Why Google Is Really Pulling the Plug on Reader [Updated]

By Cameron Scott 

rss readers, google, google reader, google plus, google play news, google playWhen Google announced earlier this week that it would shut down Reader, it cited declining use as the reason. But user outcry, including a petition with 100,000 signatures, suggests that lack of interest in the product isn’t the whole story.

Some leaked code for Google Play, parsed by the Android Police blog, suggests that Google will launch mobile news subscriptions to compete with Apple’s lucrative Newsstand. Newsstand allows users to buy digital subscriptions of magazines, including many which aren’t freely available online.

Some publications for sale in Newsstand still offer RSS feeds. By abandoning Reader, and its own RSS add-on for Chrome, Google will make it more difficult for readers to obtain all the content from a particular source without paying for a subscription.

A former Google Reader product manager offered a different, but complementary, analysis on Quora. Brian Shih argues that Google repeatedly endeavored to pull technical staff from Reader and reassign the staffers to social products.

Shih’s account suggests that Google saw Reader as competition for Google+. The company may want its users to rely on Google+ to get more Web content in one place.

That view was validated by a Google+ posting by Google’s chief architect for social, Yonatan Zunger, who made an explicit plea to users to help him determine which aspects of Reader to build into future products.

“I have a question for avid Google Reader users: what are the aspects of the way Reader works that made it so useful for you? … I’d like to understand better what the concrete things about Reader were which people found the most useful, because I’d like to integrate those ideas into future versions of many Google products,” Zunger wrote.

It appears that Google is giving users two alternatives for finding and sharing content — subscriptions or ad-hoc sharing on Goolge+. Both deliver more revenue than Reader.

Updated 3/16: paragraphs on Yonatan Zunger added.