Cost of storage

People bring up the cost of storage.
Storage is free, ok?

A CD-quality album is about 3/4 GB, high res is a bit more, and DSD albums are typically 2 GB each; I’ll make it 1 GB per album, on average. Amazon sells a 3 TB drive for $90, so that’s 3 cents per album.

What does it cost to store jewel cases? An IKEA Billy bookcase is $80, it is 31.5" (80 cm) wide, internal dimensions about 77 cm, a jewelcase is about 1 cm, six shelves, so 462 albums. But it uses floor space, 2.5 square feet, in Seattle where I live the median house price is $447 per square foot (Zillow), so the total storage cost for 462 jewelcases is $80 + 2.5 * $447 = $1,197, or $2.60 per album.

Throw away those expensive jewelcases and use the savings to buy more downloads!


I like to keep a few shelves of jewel cases for old times’ sake. Plus it gives something for visitors to thumb though.

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Not to mention convenience, and awesome DSP options for computer files.

In the context of that other DSD ISO thread you are correct that digital storage is quite cheap these days so that it’s irrelevant whether you keep an additional digital copy around.

However, I can’t quite agree with a direct storage price comparison and the “forget those jewel cases and go all digital” argument. Storage cost is one aspect, but CDs are ofter cheaper than downloads. Just these days I noticed a 4 CD set that is sold for about €15 physical in many online/high street stores. For the lossy MP3 download, Amazon is asking twice that much already. If I’m not fine with lossy files for twice the price and want CD quality, I have to spend €50 on a download from Qobuz, and it’s still CD quality then, not high res. Makes the $2.57 difference in storage cost from your comparison look quite irrelevant.

Then there are things that are (for me) just priceless. Record companies still don’t manage to provide booklets with most downloads in the year 2017. I’m slowly losing hope they ever will figure out how to do that. Now booklets may range from garbage (just inlet with song list) to excellent, but there are some really great ones out there, with more than just pictures, lyrics and credits. The very best ones give me a better understanding of and appreciation for the music. With a digital download, I’d be missing out on this. Less experience for more money.

I would love to buy more downloads, but I really want every bit of the physical release (= booklets), and I would also like to see more high res so that the higher price for intangible digital files compared to physical media can somewhat be justified. And even if disk space is cheap, I’d appreciate those high res files in a smaller format that contain all of the music without the junk - in other words, please give me the choice to buy my downloads in MQA (unfortunately, it looks like MQA will remain a streaming-only format).

Until then, every music purchase is a case-by-case decision for me, considering various factors, and it’s still a lot of physical discs. For now.

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I still buy CDs when the price is right or when the album isn’t available as a lossless download. But then I rip the CD and put it away (likely never to be seen nor used again). The CD, jewelcase and tiny-print booklet is worthless to these old eyes. The information provided by Roon is what I find of great value. For albums where that info is not available via Roon, I can usually find that info online somewhere and if it’s available in a PDF, I’ll then download it and put it in the same directory as the ripped music thus making it available through Roon.

Yes, I still love vinyl, keep about 300+ albums accessible and play them occasionally. But I’m fine if I never spin a CD again.

In another thread it was pointed out that storage is not really free. I wrote:

Of course it’s not free. That’s a phrase we use (“we” in the tech industry) not just to indicate that something has become cheaper under Moore’s law, but that it has become so cheap that other considerations predominate. Let me illustrate.

I showed that storing an album on hard disk costs a few cents, while storing the jewel case costs a few dollars (the book case, floor space). And then you have the cost of ripping it, plus editing the metadata. This may take ten minutes if you’re good, half an hour or more if things are not so efficient. How do you value your time? There is all this talk in the U.S. about how minimum wage should be $15/hour; at the other end the threshold for being in the top 1% in the U.S. is $400,000 per year, if you work 2,000 hours per year to earn that, it’s $200/hour. Ten minutes at minimum wage is $1, half an hour for a one-percenter is $100, $10 might be a reasonable estimate.

So if disk space costs cents, jewel case storage costs dollars, and labor costs tens of dollars – yeah, the disk space is “free” within the boundaries of that process. It is roundoff.

Yes, disk space must be managed and protected against failure. Replicating to another disk is a good idea, maybe in a NAS – but you need to do that in any case since you do have some data, on the margin the extra cost is just the additional cents for that disk space. Replicating to the cloud is also a good idea, on the margin this will cost anywhere from zero to cents. There is some labor involved in managing these backups, but you have to do that anyway, on the margin the extra album doesn’t add anything. Minimal cost “on the margin” is the essence of scalable technologies: there is a cost and effort to set things up and learn to manage it, but once that is done the cost is not proportional to the number of bytes.

So that’s the reasoning: “storage is free” means on the margin, the incremental cost of storing one album is insignificant, orders of magnitude smaller than other costs. The statement is not just hyperbole, it is a meaningful statement of a sound financial analysis.


I buy CD’s but only from Artists I see or host live or support with crowdfunding. Also from Charity shops but even here I won’t buy ‘Run of the mill’ music. It would have to be special and I find less and less nowadays. Streaming is the future for the younger generation and a lot of us more senior types too IMHO.
I scan my personalised back and from covers in Roon and PDF anything else. I also put photos from the gigs too.
The world has changed… Chris