The Reddit blackout is underway, with thousands of subreddits switching to private mode in protest over Reddit’s decision to increase the price of its API access, which will force many third-party Reddit apps to shut down as a result.
According to a live list tracking the protest, over 7k subreddits have currently ‘gone dark’, out of the 100k or so active Reddit communities in the app. And while 7% of communities may not seem like a lot, those 7k groups have a combined subscriber count of 2.7 billion, which could have a big impact on Reddit engagement.
Indeed, the very action of switching so many groups to private has already caused issues at Reddit, with the site experiencing a brief outage as a result, while the subreddits themselves will remain out of action indefinitely in response to Reddit’s API pricing changes.
Late last month, Reddit announced that it would be upping the price of its API access, in order to make money off of big-name developers that have been using Reddit data to fuel their systems. Most notably, various generative AI tools have been using Reddit and Twitter as key sources of input to build their conversational models, which those businesses are now on-selling to their own customers, essentially making billions, largely via Reddit and Twitter conversation.
Twitter increased the price of its API access back in March in response, and now, Reddit’s also looking to follow Twitter’s lead, in order to build ‘a more equitable system’ for its API use. Though much like Twitter, the change will also impact many smaller third-party Reddit clients and tools, which many people currently use to access the app.
Popular Reddit reader app Apollo has already announced that it will be forced to shut down at the end of this month as a result of the change.
Apollo developer Christian Selig explained that:
“June 30th will be Apollo’s last day. I’ve talked to a lot of people, and come to terms with this over the last weeks as talks with Reddit have deteriorated to an ugly point”
Selig claims that, under Reddit’s new pricing structure, Apollo would need to pay around $2 million per month to keep the app running, effectively pricing him, and many others out of the market.
That sparked the initial backlash among Reddit community managers, which has now led to this protest action – while an effort from Reddit CEO Steve Huffman late last week to calm the situation by conducting an AMA evidently did more harm than good.
What will this mean for Reddit, long-term?
Well, you’d assume that, eventually, cooler heads will prevail, and the platform will get back to normal operations. But the protest action also highlights a flaw in Reddit’s system, and its reliance on volunteer moderators to run the app.
Unlike other social platforms, which are reliant on algorithms and automated detection, a large chunk of Reddit’s moderation and engagement maximization efforts come via human engagement, with moderators playing an essential role in managing their groups, and ensuring that they stay on-topic and on track. That’s delivered major benefits for the app, particularly in terms of reducing spam and misinformation, but at the same time, it means that Reddit needs this army of volunteers to keep things rolling, which is a significant weakness in its current approach.
That hasn’t been a huge problem till now, and it’ll be interesting to see how long the protest goes on for, and how Reddit responds, especially if app usage drops as a result.
One option could be for Reddit to take control of these communities itself, and keep them running, even if the current mods refuse to come back. That would effectively be the end for Reddit’s current system, and a big step to take, but Reddit does have options that it could consider, if the impacts become too much.
Right now, we wait and see what comes next, with Reddit, thus far, refusing to budge on its API pricing increase.