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The Digitisation Dilemma: Retain Or Dump Analogue Assets?

by Naresh Sarwan on October 5, 2010

Philip Spiegel writing on DAM Ideas proposes that we may now be coming to the stage where it is appropriate to no longer retain or preserve physical or analogue assets after they have been digitised:

I think the freedom from the physical video media and analog world that comes from the digitization  outweighs the insecurity that can come from not having the physical master.  And for context. I’ve lived in both worlds and have argued passionately in the past against the notion I am proposing now but I recognize that times change.  At this point, I would rather have the media as 1’s and 0’s contained, managed and supported within established IT backup and migration protocols than shelves of slowly decomposing videotape reliant on nearly obsolete machines.” [Read More]

One of the arguments frequently made against destroying original assets is that digital formats are often likely to decay faster than physical assets because of deterioration of the transfer medium (e.g. CD-ROMs) or the digital file format becoming obsolete and unsupported by current software.  However, these reasons are essentially modern manifestations of the original problem – that the storage media will always decay, irrespective of what it is.  From my experience, it tends to be rare to re-digitise from an original master once this has been done once (unless the fist solution was considered a failure), however, data migration is a consistent feature of nearly all DAM projects.

Perhaps what this discussion highlights more than anything is the need for a continuous Digital Asset Management and Digital Preservation strategy that recognises this as an ongoing issue and builds in regular reviews of the storage methods for preserved analogue assets to ensure they remain accessible.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Schmitz December 19, 2010 at 9:20 am
Greg Schmitz December 19, 2010 at 9:43 am

Personally, I’d make a snide comment when the issue is tossing analog originals that are still viable like, oh say maybe, “don’t bet your ass on high tech.” But Jared Diamond already said what I’m thinking about your suggestions in a much better way.

There is no basis for believing that technology will miraculously stop causing new and unanticipated problems while it is solving the problems that it previously produced.

Prof. Jared Diamond, UCLA
Harper’s Magazine, 2003 June

Naresh Sarwan December 19, 2010 at 12:18 pm


A lot of people have said the same thing, I think we covered the Rolling Stone article also here:


Naresh Sarwan December 19, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I would add also, I recently was involved in a consulting project with a client who had archived all their scanned pictures to CD-ROMs in the late nineties and most were unusable. They were very fortunate that they had retained hard disks with the files – or hundreds of thousands of images would have been lost permanently.

It seems that for digital storage, it’s advisable to keep two independent backups on different types of storage medium. This does diminish the ROI from a DAM or preservation initiative though.

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