Best Buy saved by open source thinking?

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Three giant robots and a person

A popular chain of consumer electronics stores in the U.S. laid off thousands of workers in mid-July this year. Yes, I'm talking about Best Buy, and their future prospects are not looking so good. But this company could still save itself if it quickly implements open source thinking throughout its stores. Open source thinking means viewing your customers as information producers not just entertainment consumers. 

For instance, some customers are interested in making their own BluRay video disks using blank DVD media. When I recently walked into a Best Buy store to buy a BluRay player, the sales person had no clue at all that it's quite easy to create your own BluRay DVD disks using Macintosh software called Roxio Toast 11, with an additional $20 BluRay burning plug-in. You don't even need to own a BluRay burner. A plain DVD burner does the trick.

I first became interested in making my own BluRay disks when I saw that OpenShot, the popular video editor for Linux, can export high definition video in BluRay format. I wasn't able to find the right Linux software to burn my BluRay video on DVD disks, but I was able to get this done using Roxio Toast 11 on my Macbook Pro. These BluRay DVDs play beautifully in the auditorium at my place of work in Takoma Park, Maryland. 

What do you think would happen to Best Buy's sales volume if more people knew they could easily create their own BluRay disks using inexpensive DVD media? Best Buy would not only sell more BluRay players, they would also sell more high definition camcorders, more high definition televisions, more blank DVD media and more accessories for all of these devices. The barrier is that Best Buy makes no effort to educate its customers on how they can maximize the creative uses of the consumer electronics equipment they sell. Plus, when a customer such as myself tries to tell them about one such project, the explanation falls on deaf ears. 

Also, have you ever noticed the high ceilings in most Best Buy stores? Best Buy could build technology training rooms in some of that air space above the sales floor and even find volunteers like me to conduct some of the sessions. All I would ask for in return would be a modest discount on my Best Buy purchases. And it would be fine with me if they wanted to videotape my training sessions to share on YouTube or with managers (and customers!) at other Best Buy stores.

What our country needs is for every consumer electronics store to adopt new “maker supportive” policies. Then, each store that does this could have a short listing on a White House web page like: This web page does not currently exist, but could be created in one weekend. These listings would explain the stores' new maker supportive policies, and just imagine how much free publicity this would provide many businesses.

Recently, the White House recognized MAKE magazine founder Dale Dougherty for his visionary work launching MAKE magazine and the maker movement. This recognition was a good first step, but by itself accomplishes little. It would make sense to follow up with a “maker supportive” page on the White House website. With minimal effort the White House could nudge our economy in the direction it needs to be heading in. Then we won't have to read about the next round of layoffs at Best Buy in the newspapers.

We have the skill and know how to turn around the economy if we'd just use more open source thinking.

Getting back to Best Buy, when they sell you a BluRay video player without sharing information about how you can produce your own BluRay disks, it's as if a car dealer just sold you a car with an air conditioning system but no instructions on how to turn it on on a hot summer day. What value is the equipment if consumers don't have knowledge of how to use it to its full potential? If consumers were given the skills and know-how by the store itself, I think they'd gladly plunk down their hard-earned money for the equipment at that store. After all, seeing is believing.

In an information economy we must value how-to-do-it knowledge far more than we do. We need to restructure our stores to reflect this important new shift in our culture. We don't have much time to implement such changes, either. We have wasted too much time already. Right now hasty action is needed by all parties mentioned above. So, do we need to require stores to implement maker supportive policies or can we rely on them to take the necessary steps on their own? What do you think? Leave your comments below. 

Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 30 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use 27 Linux stations.


As I read this blog post, I couldn't help but wonder why businesses don't see the opportunity that's right on their face. Why would they stick with an outdated business models?

Phil Shapiro's piece must be a required reading for any businesses that have storefronts. These businesses need to find a way to engage with their customers and offer services that couldn't be replicated online.

I agree with Phil we must value how-to-do-it knowledge. For Best Buy that means change direction immediately or become Amazon's desert after Amazon had for lunch Borders Stores.

Liked the thought in the article very much - great and innovative. Sad to note that sales and perhaps technical staff at a grand technology outlet lacked updated technological information that could perhaps revolutionize their business, and most likely the industry itself.

What I see as Best Buy's lack of vision as an opportunity for visionaries like Phil. Lets begin by creating a Blueray DVDs at your local community center using products from Best Buy. We get Best Buy to be a sponsor and it would be a great training tool for youth.

It's important to know that a bluray player IS required to view the content after it is burned, and that not all bluray players are able to play the AVCHD content burned onto DVD. There are websites that share info regarding which players are capable, and this would be a good feature to look for when purchasing a bluray player.

totally agree Phil. I always knew that open source had and has great potential. I was exposed to LInux back in 1991 by this genius kid which our Federal Agency had hired to operate the only SPARC 20 workstation with Solaris 4.1. He introduced me to Slackware Linux, since then have not looked back. Linux, LibreOffice, Wine, Virtual box, cheese, AviDemux, Picasa, Screenshot, Inkscape, blender, Imgburn, Scribus, Shotwell, RecordMyDesktop, Blender, and hundreds more, work just as good, many even better than the paid counterparts. They get the job done, and about 99% of time without spending additional monies except for maybe the required hardware for it, I don't even use the paid version of a popular Office Suite everyone knows anymore because LibreOffice does the exact same thing, and it's free, does not crash my system with a blue screen, or runs out of memory or even corrupts my data files with. So why do people still run to pay ridiculous money for terrible software? The same reason TV commercials and media propaganda just plain works, when you buy their product, no matter what it may be, you might as well put on your cape and fight crime,
you will also get more action than James Bond himself---or so they claim. So we start by teaching people that instead of paying attention to the media propaganda--I was thinking on another word but I am not sure I could use it here---, start using your brain "yourself"... you never know, Open Source might be your red cape.

Your article is an interesting read. Maybe it's my lack of economics but I don't understand how cheap dvd's and bluray players can boost their profit. Wouldn't it be more logical if they manage to convince people to buy the more expensive bluray disks, and a bluray player, and maybe also a burner by informing customers about the advantages, which may be enough to make them buy those?

I also don't understand that if you're aiming for the people which can't or don't want to spend their money on expensive bluray equipment, why would they even want to spend their money on an expensive bluray player, when they still have a dvd player that produces quality output that's more than sufficient for them.

And if you want to encourage them to burn their blurays on dvd, does that mean that you're encouraging them to download their movies instead of buying them? Or are you talking about the few that make personal recordings and store them on optical disks?

Using Open Source thinking is not in itself enough to save Best Buy. Their major problem is of course financial and is likely insolvable short of bankruptcy.

Another major reform that Best Buy badly needs is to treat both their customers and employees with honesty and respect. If Best Buy did so it would still take years before people trusted the Best Buy company.

The Open Source thinking that Phil Shapiro advocates would be a positive step for Best Buy but I doubt that Best Buy survives long enough to implement it.

Steve Stites

Or people could shop at small or local businesses who already do this. Dealing with people who actually know what they are doing is one of the perks of shopping at places like that.

There are countless problems with this idea for Best Buy. 1) They'd actually have to train people. 2) They'd have to hire people with an expertise in these areas. 3) They couldn't dole out the hours based on who's best at pushing extended warranties.

All of those things would cost them money and raise the prices of the products. They aren't about to do that. It's too easy to boil everything down to a base formula computed by a computer and hire drones that only do what the computer tells them.

In short, shop local and let Best Buy sink.

couldn't have been said any better.

I thought it was interesting that the sales person I spoke to when I wanted to buy an android phone told me that they didn't sell android phones. Maybe if they even knew their own products, they would do better.

The problem is that the current content creators do not want competition. If Best Buy were to push that users create competition and the users use some copyrighted material, Best Buy would very likely get sued.

Content is only valuable if it is rare or its production/distribution is highly restricted. The RIAA and MPAA know that. So people dissuaded from creating their own content and are severely punished for doing anything that would avoid their member from being paid for content created by them, even if in an honest world, the content would have long since been out of copyright.

this is why opensource it's the answer to that, no copyright, no bs., no one can claim ownership of the source code, yet it can be improved, modified and made better. Simply put, the concept works.

If only the bloodsucking greedy software companies out there would take note of opensource, then their products might been half-way decent.

"this is why opensource it's the answer to that, no copyright, no bs"

You have to have copyright in order to create an open source license.

Steve Stites

oh wow, if it's copyrighted it certainly can not be opensource, now can it?

So it's not a Bluray disk, it's a AVCHD DVD that will only play in select Bluray players. The idea of producing your own DVD or Bluray disks is to either share the video or archive it. If you have to concern yourself with which devices the person your sharing with owns and if it supports AVCHD, or if AVCHD will be supported in your future Bluray device, it defeats the purpose of DVD and Bluray standards. You can't blame Best Buy for not knowing about or pushing some obscure compression scheme supported by some Bluray players. When was the last time you gave someone a DivX file without concerns about if they would be able to view it? DivX is definitely supported better than AVCHD.

Last I looked Roxio was not open source and so using it or pushing the sale of Roxio is not an open source solution and while OpenShot is open source giving away software is not going to save Best Buy.
The benefits of Bluray over DVD is not just quality, I would question how AVCHD compares to Bluray, but also capacity. 4.3gb DVD vs. 25gb on a Bluray.
Where I live there happens to be two Best Buy stores and neither of them have ever stocked more than a 3 pack with jewel cases of blank Bluray disks. No ten packs, no bulk, no disks only, and for the past two years no blank Bluray disks at all. So maybe the suggestion to Best Buy should be stock leading technology and hire people with at least a bit of technical knowledge.
As for using overhead "air space" to build classrooms. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Just the engineering costs involved make that a bad deal. There are reasons places like Home Depot and Lowes hold classes right on the sales floor. Anyone can watch, passersby can learn as much as they want by staying as long as they want, and the people learning are right there next to the product they are learning about so it's easy to buy.
I will agree that Best Buy could probably increase sales by educating their customers (and their staff) but that has nothing to do with open source. I don't subscribe to your "Open source thinking means viewing your customers as information producers...".
Open source thinking is making solutions freely available and using freely available solutions to solve problems. Viewing your customers as information producers is more like "Google", which I don't have issue with because I know that going in.

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