Last updated : March 4th, 2014
After getting three packages this week with discs that were damaged during transportation because of bad packaging, even by experienced traders, I decided to write this guide to help everyone out there and stop throwing discs away.
If you're trading internationally or even within your own country, you'll often have to send discs without the plastic cases to reduce weight and thus save on shipping costs. Plastic jewel cases are easy to replace and you can get them for cheap almost anywhere, so it makes no sense to send them if you can safely send the discs without.
I'm not saying my method is the best there is out there, but it has never failed and the discs I send (and inserts!) usually arrive at the other end in the same condition they were when I packed them.
I will first list the things to avoid. Some people like to take shortcuts, whether it is to save time and/or money on shipping. While it may work sometimes, you're simply asking for trouble and eventually, something valuable you sent will arrive broken at the other end and you'll have to make up for it in some way.1. AVOID STACKING THE DISCS DIRECTLY ON EACH OTHER
This is a common mistake, and even experienced traders still do this. What is stacking?
I see this all the time. It usually makes no difference whether you put them in plastic wrap afterwards so they don't move or just let them loose inside your package - if they're directly touching each other, something bad will happen eventually, like the example below :
As you will see, it doesn't take much. I identified the damage in red. If you look closely at both pictures, you'll notice the same white pattern on BOTH sides of the disc. It is hard to clearly identify with a scanner or a camera, but the white in this case means you can see through the disc (the background portion of my scanner is white). If you can see through the disc, it means the audio layer (ie. the layer which holds the data of your disc, usually located closer to the logo side for an audio CD) is damaged and the CD will either skip or you will hear glitches when listening to it. In this example, this little spot generated 66 bad frames when tested with AccurateRip. These are worse than scratches on the playing side!
Why? They are not repairable. There are devices out there which can "repair" or "clean" scratches on audio discs. However, if the audio layer itself is scratched, there's nothing you can do. Those machines will remove the scratches from your disc but can't replace the audio data that was lost.
Why does it happen? I can't say for sure. I studied a bit of physics back in high school, but I'm into computers now. Your guess would probably be as good as mine. It probably has something to do with dust/sand/whatever that gets between the discs, or static build-up of some kind when the discs are pressured on each other. Discs that are silver on both sides and do not have an extra printed logo layer seem to be more vulnerable.
Now, I'm sure some of you are going to say that this is insane, that they buy CD-Rs in packs of 50 that are stacked on each other and that they are all perfect. Why would doing the same thing to send their own discs be wrong? Simple - those blank discs are bundled together in a dust-free, controlled environment. Unless you work in such a facility and pack your things there, there's no way you can achieve the same results.
Others will claim they always sent their discs like that, and no one complained. You've either been extremely lucky or the people you dealt with never really paid attention and considered the small glitches to be normal, as if they were listening to an old LP. The reality is, if you're collecting CDs instead of LPs, it's that you care about getting a disc that sounds exactly the same as when it was manufactured.
What is good practice then?
Use paper sleeves (individually, do not put two discs in the same or else you'll have the same problems!) or plastic sleeves (two-sided or not). If you can't find any, you can even use bathroom tissue to isolate the discs from each other. You can easily buy those sleeves online or at dollar stores for next to nothing. Here in Canada, I can buy a pack of 120 two-sided plastic sleeves (ie. good for 240 CDs) for 1.99$.
Now, some will say that this adds weight to the parcel. It is true - a paper sleeve like that is approximately 3 grams. The plastic sleeve is a bit lighter and can hold 2 CDs. Yes, on numerous occasions in the past, I've encountered situations where I could stay under the 250 grams limit by just stacking the discs on each other, or end up a little over 250 grams (and thus double my shipping costs) and use plastic/paper sleeves to properly protect them. What can you do in this case? Ask yourself if you really want to take the chance ... Let's say you simply stack them and that 2 of the discs arrive damaged at the other end. You'll have to give 2 discs to replace them, and pay shipping another time. What if it were rare CDs instead of common CDs? Always carefully protect your stuff.
Don't be afraid also to split your parcels in two if necessary. Here in Canada, sending a parcel up to 100 grams (usually 2 CDs without case) by air mail to Europe for instance is approximately 4.50$. Sending one from 101 grams to 250 grams (~3-7, or 8 with stacking) is approximately 9.50$. From 251 grams to 500 grams (8-16), it's roughly 19$. If I trade 8 CDs, I could probably be cheap and stack the discs on each other and stay under 250 grams. However, chances are something bad will occur. If I decide to use plastic sleeves and only send one parcel, and that the overall weight is 258 grams, those extra 8 grams will double my shipping costs. Do I risk stacking? No. I split my parcel in two - one with 6 or 7 CDs (9.50$) and one with 1-2 CDs (4.50$), for a total of 14$ instead of 19$. Yes, I'm paying an extra 4.50$ as opposed to stacking the discs, but at least the other trader will be satisfied and I won't have to replace a disc or two in the process.2. DO NOT PUT THE DISCS WITHIN THE BOOKLET OR DIRECTLY ON THE TRAY CARDS
This is another common mistake. Yes, you might not have the same issues as with stacking, but most of the time, you will have to deal with what we can call "disc imprint". I'd say 9 times out of 10, the shape of the disc will remain on the booklet afterwards, especially with thin booklets. Some people don't care, but believe me, a lot more do.Paper booklets are not cardboard sleeves!
I don't think more explanations are needed for this one.
Now, what should you do? Find a way to isolate the inserts from the discs. Most people will use a cardboard sheet slightly bigger than the size of the back cover. The inserts go on one side, the discs on the other.3. MAKE SURE NOTHING IS LOOSE INSIDE YOUR PACKAGE
This is another common mistake. I've received parcels where the other trader simply put the discs and inserts in a padded mailer, without using anything to hold them together and prevent them from moving. This is a recipe for disaster. Not only are you increasing the chances of the discs getting smashed to pieces, you're also opening the door to inserts getting damaged, torn or ripped. If you could follow your parcel from the day it leaves your hands to the day it is delivered, you'd be amazed at how little consideration is given to handling your stuff with care.
What should you do? Like what I mentioned before, if you use a cardboard sheet to isolate the discs from the inserts, you should then wrap everything using good old plastic wrap like the one you find at the grocery store (buy the cheapest, it doesn't have to be thick) and then cheap masking tape (any adhesive tape will do) on the edges to prevent movement.
I will add more pictures and a detailed description of my method within the next days, and will clean up the image size to make this more readable.