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While reading Medium, I got prompted with the you reached your reading limit, subscribe to read more paywall while trying to read an article. After opening the exact same page in a private window, the paywall disappeared and I could read many more articles.

The same technique worked with many other big news websites, like The Economist and Le Monde, which shows that this is by design and not due to a software development issue.

That begs the questions: why do these paywalls even exist if they are so easy to circumvent?

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    I think you're making a big assumption that this is 'by design'. – JonW Jan 21 at 14:48
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    As John said, at least for Medium the limit is imposed via cookies, Medium simply can't track your cookies between incognito and regular windows. You can also bypass the limit by deleting cookies. It is infact a development issue rather than by design – DasBeasto Jan 21 at 15:01
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    I think you should point out in your question that you are referring to metered paywalls, there are other paywalls like FT's that you can't circumvent. – Andre Dickson Jan 21 at 15:33
  • THe UX answer is = there shouldn't be paywalls. – DA01 Jan 21 at 18:56
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They are easy to bypass if you have some knowledge. But you might assume that you are the 20% of the world that knows how to bypass it. From the rest of 80% maybe 90-95% will close the page but 5-10% will pay so the paywall is there to increase their conversions.

The bypass is not by design. Some will have an overlay that is hard to remove or not removable at all. Medium and other publications allow you to read a bit before prompting the paywall and even though they might realize that some of the people will open the link in incognito I don`t think they have a solution without tracking your cookies ( tracking cookies not being available in incognito), so they are probably thinking that if you are a user that looks for way around their paywall you are not going to pay to read anyways...

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This is not a UX question. It's a business question. Paywalls aren't a user experience enhancement. They are a purposeful hurdle for the user in the name of annoying them to the point where they pay for the service. We can argue whether or not that is an effective solution from a business standpoint, but there's no arguing it's terrible UX.

As for why they are typically circumventable with a little bit of jumping through hoops and come with at least a 'few free reads' is because they have to be for a few reasons:

  • They still want to be easily indexed and properly ranked by Google
  • They want people to be able to share links on social media
  • They typically want to put enough effort into it as to annoy enough people to pay but not so much effort that the ROI isn't there.
  • That some people experience metered paywalls as an annoyance does not make them bad UX. Metered paywalls are very explicit about what the user can have and cannot have, and the conditions under which they can have it. – Andre Dickson Jan 21 at 20:25
  • @AndreDickson the user wants to read the content. The paywall gets in the way of that. It's not a good user experience. – DA01 Jan 21 at 20:53
  • the user wants to read content they don't have permission to read. I don't think you are suggesting that permission management is inherently bad for UX but I can't think of anything else that you could be referring to. – Andre Dickson Jan 21 at 21:00
  • @AndreDickson I guess I am suggesting that. It's certainly often a required part of the UX, but I wouldn't ever say it's actually good for the UX. Our job is to make it as least painful as possible, but the very nature of permission management is that it is meant to get in the way. – DA01 Jan 21 at 21:16
  • I see what you mean. I would just add that I don't think the motivation of UX is the total elimination of pain. Some forms of pain, such as learning, are fundamental to our experience as humans. – Andre Dickson Jan 21 at 21:55

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