After a nasty battle between the developers of third-party apps and Reddit management, ultimately resulting in a site-wide protest, many app makers were put out of business due to Reddit’s price increases related to the usage of its API. Though the changes meant the loss of popular apps like Apollo, RIF (Reddit is Fun), ReddPlanent, Sync and BaconReader, one app, Narwhal, is attempting to make a comeback. The company announced this week that it will implement a subscription-based version of its app at $3.99 per month, promising an ad-free and privacy-focused experience.
The new app will also include a Tip Jar to solicit donations to help keep the app afloat beyond the subscription fees and fund additional development work. Though not available at launch, the app’s developer Rick Harrison (u/det0ur on Reddit and CTO at Meadow by day) says he’s considering adding a small fee, perhaps $1 per month, to allow users to also check their notifications and messages.
The relatively conservative subscription pricing is deemed an experiment for the time being, as it may end up costing more to cover the API fees as Narwhal’s adoption and usage grows. Because Reddit’s API costs Narwhal on a monthly basis, the app will not include the option for a lifetime unlock or the ability to pay on an annual basis, as Reddit may choose to increase the cost of its API or the app may have to, in order to cover its expenses.
Notes Narwhal’s developer, Reddit’s fee will be “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands a month depending on how many people subscribe.” To work, the app will need a critical mass of subscribers to cover its costs, but Harrison says he’s fairly confident the model will work.
“Also, with a simpler plan like this, I can offer a subscription on a Narwhal website for 30% less (no Apple cut),” Harrison wrote.
It’s unclear how Reddit itself will respond to Narwhal’s attempt at running its own ad-free third-party app business. The company’s decision to adjust its API pricing and put third-party apps out of business was clearly about maximizing Reddit revenues at the expense of its development community and overall goodwill. Responded Reddit CEO Steve Huffman in an AMA on the matter, “We’ll continue to be profit-driven until profits arrive,” and “unlike some of the [third-party] apps, we are not profitable.”
Harrison tells TechCrunch he’s been in communication with Reddit leadership since the original API announcement and doesn’t believe they have any intention of shutting his app down.
“They just want to cover their costs as well,” he noted. Still, he suggests that certain actions, like upvoting and downvoting and leaving comments shouldn’t be charged for with the API.
“The reason behind that is, Reddit is only as good as the content on it. If we start charging users to contribute content to Reddit, the quality will nosedive really quickly. I understand why consuming the content should cost money via the API, but I don’t think that sending data to the API to display on all of Reddit should cost money,” he says.
Narwhal has been a popular choice for its customization options that let users pick their own swipe controls, fonts, colors, themes and more. The app also offers a native video player, fast media loading, sync between devices and other features. Narwhal released the latest version of its app a few days ago, Narwhal 2, which added a number of new customizations and a user survey over subscriptions along with various bug fixes. The developer then announced the finalized subscription plan on Monday.
Narwhal isn’t the only Reddit client to attempt to remain in business despite Reddit’s API pricing changes. Another, Relay, announced a multi-tier subscription plan where users have to choose one of six price points, each that caps them at a certain number of API calls.
Harrison didn’t want to go that route, writing on Reddit “Let’s be real, the 2003-esque cell phone plan with monitored usage just isn’t great. Who wants to even worry about what an API Call is? Let alone how much it will cost.”
Narwhal 2 is available for download on the App Store. The app currently includes the Tip Jar option, with the subscription rolling out in the next week or two.