On Thursday, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman told me that the developer of Rif is Fun for Reddit (RIF), a popular third-party Reddit app for Android, did not want to work with Reddit on the company’s planned API pricing changes. However, the developer, Andrew Shu, tells me that’s not the case — and shared emails with The Verge that appear to back him up.
During the interview, I asked Huffman if Reddit could give developers more time to implement the API changes, which Shu has already said are forcing him to shut down RIF at the end of the month. Here’s exactly what Huffman said in response (emphasis mine):
I said we are working with everybody who is willing to work with us, which includes many of the other third party apps. The three you mentioned said they don’t want to work with us and they’re shutting down. I didn’t tell them to do that.
We have had many conversations — well, not with RIF, he never wanted to talk to us — but with the others, we were having such conversations, and we’ll work with the others. A deadline is important, otherwise these things just linger and linger and linger.
However, based on emails we’ve seen, it was clear that the two sides did actually talk.
The conversation did not start well, as Reddit apparently had some trouble getting in touch with Shu. On April 25th, Reddit said that it had “made repeated attempts to contact you using all methods of contact” in an email with the subject line “URGENT: Immediate Compliance with Reddit API Terms Required — 48-Hour Response Deadline.” Shu responded, and he and Reddit sent a few emails back and forth about scheduling a call.
On May 1st, Reddit followed up from the call to recap the discussion, which included notes that ads in apps wouldn’t be allowed beginning June 19th — effectively killing RIF’s business model and giving Shu little time to pivot to a new one.
A few hours later, Shu replied to push back on the proposed changes.
First of all, the faulty reasoning given by Reddit as to why they’ve planned the changes does not instill confidence in these changes, nor any future changes Reddit may desire to implement, assuming our partnership continues.
Moreover, I am disappointed by the unilaterally demanding attitude displayed by Reddit so far in this overall conversation. If Reddit is serious about a lasting partnership, it will have to be a respectful and productive one with input from both sides carrying weight.
An email out of the blue with accusations of “violation” and “breach of terms”—which are false as the terms have not taken effect yet—is not a great way to start a partnership based on mutual respect.
Shu offers that the two sides should start over and says the following: “I am willing to work with Reddit. I can envision a ‘win-win-win’ solution being possible: a win for Reddit, for developers including myself, and most importantly, our users.”
On May 30th, Reddit reached out again to offer a follow-up call with “some updates.” A day later — the same day Apollo developer Christian Selig went public with his expected $20 million per year costs for the app — Shu replied, “Given the info is public, I don’t see a phone call being productive. Please let me know when there is any new information to share that hasn’t been made public.” Reddit said it is “standing by to discuss if you change your mind.” Reddit followed up again on June 7th.
The company declined to comment.
“I can envision a ‘win-win-win’ solution being possible”
Thursday’s interview is not the only time Huffman has allegedly taken an aggressive stance toward third-party developers. In his announcement that he would be shutting down Apollo, Selig claimed that Huffman told Reddit mods that Selig “threatened” the company. Selig released the audio and a transcript from his conversation with a Reddit employee that showed that while the employee originally interpreted Selig’s comments as a threat, they cleared up the matter and agreed that threat was a misinterpretation.
Regardless, Huffman hasn’t been pleased with Selig. “[Selig’s] ‘joke’ is the least of our issues,” Huffman wrote in his AMA on June 9th. “His behavior and communications with us has been all over the place — saying one thing to us while saying something completely different externally; recording and leaking a private phone call — to the point where I don’t know how we could do business with him.” In a reply, Selig asked Huffman to “please feel free to give examples where I said something different in public versus what I said to you,” which Huffman did not respond to.
Both Shu and Selig believe that paying for API use, which has previously been free, is a fair request. “Paying for the API is a reasonable ask, as long as the pricing is reasonable,” Shu wrote in his May 1st email. “I agree that long-term Reddit footing the bill for third-party apps is not tenable, and with a paid arrangement there’s a great possibility for developing a more concrete relationship with Reddit, with better API support for users,” Selig wrote in his announcement that he’ll be shutting down the app. But they take issue with the pricing — Shu said on Reddit that RIF’s costs would be in “the same ballpark” as Selig’s expected $20 million per year — and the company’s rollout of the changes.
Shu also tells me that RIF was paying a “sizable revenue share” to Reddit beginning in 2012, which was during Yishan Wong’s tenure as CEO. Shu says he says initiated the talks with Reddit to create the agreement, which allowed for the licensed use of Reddit’s trademarks. (At the time, the app was called “Reddit is fun.”) Shu says Reddit terminated the agreement in 2016 — which was the year after Huffman took over as CEO.