Exploring Reddit’s third-party app environment 7 months after the APIcalypse


Last year, Reddit sparked massive controversy when it dramatically changed the prices and rules associated with accessing its API. The changes were so drastic and polarizing that they led to an epic protest from Reddit users and moderators that saw thousands of subreddits going private and engaging in other forms of inconvenience for weeks. Things got ugly, but Reddit still ushered in the changes, resulting in mounds of third-party Reddit apps announcing their permanent closure.

It’s been about seven months since the changes, so I wanted to see what Reddit’s third-party app ecosystem looks like now. Are surviving third-party Reddit apps that started charging users making money? Are developers confident they’ll be able to keep their apps open for the long term?

And some apps are still available despite not charging a subscription fee. How is that possible?

To get a deeper understanding of how Reddit’s app atmosphere is looking, I got updates from past and present third-party Reddit app developers.

Popular third-party Reddit apps that still exist

Narwhal 2 for Reddit

Narwhal used to be free, but it now costs $3.99 per month. People who use the new version of the app are met with a message by app developer Rick Harrison admitting that the change is disappointing.

“Unfortunately, due to Reddit now charging for access to their API, Narwhal has been forced to add a subscription in order to use the app. We hate this just as much as you do,” the app tells users.

In a chat with Ars Technica, Harrison admitted that the change was hard, considering that Narwhal was free for eight years. Most people have been “receptive” to the fee since they know it’s the result of Reddit rule changes. But Narwhal’s active user base still declined about 50 to 60 percent, Harrison estimated.

Narwhal made a small amount of profit before, thanks to a small ad at the bottom of the app. Narwhal 2 “barely” makes a small profit, too. However, most of the money from Narwhal 2’s subscription fees goes to either Apple or Reddit.

Narwhal 2’s current pricing should be sufficient to keep it open in the coming years, so long as Reddit doesn’t significantly raise prices, “which, of course, is something that could happen,” Harrison said. He also reiterated his interest in keeping Narwhal 2 alive, even if he is the only person using it.

Interestingly, Narwhal remained open ahead of Narwhal 2’s release without users having to pay anything. I asked Harrison in June how that was possible, but he said he couldn’t explain due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Reddit. I asked again for this story, and Harrison said he couldn’t provide full details but noted, “Reddit was willing to work with me so that I could transition the app to subscriptions in a reasonable timeframe, especially considering it’s not my full-time job.”

Infinity for Reddit

Infinity for Reddit used to be free but is now subscription-based. Users can choose how much they pay monthly, from $2.99 to $9.99. All tiers offer the same service, and subscribers can decide to pay more if they want to help financially support the app further.

An app targeting power users, Infinity for Reddit+, was already available before Reddit’s rule changes. That app charged a one-time fee but now also requires a subscription.

The features on Infinity for Reddit and Infinity for Reddit+ are identical, developer Alex Ning told me, noting that he currently doesn’t have any plans to discontinue Infinity for Reddit+. Keeping both apps open means people who bought Infinity for Reddit+ before July 1 are able to easily continue using it (after paying a subscription fee), Ning explained.

According to the dev, users haven’t seemed happy with Infinity becoming subscription-based, considering that there are “way more one-star reviews than before.”

“Most of them are like, ‘Infinity is a scam, and it’s not a free app at all while published as a free app,'” Ning said. (Infinity for Reddit is still listed as a free install on Google’s Play Store, but users are required to buy a subscription in the app.)

Ning said he was unable to share usage or financial numbers for his apps due to an NDA with Reddit.

[colabot5]

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