Why are digipaks so popular?


Whenever I see a release will be in digipak format, I have mixed emotions. The digipak shows more of the art and does not have the spine of the CD case to break up the panels between front and back. It is more like the envelope in which vinyl records are packaged and arguably more attractive. But it also has a fatal flaw: it degrades rapidly, often randomly, and unlike the rigid CD case does a poor job of protecting the relatively fragile CD.

Records, while also fragile, have an advantage in that they are larger and so are harder to destroy and less likely to be combined with other items and crushed. What all of us love about records is the large format front and back covers which allow more visibility to the album art as if it were a two-panel painting. But this size of art will never exist on a CD because it is a quarter the size of a vinyl record, so it seems a bit silly to package CDs in a fragile format so that we can see the same small-size art. Perhaps by now the CD audience is accustomed to seeing smaller art, and will download a bigger scan if they need one, or buy the vinyl instead.

Among my years with the digipak format, I have seen multiple CDs become loosed by the failure of the CD tray to remain glued to the back wall of the paper foldout. Multiple times the spines have compressed or collapsed, leading to the abrasion of the artwork that is putatively the value in the digipak over a nice, sturdy and reliable plastic CD case. Trying to pack them together on a shelf, owing to the disuniformity of the format because of its multiple options for booklets and pockets, causes total chaos which inevitably results in digipaks slipping like North Sea sardines from among the mess onto the floor.

This blog post is not a persuasive writing. It does not seek to convince you of a point of view; it raises a few questions and then departs. Those questions might be: What is it that we like about digipaks, especially artists and labels but not (generally) fans and collectors? What are the downsides? Do those benefits outweigh the downsides, and what are the risks of the downsides occurring in the life of the average metal fan? Not all questions need answers but many produce answering response in us as we read them, which I hope has happened here.

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16 thoughts on “Why are digipaks so popular?”

  1. Killian says:

    I’ve found the quality of digipaks varies pretty wildly. I think the nicest ones I own are well-made six-panel ones, but I only have a couple of those. The standard four-panel ones can be fine if the quality is good, but that’s often not the case. Most of the time I hate the sleeve variant, but I have a few of those that look like miniature LPs which are a fun novelty. The digipak seems to be partly a marketing tool for labels- gotta have that “deluxe version” that comes in different packaging and has a bonus track, etc.

    Personally I think the “digibook” is much cooler. I have a few Darkthrone reissues that come in those and they feel much sturdier and look nicer. It’s also what the packaging of the In the Nightside Eclipse reissue from this year is. I would guess they’re more expensive to manufacture, though.

    I would probably buy more LPs if the shipping was cheaper to here in Canada, but CDs are my preferred format for now.

    1. Susa says:

      The Digibook format for CDs is nice for sure. It shouldn’t be transferred to vinyls though, as has been done with the current Blaspherian EP. Looks terrible and is horribly impractical.

      Concerning the sleeve variant: endowing a jewel case with a sleeve adorned with some “alternative artwork” can be sweet but isn’t really what I consider a digipak.
      A type that’s rarely used by metal labels and bands is the type that is literally a square envelope made of heavy paper and is smaller than a jewel case. Provides some different opportunities aesthetically, but doesn’t hold place for a booklet which I think is a deal breaker for most that have to decide on a format to publish their art on.

  2. Susa says:

    During the relatively short time that I’ve been a metal enthusiast and purchasing CDs accordingly I’ve not yet experienced failure of a digipak beyond tear on the outer edge of the sleeve that’s supposed to hold the booklet. This always occurred on the way to me or during packaging though, not while it was in my possession and the likelihood of damage occurring to a pristine digipak in my possession is about as high as for a standard jewel case: extremely low. [Dishonourable mention: Willowtip. They somehow manage to get every part of a jewel case I order completely smashed on the way.]
    A (possibly questionable) upside to digipaks in my eyes is that they seem to require less plastic to make than jewel cases which I deem a positive attribute. Should the CD tray on a digipak fail to stay connected to the paper it seems rather easy to glue it back to the paper. Should the tray itself break though there’s no way to repair it, while with a jewel case it can easily be replaced. With digipaks there’s no such way to replace a part: all or nothing seems to be the motto.
    As an aspiring artist the marginally larger space available for artwork does not pose a substantially convincing argument for digipaks as the available space for artwork is not much larger than on a jewel cases, the slightly more continuous space however is intriguing. The use of heavy paper/carton is also compelling for reasons stated above.
    My view on vinyls is similar to that on cassettes: bretty kuld and unnecessarily pushed especially by smaller labels, but I question the reliability/durability of analogue records (perhaps just as unjustified as my hope for digipaks to be slightly less environmentally damaging than jewel cases) based on my experience with cassettes. The larger size of the sleeve is undoubtedly a plus though, provided the album art is good and detailed enough; on its own it’s often just not convincing enough to make me buy the vinyl without some, aesthetically pleasing while practical, sort of backup beyond a download code for dropbox and the files copied to a blank CD in a clear case.

  3. first aids kit says:

    Thoughts on cassette tapes? Is it true that the tape format is superior to vinyl, or rather a miniature version? Do bands lose money on these? Is the constant stream of re-pressings a symptom of larger metal disorder???

  4. richard roma says:

    I dislike digipaks because when a jewel case CD gets broken, you can buy a new jewel case. With a digipak, you’re fucked.

  5. PPK says:

    I’m sure they are cheaper to manufacture. Personally I think they are crap due to their fragility and the terrible job they do in protecting the CD.

  6. Richard Head says:

    Digipaks, eh? Benefits; lighter weight, marginally more space for artwork, environmentally friendly *drives off in Prius while giving a thumbs-up out the window and saying “Thaaaaanks”*. Drawbacks: Negligible protection of the CD (much more vulnerable to fluid spills, bending, etc,, edges start to look like shit after about a month of regular use, trays often come unglued or the center clips break, totally negating its purpose as a case for your CD.

    Pretty sure they are just cheaper to manufacture than jewel cases, so labels that are looking to save a handful of extra cash for their artists have been using them a lot recently. That is to say; they are cheap, and as you might expect, a cheap product does a shitty job where a more expensive product ought to perform at least satisfactor…ily. Tl;dr fuck digipaks.

  7. BB says:

    When handled & stored with care, all the disadvantages of digipacks are non-issues. Handling and storing stuff with care shouldn’t be a problem for most adults.

    Obviously, they look better.

    1. Richard Head says:

      Have you ever moved from one house to another? I have, well over a dozen times, and the biggest problem is always moving my books and CDs. I’ve only lost CDs in digipaks. Jewel cases have broken but I have about 35 spare cases sitting around so that’s no problem; meanwhile, the discs were fine. I’ve also had discs slip out of their digipaks and get terminally scuffed. Fortunately they were not well-loved albums but it’s still frustrating.

      It’s not a matter of treating your belongings like a responsible adult, but a matter of dealing with shit quality products. I do see how their fragility is less of an issue if you don’t have to move them or count on the cases to protect your discs, but for everyone missing that luxury, jewel cases win every time. Besides, you can always remove the booklet from the case, unfold it and examine the art to your heart’s content. I’ve even had booklets that unfolded into full-size wall posters, which is damn cool.

      1. Count Ringworm says:

        I don’t see how digi packs are shit-quality products. Not even jewel cases are designed to ‘protect’ the album. They wouldn’t be made of cheap, brittle plastic.

        Buy an album, rip it in a lossless format and store said album in a cool, dry place right next to the Ambien. Invest in a large sturdy hard shell CD case for travel.

        I’m anal about my albums so each is neatly ensconced in a clear plastic outer sleeve; both vinyl and CD. Relatively cheap investment and very effective.

      2. BB says:

        I have moved 4 times, and I have always packed my books and cds like a responsible adult, and none of the shit you described has happened. I have 3000+ cds, of which a considerable amount are digipacks.

        But granted, 2 or 3 of the digipacks I own have lost some of their cd-holder-teeth when I was drunk or careless and they fell to the floor. But since most of the time the plastic of digipacks is less brittle than that of jewel cases, they survive falls from modest heights, like a table.

  8. Smoking_Gnu says:

    I have no problem with digipack CD-protection because I normally take my CD out of the case right away and put it in my cd binder, then store the digipack/case/etc on my CD rack.

    1. Richard Head says:

      My CD binder is full of burned discs most of the time. If I travel anywhere I always take them, rather than risk losing/breaking an original disc that I paid for. It’s a fairly common thing in my area to have your car robbed of stereo/CDs (probably less now than 10 years ago, but still enough to take into consideration).

  9. Count Ringworm says:

    They are superior to jewel cases if only because they don’t rely on flimsy plastic nub hinges to make the product function. Those fuckers always seem to break eventually.

    But like another poster, I use CD binders for organizing and the packaging just ends up on the shelf.

  10. hiarctow says:

    Honestly I’ve never experienced the problems with a digipak that are described here. Granted, the cover can get scuffed, but store it well and it’ll be fine.

    For some reason though I’ve loads of shattered jewel-cases – with the teeth in the disc panel squashed and discs that scuff as a consequence. Compare that to my digipaks, which are more or less fine.

    The main reason for me why to choose digipak is purely tactile – it ‘feels’ more like a complete package, less throwaway than a jewel-case.

    Worth saying that these days I mostly rip CDS and listen to them from the computer. Tired of having classic albums scratch/wear out. Buy the disc to support the artist and have the artefact, use it over the mp3/flac only occasionally.

  11. richard roma says:

    I try to avoid Digipaks on general principle, but when it’s necessary to buy them (Burzum) I store them in plastic slipcases.

    They’re actually *more* expensive to produce than traditional jewel cases(can you believe that?); when our band was looking at packaging options they were more expensive at least.

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