Hacking

The Secret Way to Easily Circumvent Most Internet Paywalls in a Pinch

Jim Dee
Jim Dee
May 14 · 4 min read

Not that you should do this painfully easy hack often, but … why do things come up so high in Google searches if they’re just going to ask you to subscribe?

I have no idea how this photo relates to the topic, but somehow it does. Perhaps the guy is an anonymous hacker. Photo by Thomas Bjornstad on Unsplash

Here’s the situation: You’re Googling something, and the top article seems spot-on. So, you click it and it’s some news site or something that loads the page, but then a “subscribe” popover comes up preventing you from reading the piece. Invariably, it’s for little things, too, like you just wanted to read a quote or something.

And, look, I get it. Everyone’s got to make a buck. It’s tough out there for publishers, for sure. Hopefully they’re paying their writers well, too. So, part of me doesn’t want to actively encourage you to get around paywalls as a practice.

At the same time, if this happens to you 20x per day, you also can’t afford to subscribe to everything. And as I mentioned atop the piece, there’s something annoyingly wrong about sites with paywalls that rank atop Google searches (in my opinion). Maybe it’s just me, but if I Google “spaghetti sauce recipes” and the top site with an answer has a paywall, that just seems wrong to me.

Okay, Here’s How to Do It

This isn’t some super-secret, high-tech hack, either. It’s something your browser can do already that you probably don’t know about. Trust me: These paywall sites are well aware of this being a possibility. They just naturally also do not publicize it. (They know very well that a small percentage of readers are going to circumvent their paywall; they just do not care. It’s built into their pricing model already.)

So, let’s practice on my own site, as I probably shouldn’t use real paywall sites as examples, lest some lawyer fires a takedown notice at me. My own site does NOT have a paywall, but it’ll work as an example. Here’s what you do. (I’m using Google Chrome here, but something similar will work if you have other browsers. You’ll just have to locate the equivalent functionality.)

You should now see the development tools. It’ll either be in its own window, or docked to one side as shown below. Whatever it looks like, click on the settings sprocket, as shown:

This will bring up the settings screen, defaulting to the Preferences tab.

In about 90% of cases, the page will now load! You can also close the Inspector panel or window now, and that setting will stick for this tab only.

When you’re done reading the paywall page, you can simply close that tab and go on with life. The above change does not affect any other tab in your browser. You could also open that Inspector window/panel again and unclick that same button to reverse this.

What’s Going On?

So, it’s not a giant secret, super-technical, or sketchy-illegal hack after all, right?! It’s literally a part of your browser’s built-in capability.

Simply put, what you’ve just done is to disable the Javascript code the site uses to load the paywall popover, usually leaving the full article showing. I suspect most sites load the whole article first so that the search bots will find and index the text, but then they pull this “but wait!” move on readers.

And again, I think that’s perfectly fine that they have a paywall, only it does strike me as a little underhanded for them to appear so high on Google if people are going to have to pay. So … do with this what you will. Use it or don’t. Like I said, it works on most (but not all) paywall sites — sites like newspapers, online magazines, and so forth. And frankly, if a client asked me to build a paywall, I’d probably use the same tech. It’s the easiest way.

✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.

Web Designer / Web Developer Magazine

WDWD Magazine features articles on web site design /…

Jim Dee

Written by

Jim Dee

Web guy at ArrayWebDevelopment.com; author of books & blogs. See: JPDbooks.com.

Web Designer / Web Developer Magazine

WDWD Magazine features articles on web site design / development, internet marketing, social media, SEO, and topics like marketing, communications, business development, etc. Editor: Jim Dee of Array Web Development — jim@arraywebdevelopment.com.

Jim Dee

Written by

Jim Dee

Web guy at ArrayWebDevelopment.com; author of books & blogs. See: JPDbooks.com.

Web Designer / Web Developer Magazine

WDWD Magazine features articles on web site design / development, internet marketing, social media, SEO, and topics like marketing, communications, business development, etc. Editor: Jim Dee of Array Web Development — jim@arraywebdevelopment.com.

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