well. Reddit says it will limit access to explicit content through its API starting on July 5, and that moderation tools that need access to the API should continue to have free access. In addition, Reddit says that accessibility-focused apps such as RedReader will continue to have free access to the API.

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Jacob Roach
Lead Reporter, PC Hardware
Jacob Roach is the lead reporter for PC hardware at Digital Trends. In addition to covering the latest PC components, from…
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