Imagine you are in your flow doing research, browsing through articles, and trying to make sense of the volumes of info you’ve been rapidly uploading into your brain. And BAAM! 💥
Suddenly, a paywall pops up out of nowhere, making it impossible to read an article. It may be a random publication that you’ve never heard of before or The Wall Street Journal. Either way, you have no intention of subscribing.
If you are not a regular reader, you will probably close the tab and find another article. Or ditch the idea entirely.
However, you don’t have to break your flow. In this article, you will learn how to bypass a paywall easily.
A paywall is a way to restrict access to a website (most commonly publications) by soliciting a purchase or a subscription.
Soft paywalls allow users to access some content by limiting you to several articles per month. Example: Medium.
Hard paywalls will restrict content to be accessible only to the subscribed users. Example: Trends.
There are two categories of paywalls: client-side and server-side paywalls. The difference between client and server-side paywalls is the order in which your browser will load content.
Client-side paywall will first load the content into your browser and then check if the user has the appropriate permissions to view the content. If the user doesn’t have access, the website will create an overlay element to hide the loaded content. Since the content has been loaded already, you can access it with extensions that extract the HTML from the website.
In the case of server-side paywalls, the only option we have is to try to trick websites into thinking that we are a search engine bot, which are most commonly authorized to view content.
The easiest way to bypass a paywall is to use reading extensions such as Reader Mode.
Reader Mode will take the body of an article and convert it into a pretty and distraction-free format. Most importantly, it will remove the overlay elements that made it impossible to read the restricted article.
You can set a keyboard shortcut to bypass a paywall in seconds. You can customize the shortcut by navigating to chrome://extensions/shortcuts.
Alternatively, you can also bypass a paywall with the Pocket. Pocket is a Chrome extension that saves articles to be read in the future and formats them nicely. To bypass a paywall with Pocket:
Save To Pocket → Open My List → Click on the article
Bardeen is a no-code productivity app that allows you to run automations right from the browser.
You can access content hidden behind a paywall by running one of the following pre-built playbooks.
This playbook can bypass a hard paywall on most websites by using web archives. You can run this automation with a single click on any website.
And here is how it works.
Organic traffic is the bread and butter of digital media companies. And thus, they optimize their platforms for search engines.
This means that media websites treat web crawlers and regular visitors differently.
A regular user will land on a page with a hard paywall, whereas crawlers will get full access to the article so that it can be indexed.
This playbook will turn an article into an audio file that you can listen to right away.
This automation will extract the body of the page as text similar to Reader Mode or Pocket.
You can read the article from the extension window. The nice thing is that you can send the extracted text to Slack, Email, or Notion in a few clicks without switching tabs and copying and pasting information.
Websites such as The Wall Street Journal may load partial or no content into the browser. Those websites check if you have permission to view it first.
The good news is that those sites also rely heavily on SEO to attract visitors and want their articles to be properly indexed by the search engines.
We can trick them into thinking that we are a search engine bot to get the content revealed.
The strategy is to resemble a search engine bot. We may want to appear as if we came from social media or a search engine. Then we need to pretend to look like a bot 🥸. Lastly, we need to disable cookies so that websites don’t see our history and suspect us.
You can do this manually or download an extension that automatically performs these steps.
Open the console by right-clicking on an article and selecting “Inspect.”
Note that many publishers are cracking down on this technique, so it doesn’t work on all websites.
Hover is a Chrome extension that spoofs websites into think that we are a search engine bot. Chrome has recently removed the extension from the store, but it is available on Github. You can download it from Github and manually unpack it to Chrome.
Now, let's imagine that you’ve gotten excess to the article previously hidden behind a paywall or logins. The article is phenomenal, and you want to share it with someone.
To get access, however, others will need to either reproduce everything you’ve just done or get your login and password to view content. Both options are suboptimal.
You can share content in under 5 seconds with the following Bardeen playbooks:
Bypassing a paywall on mobile devices is most often extremely simple. All you need to do is open the article in the incognito mode (from search).
If the incognito mode did not unlock the article and you are an iPhone user, try this great Apple Shortcut.
At this point, you’ve become a pro at bypassing paywalls. The techniques described here are meant to make your life a little easier and help you stay in the flow. We highly encourage you to support good journalism and creators by contributing when you read them regularly.
Check out our guide dedicated to Chrome extensions that bypass a paywall.
If you want to explore more ways to streamline your day-to-day workflows and become more productive, see our pre-built playbooks.
Explore our best automation guides: