Update (Wednesday, June 14): we’ve updated this article with news about a leaked memo from Reddit’s CEO, which could prolong the blackout.
The Reddit blackout continues as we roll into day three of the protests, with thousands of subreddits still dark as part of the planned 48-hour pushback against new developer charges – and now a leaked internal memo from Reddit’s CEO has added further fuel to the fire.
A copy of the memo, picked up by The Verge, contains some bombshells that certainly isn’t going to help the situation and could prolong the site’s issues. According to the leak, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said: “There’s a lot of noise with this one. Among the noisiest we’ve seen. Please know that our teams are on it, and like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well”.
This reflects the Reddit management’s confidence that the protests won’t have long-term ramifications, with the site telling us “we’re not planning any changes to the API updates we’ve previously announced”.
The blackout was scheduled to last for 48 hours from Monday, June 11 and, while some have returned, almost 7,000 subreddits are still dark, according to the very useful Reddit blackout tracker. Hundreds have also now pledged to remain dark indefinitely.
These protests have been possible because Reddit relies on a vast army of volunteer moderators who keep discussions on topic and remove comments – but can also make subreddits private, or effectively take them ‘dark’.
On Monday June 12, Reddit actually crashed due to the blackout, with the site’s status page reporting a “major outage”. Those have now seemingly been resolved, with the Reddit status tracker showing a more healthy “all systems operational”.
But what happens next? And when are you going to be able to get your fix of r/funny, r/aww, and r/catswithjobs again? Here’s all the latest news about the self-styled “front page of the internet”.
Reddit blackout: why is this happening?
Back in April, Reddit announced that it would start charging developers for access to its API. This API has allowed developers to build popular, alternative smartphones apps like Apollo, which they did well before Reddit introduced its own official app in 2016.
Those charges are due to come into play from June 19, which is why many third-party apps – including Apollo and Reddit is Fun – have announced that they’ll no longer be available.
That said, not all third-party apps will be wiped out – for example, the developer of Relay for Reddit has said in a new post that “a monthly subscription price of $3 (or less) might be achievable”.
The leaked internal memo from Reddit CEO Steve Hoffman also states: “While the two biggest third-party apps, Apollo and RIF, along with a couple others, have said they plan to shut down at the end of the month, we are still in conversation with some of the others. And as I mentioned in my post last week, we will exempt accessibility-focused apps and so far have agreements with RedReader and Dystopia.”
Still, while Reddit hasn’t officially revealed its new API pricing details, some developers have lifted the lid on the potential costs. In a post on r/apolloapp, the developer Christian Selig said that based on the “7 billion requests” (or times a user has triggered a need for API access) it would cost him $1.7 million (around £1.35m / AU$2.51m) per month.
Although Selig stated that he is “deeply disappointed in this price”, particularly as it has echoes of a similar policy by Twitter that he says was “publicly ridiculed”, Reddit has denied that it has priced out developers of all third-party apps.
We asked Reddit for official comment and it told us that “expansive access to data has impact and costs involved” and that it spends “millions of dollars on hosting fees”.
Reddit added that Apollo is “notably less efficient than other third-party apps” and that “the vast majority of API users will not have to pay for access”. According to the site, “the Reddit Data API is free to use within the published rate limits so long as apps are not monetized”.
But the issue is that many existing apps like Apollo aren’t really feasible as entirely free propositions, given the developer work involved, which is why many of the most popular third-party apps (if not all of them) have stated that they’ll be unable to continue from June 19 when the API charges start.
Reddit blackout: why now?
While Reddit hasn’t mentioned the likes of ChatGPT in its official statements about the API charges and blackout, there is certainly a potential link between the two.
Back in April, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman told The New York Times that the site wanted to start getting paid for helping to train some of the big AI chatbots.
The huge number of conversations on Reddit forums have been used by the likes of OpenAI, Microsoft and Google to train their LLMs (Large Language Models), but Hoffman stated that “we don’t need to give all of that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free.”
Back then, Hoffman said that Reddit’s API would still be free to developers who wanted to build third-party apps, but it seems that’s now only the case “so long as the apps are not monetized” (as Reddit told us above).
Another possible reason for the shake-up is that Reddit is potentially planning to offer an initial public offering on Wall Street in the second half of 2023, which could explain why it’s attempting to fine-tune revenue streams in the run-up to what it no doubt hopes will be a healthy valuation.
Reddit blackout: what happens next?
The blackout has been seriously damaging for Reddit’s management, both in terms of reputation and revenue – even if the leaked memo from CEO Steve Hoffman states that “we have not seen any significant revenue impact so far and we will continue to monitor”.
And while some subreddits have returned, over 7,000 of the biggest communities remain dark – with more than 300 have pledged to remain so indefinitely. These include huge communities including r/Music (32 million subscribers), r/Videos (26 million subscribers), and large tech-related ones including r/Apple and r/iPhone.
Where the saga goes from here isn’t yet clear. Reddit’s official statements, and its leaked internal memo, suggest it’s highly unlikely that the site’s management will back down over the new API charges. So the question then is whether it’ll be able to continue without some of its biggest communities, or if Reddit will somehow wrestle back control of them.
This is all in stark contrast to previous Reddit blackouts, like the one in 2015 that took place in protest against staffing decisions. Back then, Reddit CEO Ellan Pao posted an apology to users and moderators, and said “we acknowledge this long history of mistakes”. The context now is very different, of course, and it looks likely that the end result will be, too.
Reddit blackout: why not just use the official app?
While it’d be incredibly sad to see the end of third-party apps like Apollo, the official Reddit app would obviously live on if there’s no compromise – so why couldn’t fans simply switch to that?
Aside from the obvious annoyance that it’d be a forced change, there are lots of reasons why fans prefer third-party apps. One of the big ones is that the likes of Apollo help preserve a traditional Reddit experience, rather than the more image-led one that Reddit’s moving towards.
Also, apps like Apollo are more customizable than the official Reddit app, often offer an ad-free experience, and harken back to the days of the Alien Blue app, which disappeared when the official Reddit app landed in 2016. Then again, those ad-free experiences could be another reason why Reddit wants a shake-up of third-party apps.
TechRadar’s Managing Editor for Entertainment, Matthew Bolton, is an Apollo fan and explains: “I only use Apollo for Reddit because it cuts back the chaos. I like to browse particular subreddits that have good communities; I don’t want to be spammed with all the stuff that the algorithm has flagged as controversial in a desperate attempt to get me to engage,” he says.
“I want to scroll through the things I like the most without the ads,” he adds. “The Reddit app wants me to think of it like a social network, but I want to use it like a combination of Flipboard and an old-school forum – and that’s exactly what I do with Apollo. The official app is like trying to read a magazine while people keep slipping flyers about their pet views or irrelevant news between the pages.”
Not all third-party apps are throwing in the towel – the developer of Relay for Reddit has said in a new post that “a monthly subscription price of $3 (or less) might be achievable” to help absorb the new API costs, even if a free version is no longer possible. It’s possible that Reddit could also tweak its official app to help attract those who are being forced to leave the likes of Apollo.
Either way, the way many of us read Reddit on our smartphones – and perhaps the whole site itself – is about to change in a big way.
Update (Tuesday, June 13): we’ve updated this article with official quotes given to us by Reddit and to amend an error about the current percentage of subreddits that have gone dark.