Last Updated on November 10, 2022
One of the most annoying things about the “modern” web is paywalls. Almost all publishers are choosing to lock their content behind premium subscriptions or email signup forms. Let us see what exactly a paywall is and why they are needed firstly. And some ways to bypass them.
Publishers should be rewarded for their work, but it’s not only big publishers like the New York Times that are causing problems. A lot of other smaller blogs are doing borderline shady tactics to force people into sharing their email addresses. Let’s first understand the definition of a paywall.
What is a Paywall?
In the most basic terms, a paywall is used to protect website content that is intended to be paid for. The cost can be either monetary, like a subscription or an email address to help grow a newsletter.
The reasoning behind using a paywall is quite simple: ad-blockers are hindering publisher revenue streams. And this has been happening for more than a decade now.
Google reported in 2017 that more than 600 million devices use ad-blockers. It’s only fair to assume that this number has grown exponentially since then.
If you’re a big publisher and you depend on advertising revenue, it makes sense to transition over to a subscription model.
However, paywall is a feature of a website or other technology that requires payment from users in order to access additional content or services. Paywalls are increasingly being used to restrict access to content on a website to those who pay for it.
Paywalls represent a shift in terms of web content, which has traditionally been free for users and paid for by advertising. However, as part of the flood of content from print media to the web and mobile devices, the paywall has become an important tool for providing revenue flows to some businesses, especially news sites.
Paywalls can vary in design. Some experts refer to “hard” or “soft” paywalls that are more or less restrictive to users. Some hard paywalls are set up so that users cannot gain any access to a site without payment. Soft paywalls, on the other hand, may allow for limited viewing free of charge.
When a website blocks access to its content and asks you to get a paid subscription, that’s what’s called a paywall. Many online news publishers use paywalls including The New York Times; as mentioned earlier, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist.
If you come across a news story from one of these publications and want more detail or to see other related stories they’ve written, you will probably be prompted with something like Subscribe now for unlimited access!
You could still read parts of a story without subscribing, but not all of it. In some cases, you might only be able to read the first paragraph or two before being asked to sign up for access.
Paywalls can also pop up on blogs that have been monetized through advertising (ads appearing alongside their content). In some cases, bloggers may block access to certain posts unless you’re signed in as a member of their site.
How do paywalls work?
Very simply put, paywalls work by blocking access to content unless you subscribe. The subscription method can vary depending on the publisher. In some cases, you get a subscription plan that gives you unlimited access to all of a publisher’s content.
In other cases, you may be able to purchase a subscription for just one article or for a set number of articles per month.
There are different types of paywalls, and the way they work can vary depending on the publisher. Let’s see some of its types:
- Hard paywall: A paywall that completely blocks access to content if you don’t have a subscription.
- Soft paywall: A paywall that doesn’t block access to all of the content on a website but does limit how much you can see without subscribing.
- Metered paywall: A paywall that allows you to see a certain number of articles for free each month before you’re prompted to subscribe.
- Freemium model: A freemium model is when a publisher offers some content for free while charging for other content.
- Patron model: A patron model is when a publisher asks for donations from readers in order to access its content.
Now that you have the basic information about paywalls, we’re going to show you how to get around these paywalls using some simple tips.
TOP 5 Ways to Bypass Paywalls
Alright, let’s look past all the drama and reasoning behind paywalls. Instead, let’s explore some of the tools you can use to quickly bypass a paywall.
1. 12ft Ladder
For webpages Indexed by Google, 12ft Ladder is the easiest way to bypass the paywall. Just paste the url into 12ft.io and you’ll be able to read the article without the paywall.
You can also prepend 12ft.io/ to the URL of any paywalled page, and they’ll try our best to remove the paywall and get you access to the article.
How does 12ft Ladder work?
The idea is pretty simple, news sites want Google to index their content so it shows up in search results. So they don’t show a paywall to the Google crawler. 12ft shows this copy of the site.
2. Bypass Paywalls Extension
The Bypass Paywalls browser extension is an open-source project hosted on GitHub. Earlier, in order to use this specific extension, you had to install it yourself.
But as far as I know, to install it on Firefox today, you can open Firefox and go to the Add-ons page. In the Search bar, type “Bypass Paywalls” and click on the Add to Firefox button.
Once it’s installed, you can open any website that has a paywall and click on the Bypass Paywalls button in your toolbar. Bypass Paywalls is a very handy extension that will let you read the article even if you don’t have a subscription.
The Archive Today project works similarly to many other paywall bypassing tools. It archives the pages as if the page was browsed by a search engine, and gives you back a readable version of the page you’re trying to view.
This method is often seen to be used on sites like Hacker News where people submit stories behind paywalled content. From what I can tell, it works fine with sites like NY Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous others.
4. Incognito Mode
In some cases, a website will store cookie data to monitor how many free articles you have read. Once you reach the limit, you will be paywalled. And, one of the easier ways to circumvent that is through Incognito Mode. Also known as a private mode.
You can access Incognito on any modern browser by going to Settings and selecting a new Private Window. This will simply give you a “blank slate” with no cookie history, meaning that you can go ahead and access content hidden behind a cookie paywall.
Ps. It works perfectly for Medium.com
The folks behind Incoggo are planning on entering the ad-blocker market. But, for the time being, they provide free Mac-based software to skip paywalls. Again, this software is only available to OSX users, though a Windows version should surface soon.
Looking at their latest blog news, it seems that the project is in active development. This is good news because it means that the software works when needed. As for which publications and sites Incoggo can skip – you’ll have to check their official website.
Additional 9 Ways to Get Past a Paywall
1. Look for the article elsewhere button
At times, some articles on a website that has a paywall are copied on other websites that don’t have one. To find the same article on some other website, you can do a Google search for the title of the article and look for other websites that have published it.
For example, if you want to read an article from The New York Times but don’t have a subscription, you can search for “new york times paywall bypass” and you will find many websites that have copied the article.
You can also try searching for the title of the article followed by “pdf”. This will often find PDF versions of the article that you can read without having to pay for it.
2. Try the ‘Unpaywall’ Chrome Extension
If you use Chrome, there’s another handy extension called Unpaywall that will let you read articles even if you don’t have a subscription.
To install it, open the Extensions page in Chrome, type “Unpaywall” in the search bar, and click the Add to Chrome button.
Once it’s installed, you can open any website that has a paywall and click on the Unpaywall button in your toolbar. This will let you read the article even if you don’t have a subscription.
3. Reset your Browser Cookies
Another way to get past a paywall is to reset your browser cookies. For instance, if a website allows you to read only one or two articles before blocking access with a paywall, they are using an invisible tracking system to store information about the number of pages you’ve viewed.
So deleting your cookies will remove this block from counting the amount of articles you’ve read and make it appear as if you’re a new visitor, allowing for reading for some time before accessing again.
To reset your cookies, open your web browser and go to the Settings or Options page. In the Privacy tab, find the section called Clear browsing data and check the box Cookies and other site data. After this, click Clear Data.
4. Delete the Paywall Manually
On some websites, the paywall isn’t very strong. In such a case, you can delete the paywall by changing the source code of the website.
For this, all you need to do is to find the element which triggers the paywall with the developer tools of your browser and delete it. After that, you will be able to read the article without subscribing.
If you are using Google Chrome, you can access the Developer Tools by pressing Ctrl + Shift + I and a window like this will pop up:
To discover the source code of the paywall, go to the top left of Chrome’s tool. When you’ve found it, right-click on the data and select Delete Element. After that, reload the website.
5. Stop the page from fully loading
Another way to get past a paywall is to stop the page from fully loading. This will prevent the paywall from appearing and you’ll be able to read the article without subscribing.
To stop the page from fully loading, hold down the Shift key as you click on the link to the article. This will open the article in a new tab and the paywall will not appear.
6. Dig through archive sites
Archive sites are websites that store copies of old websites. This can be a great way to read articles that are behind a paywall, as the articles will be stored on the archive site for free.
To find an archive site for a particular website, go to Google and type in the following:
This will show you all of the websites that have archived copies of the website you specified. Search for the topic, then click on any of these links to read the article for free.
7. Use a “Read-it-Later” tool
Paywalls pop up on a website when you access its content online. However, using a “read-it-later” tool, you can save articles for offline reading thus avoiding the paywall altogether.
The most popular read-it-later tool is Pocket. You can install the Pocket extension for your web browser so any time you come across an article hidden behind a paywall, you can click on the Pocket button to save it for offline reading.
8. Convert the page to PDF
Another way to read articles offline and bypass the paywall is to convert the web page into PDF.
To convert the page to PDF, use a website like Web to PDF or PDF My URL. Paste the URL of the article into these websites, and they will convert the page to PDF for you. You can then save the PDF for offline reading.
9. Sign up for a free trial
Last but not least, if you want to access articles on a website for a limited number of days, you can sign up for a free trial. Many websites offer a free trial of a varying number of days before you can subscribe so you can try out the service before paying.
But don’t forget to cancel your subscription before the free trial ends, or you’ll have to pay the subscription fee.
Wrapping Up – Is it Ethical to Bypass Paywalls?
I think we all operate at varying levels of a moral compass. There are a lot of arguments to be had on both sides. And, as I mentioned at the start of the article, I do think that publishers should be able to charge subscription fees for premium content.
My only problem is when this process becomes extortion. In other words, why give privileges to search engines like Google and then lock out all other users?
It’s not uncommon to be reading a genuine free article, which links to publishers that have added paywalls to their content. Is it really worth paying $50 a year to read just one article? The same goes for articles that were once free, but are still being linked to despite the paywall.
Whatever the case, I hope this read gave you at least some useful takeaways that can be practiced in your daily life.
Most blogs and online news outlets have paywalls in place to limit access to their content. Although these paywalls are put up by sites to get paid for the quality and content they produce, however, this can be quite frustrating for readers.
So there you have it, the top 5 and an additional 9 ways or tricks to bypass a paywall. Do feel free to check and try out these methods and see which one works best for you!