When Even Billions of Dollars Won’t Support Free

Two years ago I wrote:

Sticking with Gmail for another example, imagine if Google decided that Gmail was a money loser and that it was to be shut down. Doesn’t matter what you offer to pay, in a week it’s gone.

This happens with free software and services, sometimes with paid services (but that is far less likely). Sometimes the funding for free just runs out — perhaps it was just someones hobby, a hobby that you depended on — doesn’t matter because it is gone now.

I received tons of email telling me there was no way that Twitter or Gmail would ever shut down. I still stand behind what I said, I didn’t need the news today of Google Reader being shut down to know that my long and expensive move to pay for everything I use is, was, and will be the right decision.

Free is fickle, free is fragile, and now tons of users and developers are paying the price for relying on a free service.

The more interesting part about this move from Google is not that they prove my theory, but that they’ve now shown their hand to all of us. Google can no longer afford, or is no longer willing, to give shit away for free with no monetization in sight.

What does that mean for:

  • Third party access to Gmail?
  • Google Maps
  • Android
  • Chrome
  • Chrome OS
  • Google Translate
  • And on and on.

Google has built a cult-like following around the idea that you can use what they provide for free. Now Google is telling us that if the following isn’t great enough, or the project not lucrative enough, they’ll abandon it and consider it a favor to you if they give you a three month heads up.


To think that this was Google’s only option though is shortsighted. It wouldn’t have been hard for Google to make the API to access Reader a paid service, where developers paid X percent of their sales for access to the API, and Google makes the API an officially supported part of Reader. That would have been easy for Google, but Google chose to shut down the service instead.


I think the why is self-evident. The why is that Google doesn’t want to make anyone spend cash for their services (there are exceptions to this). So if faced with charging for Reader or shutting down Reader, shutting down Reader fits the Google mantra better than the former.

That’s scary to think about.

How much does Google make off of Gmail? Is it enough to support the ever growing service? Because if the past is any indication of the future, Google would rather shut down Gmail than let you give them your money to use it.

Originally posted for members on: March 13, 2013
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