The death of sustainable Reddit apps

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 4 min read
The death of sustainable Reddit apps
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We all know the drama around Reddit's API pricing changes they rolled out this summer, and with it the death of many popular apps that were no longer sustainable.

Apollo was always my favorite iOS Reddit app, but with its demise I've switched back to my next favorite app, Narwhal. Narwhal was free with a one-time IAP to remove ads and to enable some more functionality. Obviously that business model doesn't work anymore, so the developer is shifting:

Narwhal is going to start out with a single subscription plan for $3.99/month.

That's not a ton, but it is $48/year, which isn't that far off of what things like Fantastical costs, it's $2 less than Final Cut Pro for the iPad, and it's even more expensive than Photomator. All of those are professional quality apps that people like to complain about being too expensive, so a Reddit client in the same ballpark will certainly raise some eyebrows.

But the annual cost isn't what bothered me (if it's not worth it to you, don't pay it), this line is what concerns me:

The only goal of this subscription is to cover the costs of using the API

If we take the developer at their word, this makes me sad because Narwhal is no longer a product that aims to earn a living for the developer, it's just trying to break even. Not everything needs to be something that makes enough money to live on, but the few Reddit apps that were doing that are dead, and Narwhal doesn't even feel it can charge enough to do that.

For what it's worth, a few days ago I launched the app and got a pop up asking me how much I would pay for Narwhal. The options were $3.99, $4.99, $5.99, and some other option, but it's not surprising that the lowest number seems to have won out.

One thing that's nice from the consumer end is that you just pay a flat fee no matter how much you use the app. This is going to be tricky for the developer as their costs scale linearly with how much each user uses the app, and it complicates their incentives. Now, the best Narwhal customer is one who installs the app, subscribes, and never opens the app again. That's a cynical view, of course, and I'm sure the developer wants people to use and enjoy their app, but they are very much hoping that users don't use the app too much.

On the other end of the complexity scale you have Relay for Reddit, which announced their pricing recently as well. Relay has 6 different tiers, and this is how they describe choosing the right tier for you:

For example, if you select the Bronze plan, then you are capped at 1350 API calls per month which is an average of 45 calls per day or typically around 30 minutes of redditing per day. Note that Relay does not cut you off after 45 calls or 30 minutes of redditing in a day. These numbers are merely to guide you in selecting the right plan for your personal use. Once you have used up your fixed allowance of 1350 API calls (in a month) you can upgrade your subscription to continue using Relay (more on upgrading and downgrading below).

Woof. As another Redditor quipped, it's like rationing AOL minutes like it's 1998 all over again. Also of note, Relay's tiers range from $0.99-$9.99/month, so Narwhal's $3.99 is assuming most people will be on the lower side of usage.

Finally, I'm beta testing a Reddit app called Winston that asks the user to generate their own API key and pay whatever fees they rack up to Reddit directly as if they were a developer. The app is quite nice, but the setup isn't exactly user friendly.

I hope that all of these apps are successful and that they can continue to exist for people who want to use them. That said, I am bummed out that Reddit apps are now more expensive and more complicated to use than before, and I'm worried that these will lead to these apps fading away over time. It seems very clear to me that the API costs are meant to be a deterrent to people building apps like these. The few that are still there are needing to charge customers more than they'd like to pay or are creating complicated sign up and payment processes that will deter users as well. Reddit wants you to use their website and their app so that they can show you their ads and collect your analytics. That's totally their right, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it.

One more note on Relay's rationing of API calls math customers are going to need to do, a bunch of AI-generation tools these days have similar models where you're given "tokens" and different types of requests consume different amounts of tokens. Here's me poking around's UI and you can see the number of tokens my request will consumer varies quite a bit based on the parameters I select. This makes some sense when you consider server costs to perform these actions, but it's undeniably a major pain.