Many of the most popular news websites now have paywalls. A subscription is required to read more than two or three articles on such websites. It makes no sense to subscribe to all of them if you only need occasional access to a publication’s website. Furthermore, the limited free content available may not be sufficient to determine whether a subscription is worthwhile. In such cases, knowing how to get around news sites’ restrictive paywalls is useful.
Why Are There Paywalls on News Websites?
There are numerous news websites and apps that provide you with all of the information you require at your fingertips. This, however, comes at the expense of printed papers, which used to account for a sizable portion of publication revenue.
Newspapers and magazines had to reinvent themselves in keeping with the times and change their business model for digital users. For those with a loyal readership, paywalls and subscriptions have emerged as a popular revenue strategy. However, not all publications are paywall restricted. Some are supported by advertisements or donations. There are also a few like Reuters and BBC whose digital versions remain absolutely free to read with universal access.
Given such an abundance of choice, it is really an individual’s decision whether or not to buy a subscription.
How to Get Past Paywall on News Sites
If you need infrequent access to a paywall-restricted site, the following methods have proven to work in many cases. Not all methods work equally well on all websites; in each case, you’ll need a bit of trial and error.
1. Use Cached Versions of Websites
You can use a website’s cached version to pull out a specific story from a Google search. This method works well for both desktop and mobile browsers. Remember to use the Boolean operator
site:"domain name."com which will give search results for that site alone. Next, click on the three-dot menu at the end of the relevant search result. If the website has enabled caching for that particular page, you will see a prominent “Cached” option in a pop-up box.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times (UK) and New Yorker no longer show cached results. Having said this, not all paywall websites have disabled them. This means that you really have to check with individual websites to know their approach to caching.
2. Clear All-time Browsing Data in Desktop and Mobile Browsers
Since most paywall-restricted news websites have limits of three to five free articles per month, it is possible to reset your count on the browser with Ctrl + H. After clearing your all-time browsing data including cookies and cached images and files, you may visit the restricted site to read a few articles once again. This “rinse and repeat” method works well on mobile and desktop devices.
In the past one could access blocked content on Chrome or Firefox in Private/Incognito mode. That is no longer possible.
The clearing cookies method can also be used in mobile browsers on Android, iPhone, and iPad. There aren’t too many downloadable apps that you can rely on.
On any Android browser you’re using, click its “Settings” option.
Once you’re in the Settings menu, it is easy to clear the data and cookies, which will reset the count for the number of articles you can read on that specific browser.
In Safari on an iPhone or iPad, you can clear the history and web data from “Privacy & Security” under Settings. Look for the “Clear History and Website Data” link.
3. Use Web Archives
If you’re not particularly keen about the latest content, you can simply check online archive tools. Wayback Machine is the best link to search for backdated online content. All you have to do is check whether the URL with hidden content has been archived in the past. This will give date-wise results; go for the most recent update. You don’t have to go too far back in time as many of these digital snapshots can be just a few months or even a few days old.
In addition to making inaccessible content accessible, these websites provide another valuable service. They ensure that if the news sites eventually delete something which others are reporting, it can be traced from the archives. As a result, such links are often used by journalists and those who suffer online censorship.
4. Use Paywall Bypass Extensions
On Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge desktop versions, you can use various extensions to find your way into inaccessible news articles and journal entries.
Note: The method isn’t always very effective as many popular websites are easily able to restrict the browser extensions from accessing the contents.
1. Bypass Paywalls Chrome
A GitHub extension called Bypass Paywalls Chrome is very effective in unblocking many leading news websites (not all of them) on Chrome as well as Edge. A Firefox version is also available.
- Download the ZIP file for Bypass Paywalls Chrome. Then, extract the zipped file’s master folder and save it on your device.
- From the Chrome/Edge omnibox, visit the extensions page by typing chrome://extensions or edge://extensions. On this page you need to enable the developer mode.
- A menu option called “Load unpacked” will show up on both Chrome and Edge. This is used to import the unzipped master folder from your computer.
Once the Bypass Paywalls extension is installed, you can easily view blocked content from many paywall-restricted sites.
Unpaywall is a popular Chrome web store extension which is quite helpful in enabling access to scientific articles and journals.
Unpaywall is also available as an app called Open Access Helper Web for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users.
The results are a mixed bag. Unpaywall failed to unblock the below research journal entry in my Chrome browser. But it does work with other scientific publications.
5. Change the User Agent in Your Browser
Here’s a neat HTML trick that can help unlock restricted content on select news websites. Many websites treat crawling bots differently from a typical site visitor by not imposing any blockade on them. If you take advantage of this and change your default browser agent to Googlebot or other crawlers, you can access paywalled content on some websites.
- Right-click anywhere on the restricted webpage and click the “Inspect” or “Inspect element” option to open the website’s source code section.
- On Chrome, navigate to the “Elements” tab and click the three-dot menu in the source code pane to open more options.
- Select “Show console drawer” or hit the Esc key.
- Navigate to the “Network conditions” tab. Here the default user agent will be listed as “Use browser default.” Uncheck this box.
- Change the user agent to Googlebot or other similar entries.
- If the site allows crawlers, you should be able to access the hidden web page after a refresh.
6. Use Reader Mode on Your Browser
Are you only interested in reading the text on a webpage, and have no requirement for the images and embedded videos? Most browsers have a Reader mode which allows you to view the available text on your device. Some websites may impose restrictions on this as well.
- In Google Chrome, enable the Reader Mode extension.
- Pin the extension to the toolbar for quick access. You can enable the Reader mode in Chrome anytime to view a blocked webpage in its entirety.
- In Microsoft Edge, it’s much easier to use the Reader mode as you don’t need to install any extensions. Just type “read:” at the start of the webpage URL or hit F9 on the keyboard.
You can also use the Reader mode in Safari on an iPhone or iPad by clicking the “AA” icon followed by “Show Reader View.”
7. Switch Browsers/Devices and Use a VPN
Many users have reported success with accessing paywall-restricted websites simply by accessing them on different browsers and devices. Apart from Chrome, Edge, Safari, and Firefox, there are many amazing browsers to choose from. When you have many browsers installed on your device, and different desktop and mobile devices, this allows you to read a few articles on a temporary basis. It is easy to clear your browser cache for additional access.
If you have a VPN service, it would multiply the number of articles you can read for free.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a soft paywall?
A soft paywall allows you limited access to a web page’s content to browse a few articles for free. A hard paywall, in comparison, prevents site visitors from accessing anything unless they have subscribed. Most of the methods covered in this guide are designed to work for soft paywalls.
How do you get past a hard paywall?
A hard paywall is very difficult to bypass because such websites completely restrict access to non-subscribers. Google’s bots and other web crawlers are unable to index these web pages. You may not even find these links indexed on The Wayback Machine.
Is it legal to bypass a paywall?
It is generally difficult to circumvent paywalls because websites can impose restrictions that prevent complete access, but it is not illegal to use legitimate online methods to access a blocked website. It is, however, illegal to access the content with the intent of infringing on the rights of others.
What if you don’t frequently visit a particular website? News spreads via forums and social media, and the Wayback Machine and other paywall archives cannot be avoided. It is acceptable to use legitimate online methods to access news content. At the same time, we oppose any abuse of such methods.