Slate says “the Era of Tinkering Is Over” @slate @alisongriswold @radioshack #radioshack #makerbusiness


RadioShack bankruptcy: Chapter 11 finally comes to the consumer electronics retailer..

Wow, intense – Slate leading with “…the Era of Tinkering Is Over” for their article “RadioShack Finally Files for Bankruptcy, and No One Is Surprised“. The author Alison Griswold cites the following reason (amongst others) …

That people’s fondest memories of RadioShack overwhelmingly involve buying parts to fix and tinker with various electronic devices illustrates perfectly why RadioShack is now filing for bankruptcy protection. During RadioShack’s heyday in the 1980s, consumer electronics were still things you could fix with the right parts and some free time. Today? Good luck.

…Home-built radios might figure prominently in All the Light We Cannot See, but they’re far from a typical purchase. More complicated gadgets have also become harder to fidget with. Since 2008, Apple in particular has marketed high-end devices that are practically impossible to repair yourself. The last time I bought something in a RadioShack was a few years ago, when I needed a new battery for my flip phone and couldn’t find it on Amazon.

People stopped going to RadioShack years ago for buying parts to fix and tinker with various electronic devices. However, it’s hard to claim that the “tinkering era is over” because RadioShack is going away. What did go away was going to RadioShack for anything related to tinkering as better places came along (and the internet).

Just some quicky stats for ya’ll to decide on your own if “tinkering is over”… Digi-Key has over $1.6 billion plus in sales, over 2m online orders/year (source). What’s interesting is Digi-Key could have never got this far if they didn’t adapt. “It was Dr. Ronald A. Stordahl’s interest in ham radio that provided the springboard for what has become Digi-Key today. While in college he assembled and began selling a digital electronic keyer kit for sending radiotelegraph code for ham radio operators. It was called the Digi-Key.”

Some RadioShack stats:

The retailer’s full-year 2013 revenue came in at $3.43 billion, a decline from the $3.83 billion reported for full-year 2012. Comparable store sales were down 8.8% and the company’s net loss widened to $400.2 million, or $3.97 per diluted share, up from the net loss of $139.4 million reported last year – Forbes.

Some could claim Digi-Key is more business to business (they’d be correct, they mostly are). How about other companies that are very much considered “tinkering” companies and for “parts”? SparkFun’s revenue [went] from $1.8M in 2006 to $32M in 2014 (source). We believe SparkFun passed 1m orders awhile ago.


There are hundreds of thousands of attendees to Maker Faire each year, all over the world (source). Maker Faire NYC, a fairly new event had over 85,000 attendees in 2014 (source). Bay Area Maker Faire 2014? 130,000+ attendees (source). Looks like 530,000 worldwide in 2013.

Adafruit’s 2014 profile is here our 3 year growth was 839% . Adafruit also hit the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies #11 in the top 20 manufacturing companies and named #570 in the top 5,00 fastest growing companies, USA. Listed as #1 in New York City for manufacturing. Related note: Digi-Key now stocks Adafruit, yay! Our founder Ladyada was awarded entrepreneur of the year for running a good business with a good cause. The Adafruit site is up to 12m page views and 2m visitors a month. Adafruit just passed it’s 700,000th order.

Adafruit 2151
There are at least 1 million Arduinos/Arduino-like devices out there (source). There are over 3.8m Raspberry Pis units sold as of October 2014 (source).

Other reports:

  • MakerPro Newsletter Survey 2014 (PDF)
  • Maker Market Study, co-sponsored with Intel (PDF)
  • Impact of the Maker Movement, co-sponsored with the Deloitte Center for the Edge (PDF)

Seeed Studio may have 3.8+ million orders (2/11/2015, source Twitter).

So, is “the Era of Tinkering Is Over”? Maybe 🙂 But it’s sorta like saying “the Era of Reading is Over” when Borders book stores closed down.

Post up in the comments.

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  1. It amazes and saddens me how many people do not realize about the maker movement or how it has been growing significantly. The main reason RS was not so significant with makers was because of their shrinking inventory and selection of parts and the massive increase in the variety of parts needed to build and repair things. The internet has given hobbyists access to parts that only a few years ago, only the big engineers could even dream of having. Now with the dawn of circuit board houses, CAD programs, 3D printing, and companies like AdaFruit, SparkFun, DigiKey, and Mouser providing access to just about every conceivable non-custom part in existence, hobbyists can design and build even professional-looking devices. If anything, the industry is GROWING. More should be done to get that word out, though–it may help to inspire more kids to get involved.

  2. I think this is another example of ‘Gell-Mann Amnesia effect’ – the comments in the article hit spot-on.

    Radio Shack’s 5000 physical stores were not the best (or economical, or convenient) method of delivery. The Internet has opened up direct sources, more efficiently, and delivered to your door. We just no longer need Radio Shack.

    I tested tubes and bought 45 volt “B” batteries at Radio Shack when I was a boy. But now, if I wish, I can design a PCB and have it made & delivered in a few days. I can buy products from USA, China – (yes, and AdaFruit!) wherever they are made. Cheaply, efficiently, and delivered to my door in a couple of days in some cases.

    Radio Shack couldn’t determine my (our) purchasing desires, finance and buy enough to stock 5000 stores, warehouse, ship, price, label, display (and wait…for us to drive to the store and buy them) fast enough or efficiently enough.

    As a recent blog posting I read said: “Radio Shack is perfectly tuned machine … for 1978”.

    Mike Y
    Dallas, Texas

  3. Many companies are/will be steamrolled by the Internet… a couple of years ago, Office Depot bought out Office Max… now Staples is buying out Office Depot… hopefully for Staples there is a bigger fish waiting to buy them out in a couple of years. If there isn’t a buyer for them and they go under… will Slate also claim “The era of collating is over…”

    It seems to me that the “era of tinkering” is now if ever… we’ve reached a sweet spot of incredibly sophisticated components at very low prices being within the reach of all sorts of hobbyists… even tinkering with modern automobiles is becoming feasible again because of this dynamic and the ingenuity of hackers and makers.

    Sooner or later the big players will try to clamp down even harder on the availability of components, or play intellectual property games to stifle “tinkering”. I guess in that sense it is good if makers are under the radar, as it might allow the golden age to continue if the 800lb gorrillas don’t feel threatened by people hacking their own devices.

  4. Radio Shack use to sell vacuum tubes, television antennas for your house, the Hifi stereo, ham radios and computers.

    The ham radio market has been replaced by cell phones, the Hifi stereo is replaced by the iPod, the TRS-80 is replaced by Intel and AMD, and the television antenna for your house has been replaced by cable or FIOS.

    Radio Shack lost those customer markets and didn’t replace them.
    Tinkering has changed and Radio Shack didn’t keep up because competition has increased that much dramatically.

    It is hard for any store to be number one and Radio Shack had a good run. Radio Shack also reportedly bought back 3 billion dollars worth of shares before they went bankrupt so I would look at this as an “adjustment”. There still will be 1,000 Radio Shacks around after bankruptcy.

    Imagine a maker business where maker businesses are afraid to stock Arduinos. What happens when something new comes along? When something new comes along and you can’t sell your Arduinos, a company takes a loss. These stores don’t have any contract with the customer to stock and item so when it stops selling, what do you do with a warehouse of $100,000 worth of merchandise that won’t sell? That is the real danger with being in retail. At any time, the retail stores can be stuck with products that can’t sell and they lose their operating profit because the education behind tinkering is really accelerating instead of going away so that is why we use transistors instead of vacuum tubes. The only ways makers will be left out is when you have to pay a license for using SD cards and HDMI technology because it is patented and isn’t open source and when it is too costly to compete. Everything changes but only stores able to reinvent themselves and adapt are the ones able to stay in business. The maker movement hasn’t gone away but it has changed a little.

  5. A cause is found here for their bankruptcy:

    RadioShack employees: Tales from the walking dead

    The company’s network of stores was once the center of its business strategy to be within minutes of 90% of the nation’s consumers. Now it is an albatross it can no longer afford in an age when consumers can find any item they need online.

  6. I’m a native Australian, and our branch of Radio Shack merged with another retailer, Dick Smith Electronics, many years ago. Dick Smith was our original “tinkerer’s store”, but they stopped selling electronics components years ago too. They’re now pretty much the same as Best Buy is.

    I can assure you, however, that the tinkering and making spirit, and community, are alive and well down under.

    It’s foolish to think that the fall of a single retailer means the end of a concept, especially one (invention) which is so central to human thought.

    It does mean the barrier to entry is higher – people now need to know where to go to buy various components, and need to plan ahead; it’s hardly worth ordering one or two resistors online when the shipping costs far outstrip the price of the components.

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