Paywalls: a quick thought

Ever since Murdoch brought paywalls back into fashion like bad mullets in indie videos, I've been wrestling with assorted pros and cons (having heard from both sides), so I thought I'd put them down here. So, lets take this hypothetical. David Conn is one of my favourite football writers, and somebody I would be happy to pay to read his articles.

I also enjoy reading Gabriele Marcotti's pieces and while I'll make a point of reading them, I probably don't like them enough to pay for them.

Let's imagine, hypothetically, the Guardian put a paywall around Conn's work. I'd happily pay for it as, I suspect, would other fans of Conn's work. But his potential audience would be diminished.

Now, Conn is one of the few writers who consistently picks up on issues not covered elsewhere. His are articles that deserve the widest possible audience because of the content he covers and the financial implications for football.

But if you put Conn behind a paywall, these important stories reach a much smaller audience. Important issues that get casual readers thinking may be missed. He will, if you like, be preaching mostly to the converted.

But on the other hand the money generated from the paywall will most likely easily pay for Conn to carry on his excellent work, leaving the consumers (or Conn-sumers, if you like) satisfied.

Meanwhile, Marcotti is unaffected as he remains free to everybody, and may well pick up extra readers as a result of Conn and his colleagues vanishing behind a paywall.

Now reverse that. Conn is free and available to read for all, but Gabriele Marcotti's articles go behind a paywall.

Marcotti is an excellent writer and provides quality analysis on the Premier League, a topic all too readily filled with hyperbolic dross that panders to the masses.

But by restricting access to his articles, it encourages readers to look elsewhere. For while there are plenty of people who write about the Premier League, both in other papers and on blogs, there are very few who cover the topics Conn does, with his investigative journalism.

So Marcotti will attract his devotees and subscribers but those, like me, who enjoy his work but want to save money, will look elsewhere. There are more likely to be other insightful Premier League writers than investigative football journalists available.

Marcotti, again, may manage to pay for himself through the paywall, but, again, we lose insightful analysis. As with the loss of Conn behind a paywall, it is readers who lose out, unless they want to pay. But he may well pick up less subscribers.

But then, in this hypothetical world, if Conn's employers can't fund all his work, that could also lead to a drop in quality or number of articles from Conn. But those that are written will reach the maximum possible audience.

It's a really tough argument with many pros and cons here. Do you want to ensure your favourite writer can afford to keep writing? But what about the lac of impact a genuinely hard-hitting piece could have.

Certainly, with football content, I'll be surprised if paywalls will ever be the answer, given how much coverage is out there. I'd happily pay for David Conn or Tim Vickery's work, but I wouldn't miss the Sun or even the Times' coverage (although may pay for an occasional piece by Marcotti if recommended to me).

And therein is the crux. Conn and Vickery are popular writers on niche content. There are very few other journalists who cover the financial implications of football or South American football as well as these two.

They are more likely to succeed behind a paywall because there are very few other places you can go for similar writing. But this is a great loss to those who are yet to discover and enjoy the writings of Conn or Vickery.

Meanwhile Gabriele Marcotti, while one of the best writers around (in my view), writes on standard topics that generate thousands of column inches and opinion pieces. He would initially be missed, but there is more likely to be somebody out there who can fill the void.

Tough, isn't it. I'd rather not have them.