I Am Hearing A Lot More Talk About Restricting Free And Freemium Tiers Of API Access

I'm seeing a significant shift in the conversations around how SaaS, and API-first platforms are planning access to their APIs. I'm seeing a pretty significant back peddling around free, and freemium access levels. I'm trying to keep notes on what I'm hearing, so that I can better understand what is causing this, and see if I can identify where the balance might exist in providing self-service access to API our valuable resources.

Let' me explore some of the main reasons I'm hearing for reducing, restricting, or completely doing away with these lower level areas of access:

  • Too Many API Freeloaders - There is a growing number of poorly behaved API consumers who are just looking for a free ride.
  • At Odds With Sales Teams - Free layers of access cannibalize our sales cycle, and make it harder for sales teams to close the deal.
  • These Layers Do Not Convert - The users coming in at these layers are just not converting, and becoming paid customers.
  • We Built It And Nobody Came - Nobody seems to care about the API, and nobody signed up for acess, so we are shutting down.
  • No More Money To Support Free - We just don't have the money to pay for the infrastructure and support it takes to support.
  • VC's Told Us To Focus On Enterprise - Our investors told us to focus all our attention on selling to the enterprise, consumer focus is gone. 

When it comes to providing and consuming APIs, I've seen it all. I sympathize with many of these reasons for shrinking of the free tiers of access to APIs. There will be many contributing factors to why things might be off in an API community. As my friend Ed Anuff (@edanuff) focused on in his latest post about how a large number of us are doing API wrong, with many companies approach to APIs being fundamentally at odds with their ecosystem. 

Ultimately I think that API providers WILL need to tighten down their access levels, but this can't be done without properly thinking things through. You need to consider the bigger picture, around how have planned API access, communicated and engaged with your consumers, and be honest with yourself about what you've done right, and what you've done wrong. While it might be a lot of work to manage this free level of access, and do what it right, you want to make sure you still maintain an environment where serendipity can happen. 

Then again, maybe you weren't actually interested in this happening in the first place. You were just looking to get someone to build some things for free on your resources, looking to offload the hard work on an external community. I'm not saying everyone who has a self-service, publicly available API will find success, bu the ones that work hard to strike a balance here, are more likely to have invested in all the right areas--setting the stage for a healthier balance between API provider and consumer.