In-depth: How are Indian digital news publishers combating the threat of paywall bypassing?

The subscription revenue stream of digital news publishers is constantly being attacked by the use of bypassing tools. reached out to leading online publications to find out what are they doing to curb this menace

Shreya Negi
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In-depth: How are Indian digital news publishers combating the threat of paywall bypassing?

For years, the digital news publishing business used to run majorly on ad dollars, but over time - various online publishers decided to make the readers pay for consuming their premium content by placing it behind a paywall.

Several global digital news publishers - including the New York Times, Financial Times and The Economist - have ensured a robust paywall implementation which can resist any attempts made by paywall bypassing tools.

However, in India, almost every news publication’s paywall can be bypassed or breached through tools such as Bardeen,,, etc. which not only make the paid content visible but rob digital media houses of a well-deserved stream of income.

According to FICCI-EY Report titled, “Windows of opportunity”, which deals with India’s media and entertainment sector, online news subscriptions generated Rs 1.2 billion in 2022, primarily for premium and exclusive content. “We estimate around 1.5 million paid subscribers across all news platforms, which can double by 2025 on the back of more speciality news and custom knowledge products,” the report stated.

Nandagopal Rajan

Speaking to, Nandagopal Rajan, Business Head and Editor- New Media,, shared the view that while there may be a certain percentage of people who are either price-sensitive or tech-savvy and, therefore, might resort to paywall bypassing tools, most of their readers or the people who would rather convert are not resorting to such practices.

Furthermore, “a lot of people may be aware of it, but they still don’t want to use it because it may as well be a hassle for them as they would rather not read a particular story than go great to make the efforts to run it by a paywall bypassing tool.”

He opined that in the case of the Indian market, the solution to such issues might actually pan out to be costlier than the ROI of doing it, as one would have to limit the content visibility on Google through a server-side paywall implementation which is very risky.

He also elaborated that typically there are two types of implementations to deal with the issue of paywall bypassing- server-side and client-side, of which Indian Express currently uses a client-side implementation of the paywall owing to the fact that many of the publications or companies who had earlier implemented the server-side approach really suffered on Google.

“When it comes to client-side implementation, the content is basically shown to Google to read on HTML, but in server-side implementation, the paywalled content lies with the publication and is not exposed to Google to read,” he said.

Pradeep Gairola

As per Pradeep Gairola, VP and Business Head- Digital, The Hindu, the industry is working towards expanding the pool of people who see value in the hard work of journalists and agree to pay for it, therefore, when a reader uses tools to bypass the paywall, it hampers the transformation of their mindset to pay for the content that they find useful. 

“The price that publishers ask for access is quite low, but establishing value when most of the content is free is difficult. There is a very small base of users who are currently paying for access, so the impact of tools to bypass the paywall, is much more than just the monetary loss,” he stated.

He also added that even though reader revenue is shaping up well for the publication, there is still a long way to go to build a sustainable business model. “Paywall bypassing mechanisms rob us of hard-earned income, they effectively take out of the pockets of journalists and news organisations,” he stated.

“To combat such issues, efforts on multiple fronts are required, right from strengthening the paywall, to educating the readers, to seeking legal courses. Many options are available but the best way is for publishers to collaborate to end such threats,” he suggested.

It is to be noted that when it a reader approaches a web publication which uses client-side paywall, the website first delivers paywalled content in its entirety to the visitor’s browser and then checks whether the visitor has permission to view the content, as a result, if a reader fails to have the permission, the paywalled content is hidden. News publications in India generally adopt this approach for paywalls.

In such cases, a paywall bypassing tool can come in handy as it helps one to breach the paywall and view the content without having to pay anything and that too within seconds.

On the contrary, various international publications such as NYT, The Economist, Financial Times, etc. which have a server-side paywall in place, first check if the visitor has permissions to view the content and then deliver the paywalled content to the browser only when the reader has the required permissions. As a result, the entire portion of the landing page is not visible to the readers at anytime without premium subscription or free trial. In fact, paywall bypassing is also restricted in this case.

Commenting as to how the paywall implementation has fared out for The Hindu, Gairola stated that the publication had built the paywall for its digital website ( in February 2019 and that by March 31, 2020, The Hindu had moved all of its English products- BusinessLine, Frontline and Sportstar behind it.

“The primary reason we opted for the paywall was the realisation that advertising alone will not be sufficient to build sustainability for the newsroom and we need to find more sources of revenue to supplement our income,” he said.

As per Gairola, the biggest factor that The Hindu took into consideration while implementing the paywall was striking a balance between ‘reach’ and ‘search for sustainability’. Currently, about 1% of the publication’s MAUs (monthly active users) pay for access to sites, he pointed out.

Similarly, Rajan also stated that opted for a paywall in the first place because there is a certain demand for differentiated content and because the publisher didn’t want to solely rely on advertising as its revenue stream.

“Indian Express went live with its paywall implementation in January 2022 and has now amassed over 1.2 lakh paid subscribers. Moreover, only 10 out of 400 stories actually go behind the paywall and therefore even the paywall implementation didn’t pose any significant impact on the readership stats,” he stated.

In his experience, the average time spent on the premium news stories that are behind the paywall is double of the non-paywalled content.

Throwing light on some of the challenges of having certain sections behind paywalls as a digital news platform, Gairola pointed out that as of now in India, the biggest one is dealing with the mindset of the users. He also opined that while publishers keep working towards plugging the holes, addressing the issues of bypassing of paywalls needs a larger collaboration and therefore, legislation can be the most effective way. 

“If governments treat such elements as anti-social, then they can ask telecom operators to stop access to them. Similarly, sites that host them, CDN networks, virtual cloud companies etc can make them completely ineffective,” Gairola stated.

On the contrary, Rajan opined that regulating anything on the internet is not easy, therefore, going by the logic of having regulations around paywall bypassing, ad blockers should also be removed as they prevent publishers from generating revenue on their content.

Ad revenue advertising news Indian Express Pradeep Gairola The Hindu paywall media houses digital news publishers websites paywall bypassing paywall management premium news content Nandagopal Rajan ad blockers