Against Vendor Lock-in: How I Consume Content

There’s a lot of talk right now regarding the recent move by Apple to demand that all apps (on iOS) which offer access to premium content sold outside of the App Store, also offer it via in-app purchase, thereby giving a 30% cut to Apple.

The heart of the argument goes like this:

  • this 30% cut is reasonable for content publishers, but eats all of the margin of distributors
  • but that’s the point: to push distributors out of the platform, leaving only Apple between users and content
  • but is it fair for Apple to continue to increase its dominant position?
  • well nobody’s forcing anybody to use Apple products
  • but users are locked in! once you have all your music on iTunes, etc., moving out could prove extremely expensive: This lock-in effect is only going to become more pronounced as Apple shifts content ownership to the cloud and has users stream the movies they ‘own’ from its own servers. (from TechCrunch).

The point about users lock-in is real; content producers and distributors all want to lock users in, of course, because once the cow is in the barn they can milk it day in and day out.

I believe it’s the responsibility of users to push back lock-in effects. Here’s how I do it.


All my music is in DRM-free mp3, encoded in 192 kbps. For maybe 90% of it, I ripped them from CDs; I bought a few on Amazon (still in mp3 format) and exactly 0 on iTunes.

They play on every audio player ever built; but what’s even better, with a Sonos system I’m able to stream them anywhere in my house.


Just like music, I rip movies off of DVDs: that way I get a perfect quality movie, with just the subtitles I want, and it’s also legal (downloading movies from the Internet gives you low quality, usually without subtitles or not in the language you want, and you’re breaking the law doing it).

Ripped DVDs can be watched from any device except Apple’s; for the movies I’d like to watch on an iPad I re-encode them in m4v.


For now I still read books on paper, which has many advantages: you can read a paper book anywhere, the distributor cannot take it back from you after you purchased it, you can lend it to anyone you please, etc.

At some point I’d like to go digital though, but it’s unclear to me how I should stay clear of DRM. There are two approaches that might be feasible:

  • rip the books myself using a device such as this one; this would be analogous to what I do for music and films, but seems a little time consuming. It may be worth trying though (the “booksaver” is not available yet but there are other solutions, including countless DIY tutorials to build a personal book scanner)
  • buy Kindle-versions and then un-DRM them: this is probably the simplest approach but its legality is questionable?

How much does it cost

Everything is stored on a file server; the Netgear NV+ provides incredible value for under $500: 4 1To disks give you 2,7 To of fault-tolerant storage.

Before that, to just store music, I had an NSLU2 from Linksys, that lets one transform any USB disk into a network device; you can still find NSLU2 on eBay for 30-50 bucks (total setup cost: $30 for NSLU2 + $50 for a 100 Go USB disk = $80!!)

I use TwonkyMedia server software for streaming movies; it works on many devices including the NV+ and the NSLU2 (the version for NSLU2 can be hard to find but it exists); the licence costs around $20.


The details of my setup are not the point here; the point is that end-users should fight vendor lock-in, and that it’s feasible, simple, and cheap.

Thu, 17 Feb 2011 • permalink