The Real Motive Behind Reddit’s API Changes: A Deep Dive Into The Controversy


In April 2023, Reddit, the discussion and news aggregation website, announced its intention to charge for its application programming interface (API), an essential feature of the site that had been free since 2008. This decision led to an ongoing dispute, as it threatened to force multiple third-party applications to shut down, which included popular apps like Apollo and various moderation tools​1​.

Reddit’s decision to charge for its API was made amid a potential initial public offering, and it was justified by CEO Steve Huffman stating that the corpus of Reddit data is valuable, but doesn’t need to be given away for free. He also stated that the API would still be available for free for developers who create moderation tools or researchers who use Reddit’s data for academic purposes​1​.

The pricing structure, however, was deemed prohibitive by some developers. For instance, Christian Selig, the developer of Apollo, was quoted $12,000 for 50 million requests, potentially facing costs of up to $20 million per year. The prohibitive pricing could pose an existential threat to popular third-party Reddit clients such as Reddit is fun (RIF) and Relay​1​. As a result, Selig announced the shutdown of Apollo on June 30, 2023, and other developers, like Andrew Shu of RIF, expressed similar sentiments due to the high API costs and the perceived hostile treatment of developers by Reddit​1​.

The changes prompted a significant response from the Reddit community, including a planned protest from June 12 to 14, during which over 7,000 subreddits went private​1​.

However, the argument has been made that Reddit’s API changes are not entirely about charging AI bots for their APIs. There are methods such as web scraping that could be used to bypass these changes, suggesting the move is not as prohibitive as it may seem on the surface.

Moreover, there are claims that Reddit’s motives might be more commercially driven. The API changes can be viewed as an attempt to increase advertising revenue. By potentially limiting third-party apps, which often provide ad-free experiences, users might be more inclined to use Reddit’s own platform, which does serve ads.

Additionally, the timing of the changes has raised eyebrows, given the platform’s potential preparation for initial public offering (IPO) and simultaneous efforts to regulate adult content​1​. The API changes seem to coincide with a broader attempt to sanitize the platform and make it more appealing to a wider array of advertisers and investors.

However, it’s worth noting that Reddit has claimed that it will exempt “non-commercial, accessibility-focused” apps from its pricing terms, although the definition of what constitutes an “accessibility-focused app” is not entirely clear​1​. While Huffman claimed Reddit was actively in communication with many third-party application developers to aid in their continued operation, some developers commented that Reddit had not responded to them in months​1​.

In conclusion, while Reddit’s API changes may seem like a move to charge for data use, a closer look reveals a potentially more complex situation. The changes could be a strategic move to centralize user interaction on the Reddit platform itself, potentially boosting advertising revenue and preparing the platform for future developments.

However, it’s essential to consider that the claims that Reddit’s API changes are driven by a desire for more advertising revenue and preparation for potential NSFW content bans are speculative. While the timing and implications of the changes suggest these motives, Reddit has not explicitly stated these as reasons for their API changes. Therefore, it’s crucial to continue observing Reddit’s actions and responses to the ongoing controversy to draw more definitive conclusions.

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