Advice for those hit by the Google Maps price hike

The broader story as Google moves to monetise its service, potentially adding tens of thousands to monthly bills.
Glen Barnes says an open source solution won't necessarily work out cheaper than Google Maps.

If you’re facing a Google Maps price hike next month, get a quote from an alternative source before you start negotiating with Google.

That’s the advice from local online expert Glen Barnes, given the US giant offers bespoke pricing for any site with even modest traffic.

"Getting costs comparisons gets Google to be competitive. This is an enterprise sale after all, and the sales team needs to make their commission," he says.

Beyond leverage in discussions with Google, an open-source alternative could be worth adopting in its own right.

Developer anger
Google Maps hit headlines last week after a Metlink developer let slip that the Wellington public transport network operator’s Maps fee was set to jump from $1000 a month to $30,000.

Metlink said it had only been informed by Google on June 18. That might be the case in terms of official business correspondence (Google would not comment on that point).

But Google first announced its Maps price increases at the start of May.

And when it did, the net lit up like a Christmas tree – or at least the parts where developers gather.

“Insane, shocking, outrageous,” howled one site devoted to mapping industry news.

Previously, Google allowed a website to make 25,000 free calls a day on its API (applications programming interface, or how websites talk to Google Maps behind the scenes).

That number will be chopped back to 25,000 a month from July 16.

A spokeswoman for Google Australia-New Zealand tells NBR Google is also introducing a $200 credit.

“We expect the $200 monthly credit to cover the current usage of most of our customers. Of the small percentage of our customers that will be impacted, we’re committed to helping them make the transition to the new experience as smoothly as possible,” she says.

Pricing depends on a wide variety of variables. A number of developer sites have called it a 1400% price hike but, with most price options on Google’s Maps price calculator, the traffic slider soon generates a message that says “You may benefit from volume-pricing based on your estimated usage. Contact Sales to learn more.” Volume-based pricing appears to be negotiable.

Who's getting hit
The small percentage of sites that are hit are the high-traffic ones where people are probably used to seeing Google Maps.

Mr Barnes says the big real estate sites, Trade Me Property, Under One Roof and will all be potentially in the firing line, subject to the success of their negotiations with Google.

None had any appetite for on the record comment, though one expressed surprise at the size of Metlink’s price rise.

Good get ‘killed’ if a listing goes viral
Grant Wakelin, the founder of sell-it-yourself real estate site 200 Square, says Google’s $200 credit covers about 28,000 calls on a static map, or about 100,000 calls on a dynamic map (which has extras like dynamic street views, and various customisable features).

200 Square is just under the $200 credit/free usage limit, based on its average traffic.

But Mr Wakelin qualifies, “One thing we are watching is the inability to plan. That is, if a property goes viral, you can get killed on map views.”

He adds that each time a Google Map loads, it typically makes several API calls to Google to load different elements of the map, so you can reach your limit faster than you think.

“And given it’s credit card driven, you’ll only know after it’s happened,” he says (one of the many developer and website owner complaints is that a credit card number must be forked over to Google to access dynamic features).

Auckland Transport says it won’t be hit by Google’s price increase because it uses an alternative, the open source Open Street Maps.

Mr Barnes says there are a number of good systems based on Open Street Maps, which are worth serious investigation.

But although open source means free in most cases, he says most companies will also have to rope in web developers for a switch from Google Maps, which is a cost that has to be weighed.

And, although he says Mapbox is worth checking out, he adds that its pay-as-you-go model can get “pricey” for busier sites who want to take full advantage of its API.

He says it could well be worth Metlink making a change if it’s only swapping out its public-facing map but that there could be other features its using behind the scenes that make the equation trickier (Metlink refused to comment on that point; Mr Barnes speculates it could be one or two features that are really getting thumped; the crew on Geekzone wonders if it could be a bit of a "chatty" app that makes too many API calls and needs a bit of honing). 

Why hike pricing?
Google hasn’t commented in any detail on the reasoning behind its price increase (Ms Arnott offers: “We know change is hard but our plans and pricing were adjusted as we updated our product offering, improved the overall experience, and to reflect current market conditions.”)

But presumably, Google has decided it’s time to start monetising Maps beyond advertising.

With the US giant refusing to elaborate on its pricing strategy, others are filling the vacuum.

“Don’t ever rely on Google to run your business,” entrepreneur Lance Wiggs says

Words for open-source advocates to live by, perhaps, but they also show the difficulty of avoiding the ubiquitous Google. 

Mr Wiggs' many holdings include an 18% stake in the Google Maps-using 200 Square.

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