Any site or app using the Google Maps API (such as through embedded maps) may be charged for usage, should their visitor volume be high enough. Google will charge $4 for every 1,000 visitors past 25,000, starting January 1, 2012.
NMA reported Google's intentions to charge for the API service, which is currently free. Starting in 2012, the first 25,000 uses of the API for a given site or service will still be free of charge, but each 1,000 additional visitors will cost $4. Dependent on the nature of the API use, that charge may be increased; Tom's Guide indicates that TripAdvisor, as just one example, may be charged $10 per 1,000 uses.
Alternatively, large sites can partner with Google directly, using agreements that start at $10,000 per year. It's unlikely that many companies will do so, as the 25,000 will cover the majority of use for most companies; early estimates indicate that only 0.35 percent of sites using the Maps API will be impacted.
The Google Maps API product manager, Thor Mitchell, commented on the upcoming charges. "We understand that the introduction of these limits may be concerning," he stated. "However, with continued growth in adoption of the Maps API, we need to secure its long-term future by ensuring that even when used by the highest volume for-profit sites, the service remains viable."
Mitchell also described the motives of charging only for high-volume use as a way to subsidize the API for most users. "By introducing these limits, we are ensuring that Google can continue to offer the Maps API free of charge to the vast majority of developers for many years to come."
Nonprofits and applications deemed in the public interest (as determined by Google) aren't subject to these usage limits. For example, a disaster relief map isn't subject to the usage limits even if it has been developed and/or is hosted by a commercial entity. More details on the charges and methods of what constitutes a 'map load' and what happens when limits are exceeded can be found at their FAQ page.
The tendency to charge for the largest and most profitable customers to enable a free offering to a larger user-base isn't new to Google. However, spreading the practice to this API may be an indicator that other popular services may soon have a surcharge for companies who use those services in high volume.
Frank Watson also contributed to this report.