The future of Reddit may look a lot like Roblox

Time to get paid.
Time to get paid.
Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
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Reddit, a sprawling collection of message boards is supported by advertising, but that may be changing. In an appearance at a conference this week, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman says he’s open to exploring ways its millions of users can earn money through the site. But he’s not planning on paying them.

“I do think moderators and users…should be able to, long term, earn money on Reddit, but they don’t work for Reddit therefore Reddit wouldn’t pay them,” he said at a virtual conference hosted by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing.  “I do think economics will begin slowly working its way through Reddit. A lot of our non-ad revenues eventually will build toward that.”

Founded in 2005 by Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, Reddit has grown into the 19th most visited website on the planet. But it still maintains the anarchic spirit of the early Internet, and its 100,000+ communities, known as subreddits, are a jumble of geekery, deep knowledge, and porn. Despite its size, Reddit has maintained a relatively low profile compared to contemporaries like Facebook and Twitter, but has been forced into the spotlight when its communities attract outsized attention. Most recently, it was the subreddit /r/wallstreetbets fueling the GameStop stock frenzy.

Right now, most of Reddit’s income—$100 million in 2019—comes from ad sales, but Huffman said its expanding into other areas of monetization, such as a paid, ad-free version of the site. Reddit is also experimenting with virtual coins, that redditors can buy to tip each other.

The Roblox model

Reddit’s users and moderators are often the same people, Huffman said, so it didn’t make sense to think of moderators as separate class that should be in line for a payday. Rather, he described a future for Reddit that resembles Roblox, the immensely popular gaming platform where users earn money on the site from each other.

“I love Roblox,” Huffman said. “They are ahead on something I’ve long wanted to do on Reddit.”

Huffman said he was attracted to Roblox’s “radical customization,” where users can build unique worlds for playing and exploring.”There is a similar path for Reddit. It probably wont be around gaming but it will be around community creation and what people can do when they are together.”

Unlike more polished sites, built by professionals and passed down to users, all the content Reddit and Roblox is built by amateur users. That bottom-up approach means there are opportunities for its users to earn money, such as selling customized experiences or various upgrades.

Still, if Reddit evolves along the lines of Roblox, the wealth won’t be evenly distributed. Of Roblox’s 7 million developers, fewer than 1 million made any money at all in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, and only 1,050 made more than $10,000. Three, however, made more than $10 million.

The other opportunity for Redditors to cash in may come from a possible IPO. Huffman said the company is exploring going public, and he hoped redditors might somehow be able to access shares before the general public.