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Reddit could kill my favorite app — and that’s a problem for everyone

I read Reddit every day, but I haven’t opened the official Reddit app in years. How? I use a third-party app called Apollo, and it’s so good that it doesn’t just make Reddit readable — it makes it wonderful.

But yesterday, Apollo’s developer announced the shocking news that Reddit now wants to charge him $20 million a year to keep using its data — yes, that’s $20 million for a single developer. If that isn’t changed, Apollo will almost certainly have to shut down.

You might think this issue doesn’t extend beyond the four walls of Reddit HQ, but it will have massive implications for many of your favorite apps, and it’s all due to Elon Musk. Let me explain why.

An attack on the competition

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

According to Apollo creator Christian Selig, Reddit’s new pricing will charge $12,000 for 50 million requests to its API. Selig states that Apollo made around seven billion requests in April, which would cost him $1.7 million for that month alone, or over $20 million annually.

If Apollo is using Reddit’s data, shouldn’t Reddit be able to charge a fair price for that data? Sure, except this price seems to be anything but fair. Selig pointed out that the image-hosting website Imgur – immensely popular on Reddit — charges a mere $166 for those same 50 million requests. If this was about being fair, wouldn’t Reddit charge a price roughly commensurate with Imgur?

Clearly, there is something else going on here, and it doesn’t take much to work out what it is. While the outrageously high price might feel like it comes out of nowhere, the timing is very suspicious.

Just got off a call with Reddit about the API and new pricing. Bad news unless I come up with 20 million dollars (not joking). Appreciate boosts.https://t.co/FliuNCinpZ

— Christian Selig (@ChristianSelig) May 31, 2023

That’s because Reddit has announced plans for an IPO later this year, where it will go public on the stock market. If it can squeeze out the competition and leave third-party Reddit apps with no choice but to shut down, it can force people to use the official Reddit app. And if it can artificially swell the user count in this way, it can inflate the company’s value ahead of its looming IPO. In other words, it looks awfully like a deeply greedy move.

But it’s also a deeply childish move. It suggests that Reddit is tired of trying to compete with better, more innovative apps, and is simply attempting to shutter the competition, much like a schoolyard bully who beats up the more talented kids rather than be humiliated by their abilities. So much for the free market of ideas.

And let me tell you, Apollo is indeed way better than anything Reddit can muster. I tried going back to the official Reddit app to see what I was, err, “missing out on,” and believe me when I say things are far, far worse in first-party land. The official app is uglier than Apollo, it tracks more of your private data, and you can’t scroll for five seconds without an intrusive ad being regurgitated in your face (Apollo is ad-free, even in the unpaid version). The official app is just less fun to use in every way.

Welcome to the future of apps.

Why this matters for you

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

OK, Alex, you love Apollo — so what? “Things change, get over it,” I hear you say. But there’s a reason I care so much about this, and that’s because it could be the start of a new, deeply unwelcome status quo.

Ultimately, the buck stops with one man: Elon Musk. He blocked third-party clients and raised Twitter’s API prices to astronomical levels, making life untenable for third-party clients, even including ones like Twitterrific which had coined the word “tweet” for Twitter posts. Third-party apps helped drive users towards Twitter, but, like an ungrateful baby, Twitter had enough of sharing.

This move decimated the market for interesting, innovative Twitter clients and left users without a choice — if you don’t like the official Twitter app, well, too bad. You’re stuck with it.

It seems Reddit’s C-suite members did not see this as a bad omen for the user experience, but instead, a great opportunity to make more of that lovely money. Once Elon Musk took his bullying behavior to rival Twitter apps, Reddit got the green light to do so for its own competition. And users will be worse off for it.

And don’t think it’s going to stop here. Now, any app that provides third-party access to its APIs will be greedily relishing the idea of eliminating the competition and forcing users into its sub-par app. After all, why would any company feel the need to improve its own app when it has a complete monopoly?

Anyone who values innovation and the free market should be appalled by Reddit’s attack on the competition, as should anyone who enjoys apps that bring fresh ideas to the table. It’s an anti-consumer move that could herald an unwelcome new normal for all your favorite apps. Apollo is the canary in the coal mine — will we heed its warning?

Reddit shared a statement with TechCrunch, in which it said the move was “absolutely not aimed at ‘killing’ any third-party apps.”

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