© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KMUW will carry President Joe Biden's address from the Oval Office beginning at 7 pm CT, Wednesday, July 24, 2024. Listen at 89.1 fm or through the online stream, or click here to watch.

Thousands of Reddit communities 'go dark' in protest of new developer fees

Thousands of communities on Reddit are "going dark" in response to changes the company announced that would charge third-party developers for access to its site data.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Thousands of communities on Reddit are "going dark" in response to changes the company announced that would charge third-party developers for access to its site data.

Thousands of sections of the popular online message board Reddit are "going dark" for two days starting Monday to protest controversial new fees the site is charging third-party developers.

Some of the largest communities on Reddit are being set to private for 48 hours, meaning they will not be publicly available. By doing this, Redditors aim to pressure company executives to reverse their decision to charge developers for access to the site, which until now has been free.

Ina Reddit post about the boycott, organizers wrote that the charges are "a step toward killing other ways of customizing Reddit."

For example, many mobile users of Reddit use third-party apps like Apollo, Reddit is Fun and ReddPlanet to browse the site.

But because of the new fees for accessing Reddit data, it may become too expensive for some third-party apps to exist at all.

In fact, the apps Apollo, Reddit is Fun and ReddPlanet have all said they will be shutting down in response to the fees.

"Reddit's recent decisions and actions have unfortunately made it impossible for Apollo to continue," Apollo developer Christian Selig tweeted last week. Other third-party apps have followed suit.

"It is really brutal because I loved building this app and for it just suddenly within two weeks to just crumble to nothing," Selig said in an interview with NPR. "It really hurts."

Nearly 9,000 so-called subreddits — individual discussion areas — are participating in the blackout, according to organizers.

Why is Reddit doing this?

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman hosted an AMA — short for "ask me anything" — on the site recently in an attempt to quell the furor over the changes.

"Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business, and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use," Huffman wrote.

One Redditor asked Huffman to respond to concerns that Reddit is becoming increasingly profit-driven, which stands in sharp contrast to the freewheeling and often anti-establishment ethos of the site.

Huffman wrotethat Reddit is not currently profitable, unlike some third-party apps that many use to navigate the site.

"We'll continue to be profit-driven until profits arrive," Huffman wrote.

In addition, Huffman has said a host of generative AI tools like ChatGPT scrape Reddit for a vast amount of data to help train AI models. Reddit says it does not get much from that arrangement, saying it's time for the companies behind AI tools to pay up.

Huffman has said that the charges will impact third-party apps that are the heaviest users of Reddit data. He said about 90% of third-party Reddit apps can still access the website's data for free, though the most popular outside apps will soon be getting a bill from Reddit.

The access changes to its application programming interface, also known as API, are part of a larger shake-up at the company that has included reductions in its staff by 5% and also in future hiring.

The new focus on making money on the advertising-driven site founded in 2005 comes as it reportedly plans to list its shares publicly on the stock market as soon as later this year.

In 2021, Reddit filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicating it intended to go public, but shortly after, tech stocks began to plunge. The company then shelved those plans.

Reddit is following the lead of Twitter in charging for API access

Reddit's crackdown on third-party apps comes just a few months after Twitter CEO Elon Musk tightened the screws on outside access to the social media platform.

Earlier this year, Musk ended free access to Twitter's API. The company unveiled a $5,000 per month plans for such access, which was too costly for most developers and academics studying the influential site.

Both Reddit and Twitter's attempts to monetize a once-free service comes as the online advertising market has taken a major nosedive, prompting layoffs and other cutbacks at tech companies reliant on ads, including Meta, Snap, Google's YouTube and others.

Reddit has said that it spends "multi-millions of dollars" a year on allowing third-party apps access to its data, and that it "needs to be fairly paid."

Reddit first announced the changes in April. Back then, it said not all developers will be affected. For instance, it says it will still allow researchers and academics to have free access to its data.

Some Reddit users have said if more third-party apps are killed off by the changes, they will be looking to abandon the site altogether.

"Reddit is toast," wrote a user who goes by TheseGreyHeavens. "The moment my 3P app stops working, I'm done with Reddit," the person wrote, referring to third-party apps, on the discussion featuring CEO Huffman.

"Frankly, I grow tired of when I see CEOs try to paint some picture that somehow bringing in more money means better innovation and services," wrote user InternetArtisan. "Just come out and say you want more money and are not here to be some charitable 'make the world a better place' company."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
Tilda Wilson