Google has announced that it’s closing down its free business apps service, and will begin charging businesses $50.00 per year, per user for the luxury of using its hosted services like internal Gmail, Google docs, and Drive access.
Up until this point, small businesses could sign up for a free business account that gave small business owners the ability to host email and internal files directly on Google’s servers without ever having to pay a fee. The tradeoff was limited space in Gmail and its other services. Paid options always existed, but from the sounds of it, most small businesses may have opted for the free version instead of the pay version.
In a blog post published on its website, Google’s Clay Bavor, the director of project management for the Apps program, announced:
[quote]”When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well. Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn’t quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.”[/quote]
While it’s clear why Google made the change, it’s also a bit disingenuous. The company could continue to offer free apps, but then provide an upgrade path for users looking for more support. Companies like Freshbooks and 37 Signals do business in that way. They provide introductory services for free, but then charge the moment you outgrow the “free” packages. We fail to see why they couldn’t continue with that approach at Google.
According to the announcement from Google, the company will honor its original commitments to those companies that signed up for the free version, but starting immediately, any new company will be required to pay the introductory fees for access to the company’s apps services for business.
Back when we launched Macgasm, we were cutting corners wherever we could to make sure that we could stay on budget with our services. Paying for hosted email and document storage at the time wasn’t something we could afford to do. We moved to Google’s free apps services for small business, and we’ve never looked back. We host our email and use docs quite a bit.
It’s a sad day. While making people pay makes financial success for Google, it also forces new, small companies to pay for the service at their most vulnerable moments. We’re kind of bummed they decided to pull the plug on the free version. It was an integral part of our early success.