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An Open Letter to the CD Industry

from Katherine Cochrane

After being sent yet another inaccurate and derogatory article about the "short life expectancy" of Compact Disc and other digital storage media, published this week in a leading business magazine (Business Week), I wrote this letter to the editors of that publication:

Letter To The Editor of Business Week

I have just read the article "From Digits to Dust" by Marcia Stepanek in your magazine. It is riddled with inaccuracies and misinformation. The statement that CDs are adversely affected by magnetic fields is simply untrue. Saying there are no standards for digital media durability is likewise false. I happen to be on the committee referred to (but not by name) in the article, the ANSI/PIMA IT9-5 subcommittee, who HAVE written standards for media longevity testing. If these particular standards have not yet been implemented in longevity testing, it's only because they are too new, and such tests are expensive and time-consuming to set up. The ANSI 9.21 standard was only recently accepted by the national standards organization, as can be seen in a press release available in my website at

The problems with this article are too numerous to address in one message. Please see a page in my site (available from a link on the home page) about an earlier article, published in the US News and World Report issue of 16 Feb 1998, in which Dr. John van Bogart of the National Media Lab, and Dr. Jerry McFaul of the SIGCAT Foundation refute its erroneous premises and conclusions (which are repeated in the article published in your magazine), and protest against the improper misuse and misconstruction of National Media Lab data made by the article.

Your magazine has done a serious disservice to the data storage industries, and to consumers who are misled by this inflammatory and inaccurate reporting.

Katherine Cochrane
The CD-Info Company

A Question For The Industry

My question to you all is, what is being done by our industry to counteract such flagrant attacks? Where is the press campaign? Where are the letters from major manufacturers? Why is this misinformation allowed to go unanswered? This article was faxed to me by someone who has a data archiving consultancy in New York. They are being hurt financially by erroneous attacks of this kind because their customers read them and believe them since there is nothing out there to contradict them. Owners of data hesitate to invest in archiving when so-called experts tell them their data will not be safe if they do. In this article, a disc publisher was quoted as saying that he didn't expect his discs to last more than 5 or 10 years. The reporter even claimed that there are no longevity testing standards, which is simply untrue, but who is going to inform her readers that this article is simply wrong?

After a similar article appeared in US News and World Report in February, Dr. John van Bogart of the National Media Labs contacted me and asked me to try to help counteract its damage. I posted a webpage in my site telling his story, with links to accurate information in the NML website. Several thousand people have read that now, but not, it seems, the reporter, Ms. Stepanek. I also called Jerry McFaul at the SIGCAT Foundation after reading the first article, and quoted his reaction to it in my webpage. He called me today about the Business Week article. "Where is OSTA?" he asked me. Where is the industry reaction to these blatant and damaging attacks? SIGCAT and my company are private entities, neither of which have the resources to take on the task of countering this misinformation unassisted. Our organizations are willing to do something, but we can't do it alone, and we shouldn't have to. When is the industry going to put some resources into a serious, effective publicity campaign to both reassure consumers, and educate them about the true nature of optical digital storage? When will longevity tests be performed and the data released openly, so we can have some credibility for our claims that CDs are a viable archiving medium?

If the manufacturers and application developers and others knowledgable about digital media are not willing to stand up for this technology and its users, who will? Are we going to let the know-nothings destroy our industry, simply for lack of the will to fight back?

Do Something

Write or call me or Jerry McFaul. Meet with us during the SIGCAT conference in three weeks, or at RepliTech in San Francisco in June. Write letters to the editors of the magazines who publish misinformative articles. Call or email your friends in the press and give them good information. Urge your company to participate in longevity testing and publish the results, and to support standards committees. Let's do something effective to answer this threat.