Your old CD-ROMs are probably rotting


Originally published at:


band name album name


‘Now available on vinyl, iTunes, Amazon Music, and Spotify.’


Fuck 'em.

Still got my old Plunderers vinyl: it’s probably unlistenable now, but so long as I keep it away from a turntable my memories are still good.


I can smell them rotting from here.


We should all take a cd-rom each and memorise it. Its the only real form of living memory.



Weird. I’ve got a few 300 year old books that still work just fine.


I still haven’t quite come to grips with the ephemeral quality of the work I do. Might as well be drawing it on the sand below the tidemark.


Try bookkeeping sometime.

Bailing out a boat with a hole in the bottom.


Well, so much for furure archaeologists finding my name on Mars. (Yes, I did this back in '99.)


That has got to be a Magma tribute band.


In fairness to CDs, the mortality rate of books(especially ones with low production values) is pretty mediocre; so while the survival times of exceptional books may exceed those of any CDs(hard to say, since CDs haven’t been around long enough to determine the lifespan of the higher quality examples); this is cold comfort to much of what has ever been committed to print.


The future belongs to analog loyalists. Fuck digital.

–fine print on back cover of CD-version of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking

Today’s Steve Albini:

The future still belongs to analog loyalists. And Spotify. Fuck CDs.

Not a quote but seems to be his current sentiment based on the interviews I’ve read.


.[quote=“KathyPadilla, post:7, topic:96810, full:true”]
Weird. I’ve got a few 300 year old books that still work just fine

300 year old books are probably in MUCH better shape than 100 year old books. Old fashioned linen rag paper stands up to time pretty well. The lignin in paper made from wood-pulp (almost all paper these days) starts to acidify and degrades the paper significantly in a few decades

My understanding is that we’re talking about CD-Rs here, NOT the CDs that you would buy from a record store which are thought to be significantly longer lasting.


There are even older studies going back to at least 2004. Why anyone would be surprised by disc rot in 2017 escapes me. Here’s the Library of Congress’s own list of related research projects…

It does disappoint me that there’s no cute pithy term for this like Kessler syndrome. I vote we start calling the problem Shannon’s Revenge.

That or Fantômas.

Panta rhei…

Books just seem like a reliable archival medium because they flow slower than humans.


As someone who has worked in data storage systems and archival technologies for 13 years, I can say that this is not a newly discovered problem, not even close. Gold discs probably do better than others, but few people really used them. M-Disc is pretty cool and should do OK, relative to older burnable (and some commercial) discs. But archive is a strategy and process, not any particular thing you’re storing data on at a given moment. And these days, we need metadata as well!


I realize that people are suckers for lost causes(and they just sound warmer); but betting that ‘the future’ belongs to something you can’t even play, much less copy, without damaging it; rather than to the innumerable perfect copies unshackled from any specific artifact representation and free to exist on top of pretty much any storage or transport mechanism is convenient, seems to be wishful thinking verging on insanity.


Adding non-data to data: I am an amateur photographer who started in early mainstream digital photography. I lost a hard drive with much of my early stuff on it, so I turned to my (incomplete) CD backups to see how much I could save that way.

I knew my mid-90’s CD-Rs were problematic. But I would say that at least 70% of my early 2000’s vintage CD roms had some byte loss and roughly 20% complete failure rate. While they have not been stored properly, it was still surprising as to how bad the bit rot was.


Won’t get any protest from me. I like the dynamic range of digital and love the convenience of digital streaming. The Albini quote just came to mind when I read this article.

I do like the physicality of vinyl and I get that this is part of its appeal. But I know I would fuss too much over keeping my LPs like new so I’ve never bothered with the format.


I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised by disk rot; but it looks like the study you link to concerns CD/DVD-R and R/W media, which are really a very different thing compared to pressed disks; and generally not in a good way(for archivists).

It’s enormously impressive, at least to this layman, that they managed to hack together a variety of thermosensitive dye based arrangements that could(‘relatively’ cheaply at first; genuinely cheaply after a few years on the market) get adequately close to the optical characteristics of stamped disks that they were reasonably backward compatible(despite there being no plans in the original CD design to facilitate this as a future feature); but even under controlled conditions the chemistry of CD-Rs and R/Ws is pretty seriously touchy compared to the "Yeah, it’s a chunk of polycarbonate with a metal layer sputtered onto one side’ design of the pressed disks; and since they are explicitly designed to be quickly writeable with lasers of pretty tepid power, photosensitivity tends to be unavoidably atrocious.

Stamped disks have their own ways of failing(the 'no, aluminum isn’t exactly inert, especially in films thin enough that the normally-desireable passivation is destructive rather than helpflul, and your half-assed laquer coating isn’t helping enough, seems to be especially popular); but they are less obviously horribly doomed; and the nicer ones(gold sputtered, solid QA on the laquer layer; whatever esoteric factors influence the ability of polycarbonate to preserve fine details taken into account); have enough of a claim to durability that discovering the contrary counts as a surprise, though hardly an earthshaking one.

The re-writeables are more of an “I’m amazed that this ever worked” thing.