The developer of Apollo, one of the most popular third-party Reddit apps, announced Thursday that he is shutting the app down at the end of the month due to the astronomical charges Reddit is implementing that would make continuing the app financially untenable.The move comes days before hundreds of subreddits are set to go dark to protest Reddit’s forthcoming changes to the way it charges for API access, and a week after Christian Selig, Apollo’s developer, said that keeping the app operational would cost him more than $20 million per year. On July 1, Reddit is set to begin charging developers for access to its API, which allows people like Selig to make third-party apps that people can use to browse, post on, and moderate Reddit without using the official app or desktop site.
“June 30th will be Apollo's last day. I've talked to a lot of people, and come to claims with this over the last weeks as talks with Reddit have deteriorated to an ugly point, and in the interest of transparency with the community, I wanted to talk about how I arrived at this decision,” Selig began a lengthy post that explains how talks between him and Reddit have seemingly broken down. Selig said he asked Reddit to push back the July 1 start date, but said he did not get a response. Apollo has roughly 1.5 million monthly users.After Selig’s initial post about the financial realities of Reddit’s API changes, hundreds of subreddits announced that they would go dark in protest between June 12 and 14th; many moderators of those subreddits said they may never return, or could leave their subreddits dark indefinitely. This has become such a huge deal in part because third-party apps like Apollo have built tools that make it easier for moderators—who are unpaid volunteers—to do moderation tasks. The end of Apollo (and other third-party apps, which are also threatened by the change) means the end of those tools.In any conversation about Reddit’s finances and business model, it is worth highlighting that Reddit gets an incredible and perhaps incalculable amount of financial value from moderators, who help ensure that their communities—and, by extension, Reddit itself—are places worth visiting. Reddit’s content moderation model, where the moderators are actual parts of their communities, has in some ways proven better than the content moderation models used by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, who rely on paid employees and contractors to apply network-wide rules to content on those sites. Moderators of any social media site, including Reddit, are at risk of being exposed to violent and disturbing content, burnout, and PTSD associated with the work that they do. Simply put, it does cost money for Reddit to serve its API to third-party entities. But Reddit also has a fundamental reliance on unpaid labor that few other social media giants have, and keeping its API accessible and free (or cheap) enables them to more easily do that unpaid work. “Unlike other social media companies like Facebook and Twitter who pay their moderators as employees, Reddit relies on volunteers to do the hard work for free. I completely understand that when tools they take to do their volunteer, important job are taken away, there is anger and frustration there,” Selig wrote. “While I haven't personally mobilized anyone to participate in the blackout out of fear of retaliation from Reddit, the last thing I want is for that to feel like I don't support the folks speaking up. I wholeheartedly do … I am, admittedly, doubtful Reddit wants to listen to folks anymore so I don't see it having an effect.”Reddit declined to comment when shown Selig’s post about Apollo shutting down. Last week, however, a Reddit spokesperson told Motherboard: “Expansive access to data has impact and costs involved, and in terms of safety and privacy we have an obligation to our communities to be responsible stewards of data. We have been in contact with third-party apps and developers, including Apollo, over the course of the last six weeks following our initial announcement about API changes, and our stance on third-party apps has not changed. We’re committed to fostering a safe and responsible developer ecosystem around Reddit - developers and third-party apps can make Reddit better and do so in a sustainable and mutually-beneficial partnership, while also keeping our users and data safe. Reddit data for commercial use will need to adhere to our updated API terms of service and premium access program. We’ve had a long-standing policy in our past terms that outlined commercial and non-commercial use, but unfortunately some of those agreements were not adhered to so we clarified our terms and reached out to select organizations to work with them on compliance and a paid premium access tier.”