Chances are you’ve come across a paywall before. You’re happily scrolling through articles, researching, or just reading for fun, and then suddenly you hit a wall: a paywall, that is. You’re informed by a pop-up or text window that you can’t read further without subscribing.
It’s a bummer, and majorly frustrating if you just want to read one article without having to pay for a subscription or sign up for a free trial that – let’s be honest – you’ll probably forget to cancel later.
How to Get Around Paywalls (TL;DR)
- Use a browser extension for Google Chrome or Firefox ⇣
- Use a web app like 12ft Ladder ⇣
- Use an archive site ⇣
- Manually bypass a paywall ⇣
But what is a paywall exactly, and is it possible to get around it? Read on to find out more about the different types of paywalls and how to bypass them.
What Are Paywalls?
A paywall is a commonly-used tool that allows publications and websites to restrict content to paying readers only. If an article is behind a paywall, it can’t be accessed without paying for a subscription.
When you hit a paywall, you’ll often be told that you’ve reached your monthly limit of free articles, or prompted by a pop-up window to subscribe in order to continue reading. Generally, you won’t be able to continue scrolling after the paywall pops up.
Paywalls come in several shapes and sizes. There are soft paywalls, which allow users to access a limited number of articles per month without a subscription (for example, The New York Times allows access to 10 free articles a month).
There are also hard paywalls that don’t let you access any free content.
Popular news sites with paywalls:
- The New York Times
- The Washington Post
- The Wall Street Journal
- Game Informer
- Financial Times
- The Athletic
- The Guardian
- The Economist
- The Sunday Times
- The Telegraph
- The Atlantic
- Corriere Della Sera
- Le Monde
- The Boston Globe
Websites that use either soft or hard paywalls often have sophisticated tools to try to keep freeloaders out. So, does that mean it’s impossible to get around their defenses?
Thankfully, it’s not! But before we get into a few different methods, let’s look at the pros and cons of bypassing paywalls.
Pros and Cons of Getting Around Paywalls
The pros of getting around a paywall are pretty obvious: you can access articles and other content for free, without having to wait or pay for a costly subscription.
So, what are the cons? Well, it is a form of theft, since you’re accessing and benefitting from a paid service without paying for it.
It’s one thing to try to get around a huge publication like the Wall Street Journal (a notorious paywaller), but many independent writers and journalists depend on revenue from subscriptions or other paid content, and regularly accessing their work without paying for it is ethically questionable at best.
In other words, it’s a good rule of thumb to try to get around paywalls only when absolutely necessary, and not as a regular habit.
How to Get Around Paywalls
There are two main categories of paywalls: client-side and server-side paywalls. This may sound like unnecessary tech jargon, but it’s essential to understand the difference because it will affect how you can get around the paywall.
A client-side paywall loads content to your browser first, then checks if your IP address has permission (i.e a subscription) before displaying the content. If the user doesn’t have permission, then the website will display a pop-up or overlay informing the user that they need to subscribe.
In other words, the content has already been loaded – it’s simply hidden behind an overlay. It’s easier to use tools and tricks to get around a client-side paywall because you simply need to extract the HTML
On the other hand, it’s harder to get around a server-side paywall. The only way to do it is to make the website think your computer is a search engine bot.
Let’s look at a few ways you can try to bypass paywalls and access the content you need.
1. Use a Google Chrome or Firefox Extension
There are extensions for both Google Chrome and Firefox that enable your browser to get around paywalls.
Bypass works by accessing the cached version of the website, which can’t be blocked by a paywall. Installing Bypass is as simple as a few clicks, and it’s an effective trick for accessing paywalled content.
Another effective Google Chrome extension for getting around paywalls is Reader Mode. Although Reader Mode isn’t technically a tool for bypassing paywalls (it formats articles differently to make for a more comfortable, distraction-free reading experience and includes dyslexia-friendly reading tools), it’s generally successful at accessing content beyond the paywall, too.
If you’re a Firefox user, you can use the Bypass Paywalls Clean addon for Mozilla Firefox. It has a simple, free, one-click installation process, and is very effective at getting around paywalls.
At the same time, Bypass Paywalls Clean’s “About this extension” section advises users who regularly use their tool to access content from the same website to think about paying for a subscription, because “free press can’t be sustainable without funding.”
Finally, you can give Hover a try. Hover is an open-source browser extension, meaning it will work with most browsers, and was created with the sole purpose of getting around paywalls. This extension was recently taken off the Chrome Web Store, but it can still be found and installed from GitHub.
2. Use a Webapp
If you don’t want to use a browser extension, you can give 12ft Ladder a try. 12ft Ladder is a web app designed to help you bypass paywalls easily and quickly, and doesn’t require you to download or install anything on your computer or browser.
Simply go to the web app and enter the URL of any paywalled page you’re trying to access. And boom: 12ft Ladder will unlock it for you. It doesn’t get easier than that!
3. Use Archive.today or Wayback Machine
Archives are a bit like a time capsule for the internet, showing you previous versions of pretty much any web page. The archived version contains the full article but isn’t protected by the paywall.
Using an internet archive site to get around paywalls couldn’t be easier. You just have to copy the link to the paywalled site and paste it into the archive site’s search bar.
When you hit ‘enter’, the archive site will search for the archived version of the article attached to the URL you entered. If it finds it, it will automatically open it for you.
4. Manually Bypass Paywalls
If the first three methods don’t work for you, you can try manually bypassing paywalls. This method involves configuring your web browser's user-agent to become Googlebot. By pretending to be Google you can bypass paywalled content.
This method is a good way to bypass some client-side paywalled news sites (but it won't work for sites like WSJ, Washington Post etc with advanced paywall technologies),
This method is a little more complicated, so I’ll outline the steps clearly here:
- Open up Google Chrome in Incognito Mode and go to the paywalled page.
- Open the console. When you right-click on an article, you should see an option that says “inspect.” Click on it to open the console.
- Go to “More Tools,” then “Network Conditions.” You should see an option for “more tools” in the console. Click on that, then select “network conditions.”
- Select a User Agent. Next to the category “user-agent”, select “Googlebot” from the dropdown menu.
- Hard refresh. Finally, hard refresh the page by clicking on the swirling arrow symbol next to the forward/back buttons.
And that’s it! However, it should be noted that this method doesn’t always work because websites have wised up and increasingly started to block it.
You can perform these functions manually or download an extension that will do it automatically.
As always, internet security is an arms race, and methods that worked once may not be effective for very long. Still, it’s worth giving it a try.
How to Bypass a Paywall on a Mobile Device
If you’re browsing on your mobile device and run into a paywall, don’t despair: getting around a paywall on your mobile device is generally simple and easy.
Just try opening a browser page in incognito mode and open the article from there.
Incognito mode also makes it so that your searches don’t show up in your history and can’t easily be tracked, adding an extra layer of security that is a nice side benefit.
If you have an iPhone and incognito mode doesn’t work for you, you can download Apple’s free “Apple Shortcuts” app and choose the “unlock paywall” shortcut. After downloading the shortcut, you can right-click on the article and select the “unlock paywall” option.
And that’s it! Unlocking paywalled content on a mobile device is even easier than on a computer.
Summary – How to Get Past Paywalls
We’ve all experienced the annoyance of clicking on an interesting-looking article, only to discover that it’s impossible to read past the first few sentences without paying for a subscription you don’t want.
If you’ve run into a paywall and can’t or don’t want to sign up for a subscription, there are a few methods you can try to bypass the paywall and access the article you want to read. You can use a web tool like a browser extension or a web app, or an archiving tool like Archive.today or Wayback Machine.
If for some reason those methods don’t work for you, you can try manually bypassing a paywall by changing the website’s console configurations. However, this method has mixed results (it’s a bit complicated, and it doesn’t always work).
Overall, it’s best to bypass paywalls only when absolutely necessary, as many writers depend on income from paid subscriptions for their livelihoods. If used with discretion, these methods can help you access the information you need without breaking your budget.