CD-ROM Packaging

by Kelly S. Gregory and Andrew A. Blank of Univenture, Inc.


As CD-ROMs continue to proliferate at the current rate and DVD rises over the horizon, publishers are forced to take more time to plan and budget for the one element that many times is left last on the list of priorities --- PACKAGING. And, as if developing and publishing a CD-ROM are not complicated enough, a venture into the world of CD packaging can be quite an experience. Being aware of what is currently available as well as knowledgeable about what questions to ask can save a lot of time and frustrations later on. Describing each option in detail for those unfamiliar with them is beyond the scope of this article. Instead it is hoped that it will serve as a basis for getting more information.

CD-ROM Packaging Today

What are the current packages being used today? Interestingly, the answer to this question is only limited by your imagination. Just as the applications for CD-ROM are numerous, so are the packaging options available. When the CD-ROM format was first introduced, it only made sense for most publishers to follow the current "standard" used in the CD audio industry -- the hard plastic jewel box. But, as handling costs and sensitivity for the environment have become concerns, packaging companies have focused toward developing smarter, more ecological packages rather than a bigger, egocentric ones. In light of these developments, a whole host of products began to emerge. Publishers are now able to choose from a full range of options: from expensive, high end packages to very inexpensive, low end ones. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Typical methods used today are:

With the changing needs of CD-ROM publishers, this list will only continue to increase in length and variety. That fact alone has caused some concern for replicating and fulfillment facilities as this lack of a "standard" for packaging can be a logistical and laborious nightmare. To add to this, several different companies have rushed to declare that their own packages should be the standard for DVD. So far there has been no agreement. Although a single standard for CD-ROM or DVD packaging may never develop, there are certain elements for finding the right package that all publishers can consider.

Considerations for CD-ROM Publishers

Product Position and Distribution Channel

The first and foremost consideration is product positioning and the distribution channel you plan to market your CD-ROM through. There is a tremendous difference in what is needed to market and package your CD-ROM through a retail channel versus sending it directly to the end user. If your company markets through both channels, then quite possibly you will need to consider two separate packaging types. Your main objective for a good retail package should be simple: Get the customer to pick up the product and buy it. In a retail environment, your package is often the only way a consumer will know about your product. And, aside from content, your package is the way end users and distributors will view you.

With this in mind, it is most common to find a four color printed "game" box design sitting on a retail shelf. Your choices for packaging inside the box are many. Some game boxes are designed to hold a jewel box and manual, others are simply paperboard boxes to hold any combination -- manual, CD-ROM, floppy disk. One important issue to remember for retail packaging is protection. A well designed, properly made box will save you more time the long run and will avoid expensive setbacks. Also, it is crucial that you know the needs of your retailers: How are they displaying the product? On shelves, end caps, or slatwall? Do they prefer packages that adhere to SPA and/or VSDA guidelines? Many times the type of package you use is dictated by your retail channel. The best overall advice to offer for retail CD-ROM packaging is that if you do not have the expertise, try a reputable design firm or contact your disc replicator or packaging company for further help.

Publishers that market titles directly to end users or OEM have a variety of packages they can choose from. Some still opt for the retail box arrangement while many others are beginning to choose a less expensive route to get their product unscathed from point A to point B. Others are also designing their own creative packages using a combination of available resources; it all depends on their needs.

Single or Multiple Disc Set

Is your title going to be a single disc or multiple disc set? Answering that question can eliminate many of your choices, but simplify your process. If it is a single disc title, your options are many. However, by adding a graphic insert or booklet, many of the paper, Tyvek, or poly sleeves may be too basic. You will need something to accommodate both the disc and the graphics. If your title is a multiple disc set, a multi-disc jewel box still might not be the best option. In this case, you may want to consider a CD wallet or a binder/loose-leaf page style arrangement for added flexibility.

Within this same realm, your price to the customer is also a consideration -- is it a high-end or low-end product? A customer that spends hundreds or thousands of dollars on a title would expect to receive a lot more than a disc packaged in a baggy. On the other hand, an expensive, poorly designed package can sometimes be more cumbersome for storing and accessing a title than more simpler solutions.

End User Response and Needs

Other areas to consider are who really are your end users and what do they do with the disc once they receive it? Many publishers do not even think about this element until after they receive poor feedback from their customers. For some one-time only titles, most end users will store the CD-ROM right along with their other important titles in racks or other storage systems. Some may even throw away the package entirely and keep the disc in a disc caddy. Other end users may be inundated with subscription, demo, or other frequently updated discs. In this case, sufficient storage space becomes a problem, especially if they are sent in jewel boxes or other large packages. Being aware of your end users needs and having concern for their space limitations thus becomes an important foresight before deciding on your package. Providing your end users with unbreakable, space saving, and reusable packaging might be an ideal solution. If a manual or loose-leaf binder accompanies the disc, consider self adhesive sleeves to keep the disc and the manual together. Another alternative would be a loose-leaf page to store the discs right along with the printed material.

Quantity Run

A further consideration for publishers is the quantity of discs to be replicated. If you are doing a small beta test or one-off batch (less than 100 units), your best bet would be to consider a package that is a stocked item. Trying to create a custom printed or manufactured package in low quantities can be very costly and may not be worth the initial investment. Save these funds for later on when the disc has been test marketed and is ready for full market release.

Turnaround Time

Because packaging is many times low man on the totem pole of priorities, package planning and implementation can become a harried experience for many publishers. What ultimately happens to these poor planners is a budget overrun for rush service or late delivery. Thinking ahead and including packaging in your initial planning will save you a great deal of grief later on. A suggestion to help avoid these problems is to discuss turnaround times with your disc replicators and packaging suppliers. Many times these replicators and packaging companies can work together to coordinate efforts. If that is not possible, be sure to know your "drop dead" dates for your products and give your suppliers as much lead time as you can. There are many areas for setbacks when publishing a CD-ROM. Packaging can be an easy one to avoid with proper planning. By knowing what questions to ask your suppliers, you are one step a head of the game, and it will be the best time management technique you can use. It is also important to keep in mind that any alterations or design changes to stocked products are considered custom and require additional lead time. Most times, the simpler you can keep your package the better.

Future Packaging Trends

While it is difficult to speculate on the future trends for CD-ROM packaging, it is important to remember that packaging is tied to general trends, the discs themselves, and the type of market growth. The following are some of the more major trends, but should not be considered exhaustive.

Smaller Data

Technologies, such as DVD, that squeeze more pits on the disc could present a serious consideration. A scratch that can be easily overlooked with error correction on today's discs would wipeout at least twice as much data using new formats. The chances of recovery can lower dramatically. Packages that prevent data loss will come to the forefront. Others that might not provide enough protection from critical scratches and debris, such as paper sleeves, will begin to lose some of their appeal.

The Environment

As society in general has brought "Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle" into the mainstream, end users expect that packaging is produced in an environmentally responsible manner. While reusing packaging might not be viable, creating packaging that takes less space, uses less resources, and is recycled (or at least realistically recyclable) not only meets consumer demand, but has cost benefits as well. Packages that use a smaller space and consume fewer materials are often cheaper to produce, handle, and ship. This is sometimes at odds with marketing needs at retail which encourage using a larger package to attract attention and prevent theft. However new packages that strike a reasonable balance between environmental responsibility and marketing savvy are entering the arena all the time.

Future industry trends and legislation for packaging and the environment will be sure to have a big impact both in the United States and rest of the world. Already several countries severely limit the use of certain plastics. As with any business in foreign countries, know the regulations before you go into production.

More Discs, Less Space

As optical discs become the dominate media for video, music, and data and end users accumulate more and more titles, there will be a stronger interest in the package functioning as a storage medium. Publishers need to be aware of the cumulative impact of their packaging choices and also where the general industry is headed. One jewel box alone does not take much space, but multiply that by one hundred or even one thousand and the storage space needed is enormous. Other options, such as sleeves and binders, can house as many as 5 times the number of discs in the same space. With the lack of a single CD-ROM standard, space-saving packaging will be adapted from an accepted palette of options developed for this purpose.


As you can see, there are more than a few issues involved with packaging CD-ROMs. Although the process can be daunting, allowing enough time and finding the right people to guide you through the process can make all the difference in the world. We hope that this article has shed some light on where to begin.

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