The changing face of CD packaging

And to continue the subject of music…


It’s probably not the most fascinating of subjects to most people but something caught my eye as I was contemplating my CD collection recently. I was sizing them up for new storage. This never used to be a problem because I hardly owned any music, but in the last couple of years I have collected rather a lot. During this operation I realised I might have a bit of a problem getting storage because standard CD racks are designed for one format of CD case and I had several different types. And that was when it hit me.


There has been a change in the packaging of CD’s in the last couple of years, from hard plastic cases with the sleeve notes fitting in between four tabs to form the cover image.

Album's from the early 00's

Now most of my CD’s come with cardboard sleeves, the discs fitting in slim plastic bases, the cover image printed on the sleeve and the notes printed either on pages of the CD ‘book’ or as a separate insert.

Newer albums
Newer albums

DSC_0020 DSC_0021

Looking through my collection I realised that I did have some albums produced in the early to mid- 00’s that had a similar format, but they were special editions with extra artwork, for example.

Special editions
Special editions

I thought maybe it was just one record company that was producing the albums like this, or perhaps it’s just how they are produced in one country (in this case Finland) but then I thought about it, and the most recent albums I have are all from different record companies and by bands from different countries.

Halestorm and Sacred Mother Tongue: continuing the trend.
Halestorm and Sacred Mother Tongue: continuing the trend.

Different again is the most recently released (if not the most recently purchased) album that I own. HIM’s ‘Tears on Tape’ has a ‘book’ format similar to some of their earlier special editions but the standard CD case size, and the disc is in a folder on the back cover.

Different again
Different again


Why has this change happened?

I can think of several reasons, some to do with the limitations of the hard plastic cases and others that are environmental and economic.

The hard plastic cases are uniform, therefore are easy to store and interchangeable. They also offered some protection the discs. Unfortunately the plastic breaks easily, especially the tabs that keep the sleeve notes in place and the placement for the disc itself. Discs fall out easily and can get scratched once these bits break.

The polymer used for the cases is produced from oil, ultimately, and as oil becomes scarce the price of plastics, once a cheap throw-away material, will increase. The use of all-plastic cases would become uneconomical. Paper and card have the benefit of being recyclable, renewable and can be customised easily. There is no new technology needed to produce the different format of CD case, and it is potentially cheaper in the long run.

Environmental reasons maybe a consideration, but I suspect that economics has a greater influence on record companies. According to a survey of its readers by Kerrang! magazine earlier this year, most people consume music in a digital format – downloading MP3’s and streaming. CD’s have decreased in popularity and vinyl has increased slightly. The new CD case format is very similar to vinyl sleeves (except a lot smaller). Since people are only buying CD’s occasionally, in order to maximise profits and decrease costs, they should be made as attractive as possible at the cheapest possible price. Card has that advantage over plastic with the added bonus that it doesn’t break as easily. The discs are just as well protected by the addition of a small plastic tray to keep them in place and stiff outer covers.

Raiding for data

I planned to do a quick survey of amazon’s CD shop, to have a look at recent releases in a variety of genres and their cases (yes, okay, I have too much free time on my hands – and a temporary internet connection thanks to my sister needing a dog sitter – stop laughing at me). Unfortunately amazon isn’t very helpful when it comes to this sort of stuff. Drat. I wanted to do a bit of statistics.

Any opinions, anyone? What have you found when buying music, and which do you prefer? Old hard plastic cases, or the ‘new’ cardboard ones reminiscent of vinyl sleeves?


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