Google has announced the end of its print-replica subscription magazine service, which allowed end-users to download and read the print version of magazines in digital form. It’s the first Google service of the year to die after launching in 2012 as part of the Play Magazines app.
Android Police reported the cancellation after receiving an email from the company, as below:
Subject: To all current Magazine Paid Subscribers
This notification is to inform you that we’re discontinuing print-replica magazines in Google News.
This means you won’t be able to purchase new print-replica magazine issues or renew your subscription via Google News. However, you’ll continue to have access to all issues you previously subscribed to in the Google News app, in the Following or Favorites tab, depending on your app version. To continue to read the latest articles, we encourage you to search for that publication in Google News, or visit the publication’s website:
[list of subscriptions]
Your last payment for your subscription(s) will be refunded. Most refunds are completed within 30 business days. The time it takes for the refund to appear depends on how you paid. If your refund is taking longer than expected, you can check the refund status in your Google Payments account. If you have not received your refund after reviewing the respective timelines in the resources above, please contact us and we’ll look into this for you.
We apologize if this causes any inconvenience. Thank you for your support.
Google News team
The impact of this change is unknown. Google rarely discloses how many people use a product or capability. It’s a change that underscores how fragile our digital distribution chains can be. Android Police points out that not every magazine that allied with Google to sell content in this manner has an independent digital-only subscription service, meaning that a replacement capability may not be available. Cash-strapped publications have often relied on partnerships with distributors like Google, Apple, and Facebook. When these services make changes, it can have enormous impacts on how many readers see content.
One of the things that struck me as I read through various “Decade in review” pieces online is how much backlash formerly beloved Silicon Valley companies are getting for various activities. TNR’s Jason Linkis wrote a piece called “The Death of the Good Internet was an Inside Job” in which he dates the death of what he describes as the “good internet” to July 1, 2013 — the day Google killed Google Reader. I’ve wondered if Google ever regrets that decision, given that the company has now taken 6.5 years of anger from GR’s various users and seen its repeated habit of killing products used as evidence for why consumers shouldn’t trust or invest in products like Stadia.
Google has also been taking heat this week after its former head of international relations, Ross LaJeunesse, accused the company of sidelining him when he repeatedly attempted to raise ethical concerns about Project Dragonfly. In his blog post, LaJeunesse notes that Google has courted the business of the Saudi government and provides cloud hosting services for Absher, an application that allows male family members to track the movements of their female relatives and revoke their permission to travel if they are caught at an airport without permission.
Apple, to be fair, also distributes the Absher application, which can be used to apply for jobs and Hajj permits. But according to LaJeunesse, Google actually hosts the application in the cloud. According to LaJeunesse, he was sidelined by newer executives at Google as Sergey Brin and Larry Page disengaged from the day to day running of the company and turned more power over to subordinates.
What does all this have to do with the closure of Google News’ magazine app? On the surface, not all that much. Dig a little deeper, and there’s an arguable connection between the closure of services that provided a useful good to people, even if they weren’t used much, and the company’s decision to offer services to other countries that run directly counter to American values. According to LaJeunesse, Project Dragonfly was driven by one and only one concern: Money. “Don’t be evil,” once the guiding mandate of the company, became an impediment to those plans and was summarily dropped.
The cost to Google in terms of servers and manpower to keep a service like Google Reader or Google News’print magazine publishing feature functional is a rounding error compared with the company’s $136.22 billion in 2018 revenue. The cost of providing ethically disastrous services to dictators in order to enable the subjugation of 50 percent of the population, or helping the Chinese government spy on its own citizens, in complete contravention of its earlier stance, may not be directly measurable in dollars. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
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