What is a Paywall?

paywall dollar bills on article publication

What is a Paywall?

Before the days of digital content, people paid for the newspaper. We spent a set amount for the privilege of reading the entire publication. Sometimes, that paper costs more on Sundays. Sunday papers generally had more content and would cost more to read.

Those print newspapers were (and are) behind a sort of paywall. In other words, readers had to pay something to access the content. However, it wasn’t until around 2010 that the word paywall would become part of our daily vocabulary.

More publications were online, struggling to find a way to stay relevant and produce revenue. Today, we hear the word and encounter the paywall obstacles in our daily lives. But what exactly is a paywall?

This article will define the term and provide examples of the three types of paywalls we encounter today. We’ll also take a look at why these blockages are so important. Let’s jump in!

Paywall: Fully Explained

First, let’s define what a paywall is. A paywall restricts access to content until you pay. The payment can be in the form of a one-time fee or a yearly subscription.

Around 2010, online publications started implementing these impediments as a way to mitigate the ever-increasing use of Ad Blocker. Ad Blocker is a browser extension that will block and cover up ads on a website. And because ads are how most content creators earn money, they’re essential to these online publications. 

Examples of a Paywall

There are many examples of paywalls. Some come in the form of a paid subscription, for example, to the New York Times. Others come in the form of paying to stream Netflix shows. In both examples, the consumer pays for the ability to consume available content. 

Before we go into the three types, let’s briefly discuss what a paywall isn’t. A paywall isn’t a paid subscription to content you can get for free. For example, if you join a YouTube channel, you’re not subscribing to blocked paid content. You’re simply paying a content creator to show them your appreciation. However, if you join their Patreon, you are experiencing a paywall, as most Patreon accounts require a paid subscription in some amount to view the content. 

Types of Paywalls

Generally, there are three types of paywalls. These are called hard paywalls, soft paywalls, and a combination of hard and soft paywalls. Let’s take a look at each in more detail. 


Hard paywalls require a payment before you can see any online content. You can only read published content if you pay money. 

Some people see these obstructions as a significant deterrent. They may argue that when you go to a site to read about a specific topic, it’s annoying to be blocked by a pop-up asking for money before they can proceed. Instead of paying, most people will just find workarounds. One workaround is searching for the topic until you find other publications that show the content for free. 

This practice begs the question: If some sites don’t require you to pay, why would you pay to read similar content elsewhere?

Online publications and other companies can successfully implement hard paywalls, but some may find they lose readership and website views. Ensuring your blockage gets people to pay for your published content, what you post should provide real value and target a specific audience.

For example, Financial Times is an example of an online publication with a successful hard paywall. People will pay to get their information from this reputable site. 


Soft paywalls aren’t as strict as hard paywalls. That’s because soft paywalls are those metered by your site or article views. After a set number of site or article views, you will have to pay or wait a certain amount of time to regain access. 

Soft paywalls are a good way for publications to keep visitor counts high while retaining revenue. Casual viewers can read a few free articles a month without paying first. 

If we go back to the Patreon example, most are considered soft blocks. Patreon allows content creators to set up subscription tiers. These tiers are leveled payments dictating what each subscriber has access to. For example, you may be able to pay one dollar to see some basic posts by a user but to see the posts with more value, you will probably have to pay more, like $10 or $20. 


Combination paywalls combine the hard and soft types.

For example, you may encounter a combination paywall on special interest sites like Outside.com. The Outside website has free articles that users can read. While entertaining and useful, these articles aren’t as long or detailed as their paid articles. The pieces behind a lockout on a site like Outdoor.com are meatier and contain thought leadership advice. 

Another good example of a combination paywall is streaming services such as Paramount and Disney. While these streaming services offer some free content, their most popular videos are only available to paid subscribers. Some streaming sites have levels of paywalls, offering a free with ads service, a cheaper service with some ads, and a more expensive service with no ads. 

There are three types of paywalls: hard, soft, and combination.


Why Are Paywalls Important?

There are a few reasons why paywalls are useful. In today’s digital world, it can be really easy for someone to steal or pirate content for free. It’s stealing when someone reads a piece of writing or downloads a song or video without paying. When someone steals content, it means the people who made it don’t get paid. 

Today, many newspaper and magazine publications survive by pushing online content. Ad revenue supports this content. If someone has their ad blocker turned on, it can mean the creators don’t see payment as they should. 

Finally, paywalls help increase online and print subscriptions, increasing revenue in several ways. Requiring payment also helps protect content creators and their livelihoods. 

When Paywalls Become an Issue

Most paywalls hid valuable content. However, they can harm. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic first gained traction, some sites would publish helpful information that people needed to pay to access.

While this practice lasted only a short time for most publications, it’s a good example of paywalls becoming a significant issue as they can pose real risks to the population. 

Encountering Paywalls

While no one is excited to see a paywall blocking something they want access to, almost everyone is willing to pay for valuable content.

If you are contemplating requiring payment to view content for your business, consider the pros and cons of each type of paywall. Perhaps there can be a compromise between publisher and consumer, but that’s something we’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, remember that, while frustrating, these blockages help writers, artists, and other creators get paid, but they only work if the hidden content is valuable. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to put up a paywall?

A paywall is a way to block access to content. The block will remain in place until you pay to read.

How do I open a paywall?

You can try a VPN or open an incognito window. You can also try to delete your cookies. Remember that it may not be legal to bypass certain paywalls.

How does paywall make money?

Paywalls make money by requiring a user to make a payment.

Why do so many websites have paywalls?

Most publications have one to increase their revenue, for both print and online.

Is a paywall a good thing?

Yes and no. While some create revenue, some just serve to block important content which means some writers may never get read.

Are paywalls ethical?

This depends on the type of content that gets blocked. If it’s important information, putting it behind a paywall is not ethical.

What are the three types of paywalls?

Generally, there are three types: hard, soft, and a combination paywall.

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