Popular Reddit App ‘Apollo’ Is the Next Casualty of Pricey APIs

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The golden age of choosing more app-friendly open social media platforms appears to be coming to an abrupt end. Earlier this year, Twitter slammed the door shut on third-party developers, and now Reddit appears to have taken its first steps down a similarly unfortunate road.

Earlier this year, Reddit announced it would be “introducing a new premium access point for third parties who require additional capabilities, higher usage limits, and broader usage rights.” That’s a fancy way of saying that it will begin charging third-party developers for the ability to read and write data to Reddit.

While Reddit promised its data API would remain open for “reasonable and appropriate use cases,” that still involved levying fees for third-party developers to access Reddit data. These appear to be somewhere around 0.024 cents per request (or $0.00024). That may not sound like much, but it quickly adds up to real money when you consider the number of users and amount of traffic that flows through these apps.

To put it in perspective, Christian Selig, developer of the extremely popular Reddit client Apollo, estimated last week that the new fee structure would cost him $20 million per year to keep his app running.

Apollo made 7 billion requests last month, which would put it at about 1.7 million dollars per month, or 20 million US dollars per year. Even if I only kept subscription users, the average Apollo user uses 344 requests per day, which would cost $2.50 per month, which is over double what the subscription currently costs, so I’d be in the red every month.Christian Selig, Apollo

Selig said he was “deeply disappointed” with Reddit’s position, particularly since the company had initially promised that the pricing would be more reasonable. Instead, it’s gone down the same path as Twitter with pricing that will push grassroots developers off the platform.

Like Twitter, Reddit’s move appears to be a way to monetize research and AI platforms that are accessing the service, and it’s hard to argue that behemoths like Google and other major market research companies shouldn’t be paying their fair share for access to the wealth of data on these social media services.

However, developers of the apps that have made these services popular are getting caught in the crossfire — and neither service seems to care.

To illustrate how extravagant Reddit’s pricing model is, Selig compares it to Imgur, a site that he said is “similar to Reddit in user base and media. While Reddit’s new pricing structure would have Apollo paying $12,000 for 50 million API calls, Imgur’s pricing is a mere $166 for the same number of calls to the service.

Apollo For Reddit iPhone

Although Apollo uses a subscription model, it’s not required to access the app; instead, Selig offers it to support the app’s development and unlock bonus features. It was never intended to pay for access to Reddit’s APIs since there was no charge for accessing those at the time.

For Apollo, the average user uses 344 requests daily, or 10.6K monthly. With the proposed API pricing, the average user in Apollo would cost $2.50, which is is 20x higher than a generous estimate of what each users brings Reddit in revenue.Christian Selig, Apollo

Another One Bites the Dust

Sadly, despite attempts to negotiate a better arrangement, Selig was unable to work things out with Reddit and has been left with no choice but to shut down Apollo at the end of this month.

Selig outlines the story in a lengthy and very detailed Reddit post, explaining why the pricing is too high and why charging for Apollo isn’t a viable option. That latter point comes down to the relatively short notice that Reddit has provided for these changes — developers have 30 days to adjust to this new reality, and Reddit was unwilling to soften the blow by offering a transition period.

Granted, that’s better than Twitter, which published its new policy five days after it summarily cut developers off. However, Selig points to Apple’s acquisition of the popular weather app Dark Sky as a much better way to handle this:

As a comparison, when Apple bought Dark Sky and announced a shut down of their API, knowing that this API was at the core of many businesses, they provided 18 months before the API would be turned off. When the 18 months came, they ultimately extended it another 12 months, resulting in a total transition period of 30 months. While I’m not asking for that much, Reddit’s in comparison is 30 days.Christian Selig, Apollo

The problem Selig faces with such short notice is that he already has a base of 50,000 yearly subscribers who signed up for $10/year “many years ago.” He obviously can’t start charging those existing customers until their renewal comes up, and until then, he estimates Apollo would incur an extra $50,000 a month in additional fees. Since the API costs scale with each user, new subscribers won’t offset the cost of the current batch unless Apollo charges substantially more, not to mention the headache of transitioning to the new model with 30 days’ notice.

Going from a free API for 8 years to suddenly incurring massive costs is not something I can feasibly make work with only 30 days. That’s a lot of users to migrate, plans to create, things to test, and to get through app review, and it’s just not economically feasible. It’s much cheaper for me to simply shut down.Christian Selig, Apollo

Reddit also told Selig that it’s not acting like Twitter because it’s still allowing third-party apps to access the platform, but that seems like a semantic difference when the pricing is so high as to make it cost-prohibitive. One could argue that Twitter is at least honest about its attitude toward third-party apps.

Selig’s full post on Reddit is worth a read, as he not only goes into the logistics of the situation that Apollo is facing but also some of his behind-the-scenes discussions with Reddit, including a misunderstanding that had Reddit’s CEO think Selig was “blackmailing” them.

Apollo is one of the highest-profile apps for accessing Reddit, especially among Apple users, but it’s also far from the only app impacted by these changes. The Verge reports on several other Reddit apps that are shutting down in response to Reddit’s policy change. They’re not doing so to protest the decision, per se — many have said they’d love to remain operating — but they’re left with no choice in the face of a new fee structure that’s suddenly become untenable.

However, while app developers may be acting pragmatically rather than overtly protesting, many Redditors don’t feel the same way — hundreds of the most popular Reddit communities are set to “go dark” next week in a 48-hour protest , and some have promised they won’t return unless the issue is “adequately addressed.” However, even that threat has a practical side, as most Reddit community moderators are volunteers who rely on these third-party apps due to “the poor tools available through the official app.”

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