Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Optical Media

I tried to find good information on sales volumes for optical media, especially the DVD-Rs and CD-Rs that people might use to make backup copies of computer files. I couldn’t find it. I don’t even know if total unit volumes are going up or down. However, the lack of solid market-level revenue information is a strong indication that, at least, revenue in this product niche is years past its peak, which may have occurred between 2006 and 2008. But prices have fallen drastically, so revenue would decline even if unit volumes or data volumes held steady.

Here, then, is a grab bag of anecdotal evidence about where optical storage is heading.

  • Two of the biggest chains selling DVD-Rs and CD-Rs, Staples and Best Buy, are giving these products less than half the shelf space of five years ago and have cut back on brand selection. This is in stores that have cut back on more product categories than not.
  • In general, DVD-R and CD-R are still easy formats to find. DVD+R is still around. Rewritable (RW) formats are specialized items now — you won’t necessarily find them in a store. BD (Blu-ray, with a higher storage capacity than DVD) use is growing but hasn’t caught on in a big way. Various multi-layer recordable DVD formats were talked about but never caught on.
  • Many people are finding cloud storage to be simpler than offline storage.
  • Many people are using backup systems based on hard disks.
  • Hard disk drives have become more reliable, so that many users don’t make backups at all anymore.
  • USB flash drives are less expensive and now have a much higher capacity than DVD-R, but are not as durable or reliable, and are easily misplaced.
  • Online file transfers by email and FTP can handle large data volumes more readily than before. When larger file deliveries must be sent by mail, sending a USB flash drive is more common than sending a stack of DVD-Rs. People also mail hard disk drives but the risk of loss or damage in transit is much higher.
  • Speeds of typical DVD drives haven’t increased, but hard disk speeds continue to increase.
  • Computer users generally have more and larger files to keep backups of.
  • Large corporations generally “lock down” desktop computers to prevent any use of optical drives (or flash drives, for that matter).
  • People may want to store sensitive files (the talk this week is about nude photos, but the same logic applies to product designs, contracts, etc.) offline to reduce the risk of data falling into the hands of curiosity-seekers and competitors online.
  • “Cold” data storage such as DVD-R is the most forgiving digital archive option: it is easier to recover data in the more distant future or in the event of catastrophic equipment failure.