Compact disks, which hold more than an hour's worth of music, are the latest rage among audiophiles. And the 4.72-inch disks may soon become the rage among businesses as well.Observers, noting the CD's ability to accurately house an astonishing amount of data and to spit it out quickly on demand, see the CDROM (Compact Disk, Read Only Memory) industry growing to over a billion dollars by 1990, largely from the business arena.

CDROM is a system in which the disk "reader," using the same laser optics that decipher digitally encoded music, and an electronic signal processor are hooked up to a desktop computer to gain random access to some 600 megabytes of data. That's equivalent to finding a given sentence from among 1,200 to 1,500 floppy diskettes, or, to put it in tangible if unlikely perspective, from a 150-year subscription to INC.

One of the first large reference works to be put into CDROM is Grolier's Academic American Encyclopedia, perhaps not a must for most companies. But any merchant could find prospective use for the service manuals, extracts of trade publications, government regulations, and similarly tortuous listings that will be popping up on CDROM far more cheaply and portably than the printed page. The retail price of the Grolier disk, for example, is $199 -- a good $250 less than the 21-volume bound set.

So far, most of the readers, which are units much like a CD music player, have been coming from overseas, with prices ranging from $900 to $2,400. But a handful of domestic, small high-technology specialty companies are gearing up. And at least one large U.S. company, Digital Equipment Corp., has jumped vertically into the CDROM business market with its own line of hardware and databases.

That's a bare beginning. "CDROM is the first revolution in publishing since Gutenberg," proclaims Philips Subsystems and Peripherals, a major disk-player player. Indeed, all sorts of massive data-bases on CD are up for grabs -- Yellow Pages for the entire country, for example.As disk-replication costs and turn-around times inevitably decrease, businesses will be disseminating internal data from their own master disks -- weekly spreadsheets, for instance, that paint a consolidated picture of operations and projections. Before long, a traveling salesperson's sample case may consist only of a compact disk.