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.)
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.
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."