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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Google recently announced that it is discontinuing its Reader product after July 1st, 2013. Naturally, the Internet went bonkers. It was a timely confluence of a) Google, b) a product dear to the technorati, c) a field bereft of serious competition, and d) a Wednesday.

Google as a company operates at a scale that allows many on the Internet to conclude that normal rules don't apply and believe that it operates services out of some sense of public duty. It is routinely taken for granted (e.g., see the outcry when they started charging for Google Apps) by people who have no idea how much it costs to offer these products.

Usually it can give these applications away for free because they can pay the costs of development and operation from some other source like ads. But there is no significant money to be derived from RSS and feed reading—I'd imagine that Google needs to reap tens of millions to make something like this worthwhile.

If it has tens of millions of active users, then charging them directly is not an option:

30MM active users x 0.01 willing to pay = 300K or $33/year

That 1% willing to pay drops precipitously at $33 per year, which makes the economics even worse. And people who actually use a feed reader are not predisposed to respond well to ads inserted into their feed reading experience.

Feed reading is a niche market and will survive as such because it serves a very valuable service for the people that use it.

I've been asked repeatedly about what alternative people should use. I think it's too soon to tell: every option out there right now is swamped by the deluge caused by the announcement. It's going to take a couple months to address the influx and achieve a rough parity to make a more compelling product. I advise waiting until May at least and then seeing what's available.

And be prepared to pay. If it's a service worth using, you should want to support it at a reasonable price.