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Why Paywalls Need To Be So Fragile (thestack.com) 98

An anonymous reader writes: Despite the ferment that occurs when yet another digital publisher paywalls a news-site, most paywalls are absurdly easy to circumvent, even using no other software than a web-browser, because of the need to present unrestricted content to the search engines that publicise it. None of the parties involved are considering anyone else's point of view: Google wants free flow of information funded by merit-based advertising revenue; publishers want to restore consumer lock-in in a network environment of story-led consumers who have completely abandoned the concept; and Apple is fine with content-blocking, since it just wants to sell hardware.
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Why Paywalls Need To Be So Fragile

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  • Call the paywall a tax on network illiteracy?

    In all seriousness though, it is evolving, albeit slowly. Take for instance the experts-exchange.com website. Up until recently, you just open the Google cached page and scrolled to the bottom, where you saw the entire conversation. That changed sometime last year (two years ago? I forget.)

    But yeah, I'm sure that content-sellers will still by necessity leave a hole open somewhere for a good long time - you just have to figure out where that hole is (usually by mi

    • Re:Works for me... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @02:27PM (#50737545) Homepage

      experts-exchange.com is probably the perfect example of an arms race that ended with everybody leaving the site. It used to be relatively easy to get past the paywall. Eventually they started making it harder and harder. Stackoverflow came along, and had no paywall, and actually made things a lot easier to use. They found other ways to make money rather than force people to pay to see answers. Now Stackoverflow has all the users, and most people new to programming haven't even heard of experts-exchange.com

      • Of course, it used to be expertsexchange.com, which always got a giggle from me when I saw it in a URL.

      • All of their content was scraped from sites like Stack Overflow, so there was no point in expert sexchange even existing other than to trap users that did not know better.

        • What? None of their content was scraped. Experts came before Stack Overflow.
        • Actually it's worse than that. They had a lot of contributors and then moved to their insane cash grab model and basically locked out contributors who didn't answer as much as they used to, no grandfathering in long standing members, F-you pay me.

          That EE is alexa ranked 5,000+ and SO is 50+ warms my heart.

      • experts-exchange.com is probably the perfect example of an arms race that ended with everybody leaving the site.

        ^^^ This times about a billion.

        Experts-exchange used to be halfway useful.....and they started trying to hide the content. It went from "okay" to "miserable" to "fuck all" and never got better.

        After a while I just said "screw 'em!" and never went back. That was years ago and frankly I'm surprised they're still there. I used to go there for Oracle info but there are dozens of better sites, some with ads, some without, but no one ever needs to go to experts-exchange for anything these days.

        psoug.org (Oracle s

  • by Merk42 ( 1906718 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @02:12PM (#50737423)
    Ugh, ads are so bad. I only block them for security reasons...honest.
    Oh, what's that? Some sites are using paywalls instead of ads? Hmm.. well those need to be easy to get around too..because of...reasons. Not because I'm self-entitled and gimme gimme gimme. I mean, sites should just go under if I deem they aren't "worth" it, yet somehow they do have some worth since I'm visiting them in the first place. Don't point that out though, I don't want the cognitive dissonance.
    • It's because viewing one single page on each of ten different sites [blockadblock.com] is not worth a separate $60 per year subscription to each site. This in turn is in part because of the transaction fees that the credit card companies charge.

      • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )
        How about pay-per-article, think that would work?
        • [Pressuring users toward subscriptions] is in part because of the transaction fees that the credit card companies charge.

          How about pay-per-article, think that would work?

          It would not work well, except for very high value articles. That's what I was talking about above. The bank charges the merchant a transaction fee for each payment that it processes, typically a constant amount plus a percentage of gross. It's that constant amount that kills microtransaction business models such as pay-per-article. Even Bitcoin has a transaction fee of 0.0001 BTC (currently 2.5 cents USD) to discourage "dust spam".

          • Someone should create pre-paid accounts (funded by credit cart or BTC or whatever) to use for micro-payments. Oh wait, no one has solved micro-payments yet.

        • by aix tom ( 902140 )

          I dunno, but it *seems* my local paper has a system that looks like it's working. At least the system is in place for 3-4 years now without a change, and I still like it.

          They basically have ~40% of the articles available for free, maybe 20% have a 2-3 sentences summary and the rest is pay walled, maybe 20% have a "short version of 10-20 sentences that is free, and a pay walled version that is longer and most of the time has more pictures.

          You can either get a monthly print subscription, which includes all th

        • by mrvan ( 973822 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @03:31PM (#50738067)

          In the Netherlands we have a site called "blendle", which offers access to paid content on a large variety of news material. This gets rid of the transaction fees, and a lot of people seem to like it.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] / www.blendle.com

          • I spend about %50 a month on Patreon [patreon.com], going mostly to various youtubers. Though I m not about to pay-per-click for most internet content, it is really worth next to nothing.

      • >This in turn is in part because of the transaction fees that the credit card companies charge.

        This.

        If we had overhead-free micropayments, there would be no issue. "This article costs $0.01. Buy? Y/N"

        • If we had overhead-free micropayments, there would be no issue. "This article costs $0.01. Buy? Y/N"

          No, the issue is still there. The issue is that, a few niche cases aside, your content needs to be programmatically accessible to search engines in order to be useful on the web; you want to charge human users; but there isn't a way to distinguish the two, especially since search engines have zero (or negative) motivation to help you restrict content.

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            Make the abstract available to the search engines and to human readers who don't pay, then take a micropayment to unlock the rest of the article. Now figure out the "take a micropayment" step.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I didn't investigate this at all but I just, as a lark, clicked the button that claimed I'd disabled AdBlock Plus (I hadn't) and it let me through. I'm not sure if it is intentional or if uMatrix stops the script from loading. I also have the blocker set loaded in ABP. So, who knows, but i did find it interesting.

    • Sorry, I know that "my way or the highway" usually works in favor of the seller. Doesn't feel too good if you're the one swallowing your own medicine for a change, does it?

      You don't want me to use ad blockers? I close the tab you're in and click the next. You paywall your site? I close the tab you're in and click the next. You can't survive without either. Perish for all I care.

      If you want me to care about your existence, give me something that I cannot get anywhere else. Or die for all I care.

      How does capi

      • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )

        How does capitalism feel if you're at the receiving end for a change, hmm?

        Fine really.
        My comment was about the sort of people that want to get the content, but don't want to pay for it in any way (ads, subscription, etc). If the publisher doesn't get the income and the visitor doesn't get the content, I see no issue.

        • Well, more likely than not I will get the content eventually, since someone will offer it with near certainty in a form that I deem agreeable.

          If this is not possible I will actually consider paying for it, depending on whether or not I deem the price on par with the usefulness of the information. How much this is depends entirely on how valuable the information is. Information that saves me a few hours of work may well be worth a few 100 bucks, hence paying a few dollars is actually a VERY good deal.

          What is

    • Not everyone blocks ads, or blocks ads for the same reasons, or bypasses paywalls instead of moving on. But then again, you probably knew that and are just being an ass for the sake of being an ass.

      On the chance that you are legit; I'll say that I'm not offended by advertising in general, or even by targeted advertising. In fact, (well-)targeted advertising has been genuinely useful to me before. I do use adblock. And I whitelist some sites that I do want to support. But what does offend me is advert

  • Google supposedly requires news sites to not show different content to Googlebot than it does to users, at least for three articles a day, or be labeled a "subscription" site, in the News listings. There's even a reporting tool for users to notify Google if such shenanigans is going on.

    Google doesn't actually seem to act on any of those reports, though, so news sites can be paywalled and Google will help drive traffic their direction. But then again, since nobody is playing by the rules, User-Agent-Switch

  • DMCA / TPP to block
    ad-block
    no script
    allow right click
    and so on

    • When it becomes illegal to use the web sensibly, I guess I'll have to ignore the law. And since I'm in for a few dozen years anyway if I dare to break that law, why bother trying with the rest?

    • they gonna block us from modifying html on the fly too?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The paywalls are likely to be very ineffective against younger users. That's not a big disadvantage for the sites, however, because the younger users (under 50, perhaps) because they aren't likely to fork over money in any case.

    It's the older users - people more accustomed to paying for newspapers - who are more likely to be affected by paywalls. It's these people that are targeted by paywalls, because they are the ones more likely to make the decision to pay.

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @06:23PM (#50739521)

    Then don't make it ridiculously hard to set one up! I'm looking at you, New Scientist. This UK site invites readers to access its premium articles by setting up a free account that requests some demographic information. Fine as a concept, until you get to the point where you choose a password. Acceptable passwords are filtered through a set of complexity rules more appropriate for James Bond 007 License To Kill clearance than a site for socially conscious pop science articles. So far as I'm concerned, a site that won't accept the studiously randomized passwords generated by password managers is not a site I'm interested in accessing.

  • i remember the good old days when newspaper inspectors used to roam the trains and if they found anyone skipping the ads, they'd inject them with ebola and rip the articles out of the paper.

  • People just grab stuff from Reuters and propagate it. Why would this be a real profession? I worked for a radio once, they basically churned through unpaid interns who vaguely retouched the crap they got from Reuters and then read it outloud in the sound room. It's not exactly highly skilled labor. And then half the reporting world is fucking dishonest. Sensationalism, clickbait, etc. ?
    It's not like you need a huge investment to copy information these days. You don't need giant printing presses and distribu

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