Google will start charging small businesses to use its Google Apps productivity suite as the company taps previously free services for new revenue streams.
Businesses with 10 or fewer employees will now be charged $50 a year -- the same rate paid by larger businesses -- to use the Web-based tools, which include e-mail, word processor, spreadsheet and presentation graphics tools.
The move will allow the Web giant to focus on the quality of the business user's experience, Google explained today in a company blog post.
"When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well," Clay Bavor, director of product management for Google Apps, said in the post. "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."
The paid package includes round-the-clock telephone support, a 25GB inbox, and the company's uptime guarantee.
Subscriptions to Google Apps and its separate mapping service for businesses and governments contributed about $1 billion to Google's bottom line last year, according to The Wall Street Journal. More than 40 million people use the free and paid versions of the suite, Google has said.
Before 2011, only businesses with more than 50 employees were charged for the suite of services.