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Reddit CEO boldly says API fees are here to stay, blackout or not

The CEO of Reddit said the massive protest by 8,000 groups on the platform did nothing to change his mind about charging for API access.

reddit ceo A person is wearing a reddit logo mask.

The CEO of Reddit says a mass protest earlier this week did nothing to convince executives to abandon a plan to begin charging for access to the social media platform’s application programming interface (API).

The changes will result in some third-party Reddit apps like Apollo shutting down over the next few weeks and impact a handful of tools used by Reddit’s army of volunteer community moderators to curb spam and abuse within their groups.

More than 8,000 subreddits participated in the 48-hour lockdown, according to the Associated Press, which impacted millions of users who were unable to post, comment or otherwise engage across much of the community.

Moderators said the protest was necessary because Reddit’s decision to charge tens of thousands of dollars for access to their API will almost certainly result in the shutdown of tools they rely on every day.

Likewise, users are upset because Apollo and other third-party apps unlock additional features that make Reddit a more enjoyable experience.

Reddit app on phone
Image: Unsplash

In an interview with NPR on Thursday, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said the thousands of groups protesting the changes were “small” in quantity and that “there’s no way around that.”

“We made a business decision that upset them,” Huffman said. “But I think the greater Reddit community just wants to participate with their fellow community members.”

Huffman has been particularly vocal about the heartburn that Apollo and its lead developer, Christian Selig, have brought the company since the API changes were first announced.

This has been a long time in the making

reddit banner
Image: KnowTechie

Selig lit the spark of protest when he posted a lengthy note late last month complaining that the forthcoming API fees could result in his app spending around $20 million per year just to sustain its current level of user activity.

The fees are connected to “calls,” or connections with Reddit’s servers, that are necessary to make Apollo and other third-party, Reddit-focused apps and tools function. Currently,

Reddit is looking at charging around $12,000 for every 50 million calls, which could quickly add up since each interaction — from an upvote to a comment, and even navigating within Reddit itself — counts as a call.

“I’m deeply disappointed in this price,” Selig wrote in a post last month. “While Reddit has been communicative and civil throughout this process with half a dozen phone calls back and forth that I thought went really well, I don’t see how this pricing is anything based in reality or remotely reasonable.”

Whatever civility existed between Selig and Reddit quickly eroded when Huffman charged the developer with misrepresenting their conversations.

Among other things, Huffman accused Selig of trying to extort the platform for $10 million before making his concerns public. (Huffman hasn’t provided proof to substantiate that accusation.)

“I don’t know how we could do business with him,” Huffman said earlier this month.

Reddit goes down

In a weird twist of fate, the entire Reddit platform crashed on Monday, with users around the globe reporting problems accessing the service. The outage was brief, but by the time Reddit came back online, thousands of groups were in the middle of their protest.

Some moderators said they would black out their communities indefinitely until Reddit rolls back its API pricing scheme.

While Huffman appears to be standing firm on the plan, Reddit did extend an olive branch of sorts when it announced it was working with PushShift, the developer of popular moderation tools, to continue supporting their efforts once the API changes take effect on July 1.

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Matthew Keys is an award-winning freelance journalist who covers the intersection of media, technology and journalism. He is the publisher of TheDesk.net and a contributor to KnowTechie, StreamTV Insider (formerly Fierce Video) and Digital Content Next. Matthew is based in Northern California.

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