Your Old CD Collection Is Dying

If you’ve tried listening to any of the old music CDs lately from your carefully assembled collection from the 1980s or 1990s, you may have noticed that many of them won’t play. Adrienne LaFrance reports in the Atlantic at, “While most of the studio-manufactured albums I bought still play, there’s really no telling how much longer they will. My once-treasured CD collection — so carefully assembled over the course of about a decade beginning in 1994 — isn’t just aging; it’s dying. And so is yours.”

Fenella France, chief of preservation research and testing at the Library of Congress is trying to figure out how CDs age so that we can better understand how to save them. But it’s a tricky business, in large part because manufacturers have changed their processes over the years and even CDs made by the same company in the same year and wrapped in identical packaging might have totally different lifespans.

Eventually, many discs show signs of edge rot, which happens as oxygen seeps through a disc’s layers. Some CDs begin a deterioration process called bronzing, which is corrosion that worsens with exposure to various pollutants. The lasers in devices used to burn or even play a CD can also affect its longevity.

The report discusses music CDs but the same problem affects CD-ROM data disks as well. If the disk was commercially manufactured in a factory, it should last for years. CDs and CD-ROM disks “burned” at home, however, have a much shorter lifespan. If you have CDs or CD-ROMs that are sitting on the shelf, you need to copy them NOW. You can copy them to new CD disks or to flash drives or to most any other form of modern media. They still won’t last forever but you can get quite a few more years of life from them if you take steps now to preserve the information by copying it to new storage devices. Then, a few years from now, copy them again to more modern media.

You can



Light is probably the worst disk killer, especially sunlight. Keep them out of light as much as possible. Store them in a dark place when not actually being used.


My vinyl still plays just fine.


I successfully transferred all of my CD Collecton (several hundred CDs) that I have collected over the years to iTunes. This is after losing all of my 33s, eight-tracks, and cassettes over the years. I did this to make the music more convenient for me to listen to listen to, as well as my grandkids. Unfortunately, my grandkids use Spotify on their smart phones and don’t show any interest in “grandpa’s music”. Sigh.


Check out for another option in long term optical drive storage.


What about all the issues with DRM? I realize you are generally allowed to make one backup copy for your personal use, but will the copy protection schemes go with the new copy so it will actually play/run? Do you recommend any particular software that will copy the disks without regard to the DRM issues?


    Most audio CDs are not protected with Digital Rights Management (DRM). There are a few exceptions but I believe about 99% of the music CDs can be copied to new media without difficulty. I have copied dozens of my old CDs onto hard drives and flash drives and have never encountered a problem of any sort.

    DRM is an issue on much of the music downloaded online, such as from iTunes or Google Music or Amazon MP3. However, there are numerous ways to remove the DRM protection. Doing so may or may not be legal, depending upon who you wish to believe. I have read many contradictory statements about removing DRM. However, if you are interested in the topic, you will find lots of information about removing DRM if you go to and search for:

    remove drm


David Paul Davenport May 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Read this yesterday and got concerned that my collection of books on CD might not work. Lo and behold, they don’t. Technology is great excdept when it isn’t.


Like this new format, Dick. Very readable and a great help to me, as I am partially sighted.


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