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The Demise of Low-Run CD Replication

CD duplication is quickly replacing replication for making not only a few, but now larger and larger runs of discs. In fact, CD duplication is becoming so reliable and attractive that low-run replication is now on the way to being doomed.

The Demise of Low-Run CD Replication

Hugh Bennett
EMedia Professional, August 1999

Although CDs have been with us for almost 20 years, there hasn’t been a simple and cost-effective way of copying a few hundred or even a thousand discs — until now. Traditional replication has remained largely the same — expensive, time-consuming, and complex. In the meantime, CD duplication has come along and is quickly replacing replication for making not only a few, but now larger and larger runs of discs. In fact, CD duplication is becoming so reliable and attractive that low-run replication is now on the way to being doomed.

The Growth of Low Run
As the CD market has matured, the demand for low-run CD copying has exploded. An important reason for this expansion is the software and audio industries move toward just-in-time delivery. Companies that once replicated and inventoried thousands of discs can significantly reduce overhead by producing only the amount necessary to fill current orders.

Also fueling the expanding need for low-run CD copying is the ever increasing installed base of CD recorders. There are now tens of millions of CD recorders in homes and offices around the world. Just as the laser printer drove the popularity of the photocopier, so is the CD recorder creating applications that require multiple copies to be made of the same disc.

However, despite the increase in the demand for low-run disc copying, most CD replicators are not interested in manufacturing small numbers of CDs and avoid runs of under 10,000 discs whenever possible. And those who will take these jobs only do so when they have down time between their large runs which often means weeks of delay for the customer.

Replication Versus Duplication
It’s not hard to understand why traditional CD replicators discourage low-run work. The process is by its very nature geared toward producing large numbers of the same disc, involving as it does, many complex and expensive steps including mastering, stamper creation, injection molding, metalizing, spin coating, and quality control all overseen by skilled workers in a clean factory environment. All this translates into high capital costs, slow turnaround time, and economies of scale requiring large runs to be profitable. Replication equipment is the wrong tool for low-run jobs, but as the old saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Contrast this with duplication. Essentially CD photocopying, duplication uses towers of chained CD recorders or autoloading systems to make as many copies of a master CD as are needed. System maintenance is low, capacity can be added incrementally, and turnaround time is measured in hours rather than in days or weeks.

The movement of low-run jobs from replication to duplication is merely a natural evolution of the market with the most obvious historical parallel being the printing business. The printing industry was transformed by photocopiers and laser printers. Low-run work quickly migrated away from printing presses to smaller-scale digital systems. As the new equipment improved, so the type and volume of their tasks increased.

The emergence of simple technology for cost-effective low-run printing spawned the “insta-print” business with local and chain shops providing new levels of convenience, economy, quick turnaround, and even self-service. CD duplication systems offer the same potential and promise for disc production. How long will it be before Kinko’s and the like add CD duplication to their other services?

Advancements and Impediments
In addition to universal read compatibility, and inexpensive media and hardware, several technological advances have made CD duplication viable for low-run duplication. One of the most important is high-speed writing. By enabling full 650MB disc to be copied in less than ten minutes, 8X has quickly displaced 4X technology and effectively doubled system throughput at only marginally extra cost. Even higher-speed 10X and 12X systems are under development although each will need to prove itself robust enough for production work.

Massively parallel CD duplication systems are also now possible with farms of manual-loading towers chained together for large-scale simultaneous duplication. In contrast to multimillion dollar investments made for replication equipment, these systems now costing less than $250,000 can copy an astonishing 1,800 to 4,000 discs per hour. And autoloading duplicators, while providing less throughput for the buck, free attendants from constantly loading and unloading systems.

Although CD duplication is making tremendous inroads into displacing replication for short-run work, potential obstacles remain. The most important of these is the degree to which the law is having difficulty keeping pace with technology. The growing influence of special interest groups lobbying lawmakers to legislate copyright tariffs and the focus of manufacturer organizations upon protecting replication while ignoring duplication are also ominous factors on the horizon.

There are also other more tangible concerns, including the lack of high-speed writing standards, the limited number of companies producing quality media, the necessity to use mass-market rather than industrial-grade recorders in the duplication systems, and the primitive state of low-run disc labeling. Concerns aside, CD duplication is quickly coming into its own and although low-run replication isn’t dead yet, its days are clearly numbered.

Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

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