Testing news paywalls: which are leaky, and which are airtight?

Most news paywalls are full of holes.

Publishers aren’t just offering a few free articles per month. They’re building in sweeping exceptions that allow tech-savvy readers—and often simply those entering through search or social media—to access most or all of what subscribers pay for.

It’s easy to understand why subscription outlets want to keep people out. But, even as the so-called “Trump bump” drives up new subscriptions, many also see powerful reasons for letting a lot of people in: from promotion, to data collection, to greater impact on public discourse.

We tested the paywalls at eight prominent subscription news outlets, three daily newspapers and five magazines—The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Nation, Foreign Policy, Harvard Business Review, and The Information—and found that all but one of those were “soft” to one degree or another, and six of eight allowed for some form of unlimited exception, allowing non-subscribers to read widely.

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