This Year Will Be The End of the 'Disc Burning' Era

This Year Will Be The End of the 'Disc Burning' Era

It all started happening in the early 2000's as the once expensive CD-R disc burners began to heavily drop in price and later came pre-installed in every computer. Then clients started asking, "Can I get a disc with the photos?" and a new era of disc burning began which lasted over 10 years. Fortunately, over the last few years other options have become available, which leads me the prediction. This year will be the very last in the 'disc burning era' and quite honestly I can't be any happier about it.

Often when people think of a burned disc they have a mindset that this little polycarbonate reflective donut will last forever. Sadly, what they don't realize is that most research has led to the conclusion that the average disc lifespan is about 10 years. In fact, one site set up by the government to assist records managers in the storage of archives suggests that unrecorded disc life is only 5-10 years and written discs have a lifespan of 2-5 years. (See National Archives FAQ's for Record Managers for more info.)

Fstoppers CD Burning Era over

According to Wikipedia, "burned CD-Rs suffer from material degradation, just like most writable media. CD-R media have an internal layer of dye used to store data. In a CD-RW disc, the recording layer is made of an alloy of silver and other metals—indium, antimony, and tellurium. In CD-R media, the dye itself can degrade, causing data to become unreadable. As well as degradation of the dye, failure of a CD-R can be due to the reflective surface. While silver is less expensive and more widely used, it is more prone to oxidation resulting in a non-reflecting surface."

In an effort to provide another alternative disc makers began using gold in their discs thereby increasing the suspected lifespan of those discs to over 100 years. But these discs are not widely available, cost significantly more and still are prone to the two major reasons discs are a bad storage idea.

The first major reason is they get lost. This happens to all of us. We might take great care of the disc of our wedding images for the first year, but suddenly during the move to a new house it gets boxed up only to never be found again.

The second major reason is they get scratched, damaged and unreadable. It seems like it's inevitable. Any disc that gets a little use seems to always get scratched even while taking the utmost care to protect it.

Fstoppers Scratched CDs End of an Era

Fortunately, over the last few years other solutions have become available. Now rather than burning photos to discs to give to our clients we can upload them into a cloud and provide a gallery link where they can download their images or order prints. Some of these options include PASS, Pixiset, ShootProof, Get Digitized, Zenfolio, Smugmug and many others. It seems the list continues to grow each year with more companies offering the cloud solution.

While the transition for some clients has been hard to accept, (after all they believe the mighty disc to be indestructible with a forever lifespan) viewing and downloading images from the cloud is becoming more and more acceptable. In fact, thanks to Apple, these days many laptops are not even coming with disc readers (such as the Macbook Pro I am using to type out this post.)

Even better than having images in the cloud is having printed photos in a book. Maybe we should go back to sliding them behind plastic in photo albums. After all I have photos from my childhood 35 years old in perfect condition in albums. So while I am a fan of having images in the cloud I'd say it is our duty as photographers to make sure our clients are actually printing their most important photos and storing them as we have done for years. It is such a rewarding experience to page through old photo albums and see pictures of my grandparents as children, and I would hope my clients are able to leave that kind of heirloom for their family in the future as well.

It has been a great adventure watching the disc grow up over the years. From CD-R to CD+R, then onto the CD-RW and finally maturing into the writable DVD. But by the end of the 2014 my prediction is the 'burning disc' era will be nothing more than a thing of the past and someday we will be able to share with our children photos of the antiquated technology or pull them out of boxes like old trophies as we do with cassette tapes these days. The most important thing to remember is that nothing lasts forever and as business owners providing a product (digital images, prints, discs) we need to know how to adapt and change just as the technologies we use inevitably do the same.

If you have those spindles of blank CD's lying around the office, Lifehacker has offered up a great way to use them. I present to you, "The Bagel Sandwich holder."
Fstoppers Burning CD Era out Bagel Sandwich Holder

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Cloud storage sounds great... until the company goes out of business. I'd also be concerned about file format compatibility in later years. Will JPEG still be a viable standard? What about RAW files?
The image file formats readable today may not be supported or readable 20 years from now. I don't have a crystal ball into the future of technology, but from past history, computers will change, storage media will change, file formats will change and disappear, operating systems will come and go.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Hey Ralph, I absolutely agree with you. It seems like the only viable option these days is to put our photos behind plastic in albums (as I mentioned in the article.) But also as I wrote, we need to adapt and change just as the technologies we use inevitably do the same. I am not sure how things will be 20 years from now, but I am pretty certain that the era of CD's is out the door.

I am shocked that Walmart, Target and Best Buy still carries CDs

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

We will always be able to open a jpg. I can't see a format that is standard on the web dying. The jpg is as common as a txt file.

I wouldn't say always but 20 years form now the .jpg format is likely to still be around. As you rightly point out, the .txt format is at least 20 years old.

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

Is there any file format we can't open anymore? I understand it might not be the standard.

Tons of stuff where the program to open it won't run on a modern system.

The txt file may disappear also. After all, ASCII is just another standard. IBM tried to create a new standard in the 60's with EBCDIC; but only IBM proprietary computers use EBCDIC.

Don't forget that if you don't give your client a physical product, you can pocket the sales tax if you're in a state that is lucky enough to have that rule. Consult your accountant for more information. =) I charge every client sales tax to be safe, but if they purchase the digital files I'll share them on dropbox if possible.

Which state is that? I would like to know. Pocket the Sales Tax? If you are COLLECTING sales tax, you are supposed to be doing it as a de facto agent of the State. It is not an incurred cost, but a passed on tariff. I'm not sure about Texas, but I know in Florida I wouldn't say that too loud. You might have just increased your taxable income in the eyes of the IRS.

IMO Cloud storage should be based more on the service you are providing than the "tax savings." Like buying a house for the tax deductions might not be the best reason to buy the is merely a feature/benefit.

In california if you do not provide anything physical you are not required to collect sales tax. I'm not sure if that makes it okay to bill for the sales tax but not send it to the state as I've never considered doing that.

The same in Florida, or if you do a job that is done completely outside of the state, I do not have to bill for it. Most states have "usage" tax though for out of state purchases. So I dont know how that goes. I just know if I collect sales tax from someone in GA, the State of FL just got a few dollars richer, because I will still submit it.

I think there is a risk of fraud to collect sales tax and not submit it...

You'll still have to end up paying federal income tax on the money so it's not a like a method or strategy to make more money it's just easier to collect sales tax and sort it out later. I've always been told it's safer to collect sales tax from everyone than it is to ask for it after the fact in the case that you needed to and didn't know. Also, it's interesting, different cities have different sales tax rates, so if you do an on location shoot for someone that lives in another city than your "home base", it could be a lot less sales tax and if you charge your home town sales tax rate, you're ultimately pocketing the difference. In Texas the local sales tax rate ranges from 8.25% down to 6.25%. It's safer and easier (for me) to collect the highest rate) so that I don't owe that chunk of money at the end of the year. That 2% difference is 2000 dollars of 100,000. That's new gear moniez! Of course you'll have to pay taxes on that 2k so you'll end up with around 1300... Still new gear money!

I don't know where you are from, but in Alabama I even have to charge sales tax on sessions fees.

While we may not archive much more to discs, drives will still be needed to access archived data on discs. I wouldn't write them off yet.

Storing everything on a cloud is risky business. A while back the Microsoft email network went down and all emails and attachments were lost. Don't think this can't happen again.

History has taught us that data will need to be continuously transferred from one medium to another to preserve the data. It will have to be physically manually done. If it's your personal data you will have to do it yourself, unless you want to pay someone to do it for you, and cross your fingers that they do it correctly. Remember, that's YOUR personal and business data.

In the early computing days everything was archived to 9-track open-reel tapes. Then we stated transferring to various mediums like floppies, Syquest, Zips, and finally CD/DVDs.

At this time mechanical hard drives in external cases may make the next best transitional archiving medium. They are cheap, have large capacities and, used strictly for storage, should last quite a while. The only caveat will be the interfacing medium, which at present is USB, must somehow be made available.

It's all fine and well to throw junk up on a cloud, but it would be quite foolish if a physical backup isn't made and kept locally, and the archived data physically transferred to an appropriate new storage medium when the need arises.

The irony of the name, I love it! Considering I was going to post this: At the end of the day, Paper has still seemed to have been the best archiving medium. Thousands of years and as secure as you want it to be. Even the Russian information security has recently gone back to typewriters (for the younger folks it's like laptop with no screen and the printer built in).

Michael Comeau's picture


One old rule comes to mind: "one back up is no back up, 2 back ups is on back up".
Also store the backups in 2 different places in case of fire etc.

I am also a fan of using thumb drives as an additional way of archiving. It seems one can never have too many backups. I have a copy of my files with my parents as well. Hard drives have moving mechanical parts, hopefully solid state drives will be more affordable in the near future. No moving parts. Better safe than sorry :) Great article Trevor, I had no idea the lifespan issue with DVD's. (what does that say for all of our blue rays and Dvd's ???)

Solid states drives are not a proven archival system. Far from it. If you understand the technology behind SSDs, you may come to realize that it's the last thing you want to archive to.

I am shocked the stores still did not kill the Entertainment isles. They still sell CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays! I am ready for cloud service and I trust Apple itunes for years

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

I hate DVD / CDs. They never last and are not reliable. I am not a huge fan of the cloud yet, asking a customer to download 20+gb of data is a lot, what does the average person do with this zip file? I supply an online gallery and a usb drive. This already gives them a chance to have a decent backup somewhere in the house. I of course have it backed up forever as well.

Jacob delaRosa's picture

Goodbye and good riddance

LOL. Haven't burnt a disc for years now.
USB sticks serve well for the white spots of internet coverage and Dropbox does the rest.
Cheap HDs do hold all of my data and since new HDs are due every 5 years or so this solves the backup problem all in one go.

I give my clients USB drives. They are fairly cheap nowadays.

If only we had Adamantium discs....

If every person across the country suddenly had to switch from using actual discs to just downloading galleries from web based sources, the industry would collapse upon itself in an instant. Because, as one thing I have learned in the photography business, sweeping statements like these are wildly inaccurate and do not take the entire demographics of this country in to consideration. There are too many mom & pop type customers out there who, at this point, have only just begun to embrace technology established at the turn of this century.

Dear digital technology,

Exactly like Film, exactly like the SLR Optical View Finder ... try not to kill off what isn't meant to be killed of so quickly.

Standing against the tide,

I just got started archiving all my files on Blu Ray discs. Why? CryptoLocker. If you don't know what that is, take a minute to educate yourself. Cloud and HDD storage is convenient, but in terms of preventing hackers and tricksters from messing with your work product (in my case legal files, but the same goes for photos) is conventional, read-only, inaccessible discs.

what's CD+R? a technology that i missed?

Last year I switched to delivering my photographs on Sandisk USB 3.0 sticks and couldn't be happier. Clients LOVE them and I'm a happy camper not having to deal with burning multiple disks, the burning process freezing or hiccuping halfway through or forgetting to put a file on a disk..forcing me to re-burn the entire copy. Good riddance to disks.