Soft paywalls

We’re getting quite a few questions about paywalls lately. We recently described a new approach for handling content in Push to Kindle, our browser extension for turning news articles and blog posts into e-books. To explain why we were implementing a new approach, we mentioned that articles locked behind a paywall (requiring payment or a subscription) don’t get through using the old approach, which annoys and confuses users who’ve paid to access those articles.

This explanation didn’t, however, account for “soft” paywalls encountered by non-paying visitors. Many of you wrote that the old Push to Kindle approach actually bypasses paywalls and gets you the full article without you having to pay or subscribe. Not so with the new extension.

What’s happening in these cases is that the site you’re on uses a type of paywall designed not to try very hard to keep you out. Implementations vary, but essentially you get the full article if certain conditions are met. Sites implementing a soft paywall usually take some of the following into account to decide whether to serve up the full article or not:

1. New visitors

Does it look like you’re a new visitor? If so, let’s not scare you away and give you a few articles for free before asking for money.

Did you find this article through a web search? If so, here’s the content you wanted.

For a long time Google required paywall operators to give its users free access or risk being penalised in Google Search results. This meant that when you encountered a paywalled article, Googling the title and clicking the link to the same site would usually allow you to read it for free. Under pressure from publishers, Google ended its “First Click Free” policy in 2017. However, many sites still serve up free content if they detect you’re visiting from Google.

Did you reach us by tapping a link inside the Twitter or Facebook mobile app? If so, no paywall for you.

Mobile platforms like Android and iOS often open links within apps in an isolated context. This isn’t an issue for public web pages, but if you’re a publisher operating a paywall, you need to be able to check if the visitor is a subscriber or not to decide if they see the content. In an isolated context, that information isn’t passed on, so the publisher has to treat everyone the same: as non-paying visitors, frustrating and confusing its paying subscribers. To avoid this, some publishers will simply give you the full content if it looks like you clicked on a link within a popular mobile app.

So if you ever encounter a paywalled article but find you can access it in Push to Kindle, it’s because the site uses a soft paywall and isn’t trying very hard to seal off access.

Bypassing paywalls inside your browser

If you’re using the new extension which relies on the full content being accessible to you in your browser, there are browser extensions you can use that will help you get around soft paywalls automatically. For example:

In addition to the above, we also recommend installing the ad blocker uBlock Origin with Fanboy’s Annoyances filter list enabled. This will clean sites up significantly by removing ads as well as the nagging messages imploring you to pay or subscribe.


The new Push to Kindle extension will eventually allow you to choose the way you access the article content (either submitted directly as in the new approach, or retrieved by our servers as in the old approach). For now you can keep both extensions installed and experiment to see which gives you best results.

Please do continue to give us feedback so we can continue improving the service. And thank you to those of you who wrote in about the paywall issue. And to all our new patrons – we very much appreciate your support.