Google Says It’s Time for Longtime Small-Business Users to Pay Up

When Google told some small businesses in January that they would no longer be able to use a customized email service and other workplace apps for free, it felt like a broken promise for Richard J. Dalton Jr., a longtime user who operates a scholastic test. -prep company in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“They’re basically strong-arming us to switch to something after they’ve got us hooked on this free service,” said Mr. Dalton, who first set up a Google work email for his business, Your Score Booster, in 2008.

Google said that longtime users of what it calls its G Suite legacy free edition, which includes emails and apps like Docs and Calendar, had to start paying a monthly charge, usually around $ 6 for each business email address. Businesses that do not voluntarily switch to a paid service by June 27 will be moved to one. If they don’t pay by Aug. 1, their accounts will be suspended.

While the cost of the paid service is more of an annoyance than a hard financial hit, small-business owners are affected by the change they say have been disappointed by the ham-handed way that Google has dealt with the process. They can’t help but feel that the profits in billions of dollars with a giant company are squeezing little guys – some of the first businesses to use Google’s apps for work – for just a bit of money.

“It struck me as needlessly petty,” said Patrick Gant, owner of Think It Creative, a marketing consultancy in Ottawa. “It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who received something for free for a long time and is now being told that they need to pay for it. But there was a promise that was made. That ‘s what compelled me to make the decision to go with Google versus other alternatives. “

Google’s decision to charge organizations that have used its apps for free is another example of its way to get more money out of its existing business, similar to how it has sometimes put four ads atop search results instead of three and has jammed more commercials. into YouTube videos. In recent years, Google has pushed more aggressively into selling software subscriptions to businesses and competed more directly with Microsoft, whose word and Excel programs rule the market.

After a number of longtime users complained about the change to a paid service, an initial May 1 deadline was delayed. Google also said people using old accounts for personal rather than business reasons could continue to do so for free.

But some business owners said that as they mulled whether to pay Google or abandon its services, they struggled to get in touch with customer support. With the deadline looming, six small-business owners who spoke to The New York Times criticized what they said were confusing and at times vacillating communications about the service change.

“I don’t mind you kicking us off,” said Samad Sajanlal, owner of Supreme Equipment Company, which does software consulting and other tech services in McKinney, Texas. “But don’t let us go to an unrealistic deadline and find an alternative while you’re still deciding if you really want to kick us off in the first place.”

Google said the free edition didn’t include customer support, but that it provided users with multiple ways to get in touch with the company to help them transition.

Google launched Gmail in 2004 and business apps like Docs and Sheets two years later. The search giant was eager for start-ups and mom-and-pop shops to adopt its work software, so it offered services at no cost and let companies bring custom domains that matched their business names to Gmail.

While it was still testing apps, it even told business owners that the products would be free for life, though Google says that from the beginning, the terms of service for its business software stated that the company could suspend or terminate the offer. future. Google stopped new free sign-ups in December 2012 but continued to support what has become known as the G Suite legacy free edition.

In 2020, G Suite was rebranded as Google Workspace. The overwhelming majority of people – the company says it has more than three billion total users – use a free version of Workspace. More than seven million organizations or individuals pay for versions with additional tools and customer support, up from six million in 2020. The number of users still on the free legacy version from years ago has numbered thousands, said one person familiar with the tally. Who asked for anonymity because the person was not allowed to disclose those numbers publicly.

“We’re here to help our customers with this transition, including deep discounts on Google Workspace subscriptions,” Katie Wattie, a Google spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Moving to a Google Workspace subscription can be done in a few clicks.”

Mr. Dalton, who helps Canadian students get into American universities, said Google’s forced upgrades came at a bad time. The coronavirus pandemic was devastating for his business, he said. Venues regularly canceled tests, some universities suspended test requirements, and fewer students sought prep services.

From April 2020 to March 2021, business revenue nearly halved. Sales dropped another 20 percent next year. Things have started to pick up in recent months, but your Score Booster is still lagging its prepandemic performance.

“At this point, I’m focusing on getting my business to recover,” Mr. Dalton said. “The last thing I want to do is change a service.” So he asked his 11 part-time employees to start using their personal email addresses for work, and he upgraded the remaining two accounts to the cheapest version of Google Workspace.

Mr. Gant’s business is a one-man shop, and he’s been using Gmail for free since 2004. He said it wasn’t about the money. His problem was the hassle. He had to figure out whether to continue using Google or find another option.

Mr. Gant is still considering moving to Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCloud or ProtonMail, or to stick with Google. He will decide what to do at the end of the month. Microsoft would cost him 100 Canadian dollars a year. Apple would cost $ 50 and ProtonMail $ 160. Google would give him three months free and then charge the same amount as Apple for a year. The next year, Google’s price would double.

Mr. Sajanlal, the sole employee of his business, signed up for Gmail’s business service in 2009. Years later, he added his brother-in-law, Mesam Jiwani, to his G Suite account when he started a business of his own. That company, Fast Payment Systems, has helped small businesses in the states including Texas and New York process credit card payments since 2020.

When Mr. Mr. Sajanlal told Jiwani that Google would start charging for each of their email addresses, Mr. Jiwani said: “Are you serious? They’re going to start ripping us off? “

Mr. Jiwani said he stored stored data for his 3,000 clients on Google Drive, so he began to pay for the company’s services, though he is considering switching to software provider Zoho. Mr. Sajanlal moved away from Google in March, setting up his business emails on a server hosted by Nextcloud.

Stian Oksavik, who has a side business called BeyondBits in Loxahatchee, Fla., That sets up computers for clients, moved to Apple’s iCloud service, which he already had access to as part of an existing subscription package.

“It was less about the amount they were charging and more about the fact that they changed the rules,” Mr. Oksavik said. “They could change the rules again at any time.”

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