Got a CD Collection? It’s Slowly Rotting Away. And That’s Not a Metaphor.

My home office looks like an episode of Hoarders. It’s stacked to the ceiling with books, computer gear, stereo equipment and many, many, many CDs. While most are neatly filed away in a stack of cabinets (A-O) and on shelves in a close (P-Z plus various artists), they’re completely full, hence the two piles of unfiled discs on the floor that have been growing ever-larger for the past two years. And I’m pretty sure I have two giant bankers boxes full of CDs somewhere in the house.

This is why we’re enduring a massive reno in the house as the basement gets finished. That will be my new office and the official archive for all my books, vinyl and CDs. It’ll be dry, secure and safe for this giant repository of music.

There’s one problem, though. No matter what I do, my CDs will continue to rot away. Yours are doing the same thing right now. This is from Tedium.

“I suppose that if you ran a knife over a disc it would not do it any good, and you might destroy it if you stubbed out of cigar on it. But you could pour jam on it without causing any damage.”

— A spokesperson for EMI, commenting on research done on the permanence of compact discs by the record label Nimbus in 1988. Nimbus, the first CD manufacturer in the U.K., said that it had done some research into the disc rot issue and found that most discs will self-destruct after between eight and 10 years. The company’s findings, which went against prevailing theories of the time that CDs were indestructible, blamed the problems on improper dyes that reduced the quality of the discs. As highlighted by the quote, record companies were at first skeptical, but Nimbus’ concerns about disc integrity turned out to be important and true.

Why “disc rot” is a massive challenge for both archivists and collectors

Back in 2010, a blogger on the video game website RF Generation, frustrated with a series of purchases in which the games had suffered a degree of “disc rot” before reaching him, wrote a PSA to the game-collector community, calling on them to keep an eye out regarding the problem.

The blogger, who goes under the pseudonym “slackur” or “Jesse Mysterious,” then described a harrowing tale for a serious collector: After reading up on the disc rot problem, he went through his game collection, much of it in mint condition, and found white specs on many of the discs—a major tell sign of “disc rot,” or the eventual decay of optical media.

I’ll let him take it from here:

Oh, dear. We’d better keep reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Got a CD Collection? It’s Slowly Rotting Away. And That’s Not a Metaphor.

  • March 7, 2017 at 6:43 am

    Hm, I want to go through my (much more modest) collection to organise, purge, and look for a couple of missing discs. May as well look for rot while I’m at it

    The two CDs I know of in my collection that have this were newer, and defective out of the shrink-wrap … The Cure’s Greatest Hits and Pop Will Eat Itself’s Product anthology. Both had the rot look around the outer edge, and it was only the final track affected.


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