I heard my CDs will disintegrate after 20 or 30 years–is that true?

If compact discs self-destructed after twenty years, then the earliest discs should be vanishing in puffs of digital smoke right about now–which they’re not. But despite the early marketing claims of “perfect sound forever,” a few small batches are already unplayable–some defective late-’80s discs manufactured in the UK suffered from “CD rot,” where the top layer puckered and the contents oxidized. “Those things are pancakes, and in the end, they’re going to pop apart,” I was told by Ted Sheldon, chair of the Audio Engineering Society’s standards committee on preservation and restoration of audio. “It’s an open question as to when. I think most CDs, if kept inside and out of the sun, should last for fifty years. But I don’t know that–there hasn’t been enough accelerated life testing.” CD-Rs probably will have even shorter life spans, because the laser you burn them with at home is less powerful than commercial models. Of course, even if your CDs survive for decades, you’ll need to maintain the right equipment–what was the last time you tried to play a 78-rpm record?

(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)