Will it play other disks or just not the one that was already in the transport? Also, do you leave your CD player powered up all the time or turn it on for each use?
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I think its all going to depend on what kind of transport the unit has. I can't see the problem being anything else. It sounds like the laser may be dirty, as you suspect, or possibly something to do with the tray itself. Given the fact that you sometimes get the disc to play after you move it in the tray. I don't know what player you have, but I think it would be a pretty safe bet to try and locate a new transport. If you are not afraid to open the unit up, its probably a part that you can easily replace yourself.
Sometimes there is a capacitor in the power supply that directly feeds the laser diode ... when that capacitor begins to fail it will intermittently not hold/store the charge and keeps the laser from powering up ... eventually it will fail completely and the laser will not power up at all
Just another possibility to check out