Reddit Moderators Do Over $3.4 Million in Free Labor Every Year

It’s one good reason the CEO should listen to their protest

Clive Thompson

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Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

So, you’ve heard about the moderator protest at Reddit?

If you haven’t, here’s the tl;dr recap:

For years now, many in the Reddit community have used third-party mobile apps — like Apollo — to read and post to Reddit. That’s partly because Reddit for a long time didn’t have its own app. It’s also because Reddit made it cheap to develop a third-party app. Reddit’s API (the gateway that lets third-party apps post data to Reddit) was free. So Apollo could do its thing without incurring a lot of data costs.

That changed quickly in recent months, when Reddit executives announced they were adding new charges to their API.

Why? Well, as CEO Steve Huffman explained, Reddit needs to pursue profitability; the firm has lived off investment for a long while, so it needs more revenue streams. And hey: Fair enough! Huffman also wanted some way of getting revenue from AI firms like OpenAI/Microsoft and Google, which have been scraping Reddit’s posts to train their AI models. Again, fair enough.

The problem is, Reddit announced that these new fees for using the API would take effect … on July 1.

That’s a very short timeline. It’s maybe not a problem for Google or Microsoft. But it doesn’t give those smaller third-party apps much time to react. The founder of Apollo figured that paying for API access might cost him $20 million a year; to pay that much to Reddit, he’d need to develop a whole new fee structure, write new back-end logic, and convince his customers to pay up — in 30 days. Even if you assume he’s overestimating how much the API would cost, that’s still a big undertaking. So he decided instead to call it quits, and shut down Apollo on June 30.

This got a ton of Redditors very angry at Reddit. Many power users are big fans of third-party apps like Apollo. So this week, the moderators of over 7,000 subreddits launched a protest: They set their subreddits to “private” mode, effectively shutting them down. That includes some of the most highly-trafficked subreddits, like r/funny, r/aww, r/gaming, r/music, and r/science.

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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net