One of the casualties of the London riots last week was a Sony distribution warehouse.
The building, owned by Sony DADC, was also the main HQ for the UK's biggest distributor of independent music, Pias. [More than 1.5m CDs destroyed in Sony warehouse fire]
Interestingly, Sony looked after the stock of more than 150 record labels at the warehouse. According to the BBC story quoted above "As well as CDs, the 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft) centre was used to store DVDs, Blu-ray discs and discs used for PlayStation Portable games."
It was depressing reading about the impact on the affected independent labels and artists and the music stores who depend on them (see, for example this NME blog entry and this Guardian article). Several support initiatives have been set up to work with the labels through this difficulty. I immediately thought about the heightened awareness about distribution, supply chain management and risk following the Japanese earthquakes earlier this year (see this NYT story for example).
One of the consequences of the arson is that some of the labels may not re-issue physical formats of the music. It will only be available to consumers online in digital format. See this note on the Buzzin' Fly label, for example:
09.08.11 Buzzin' Fly stock goes up in flames in warehouse fire during London riots London, 13h33 , temperature 21°, humidity 72%, clear. Virtually all Buzzin' Fly and Strange Feeling stock was destroyed in an arson attack on the Sony DADC warehouse in Enfield last night during the London riots. The warehouse contained all records distributed by our distributor, PIAS. Other labels are also badly hit. There are a handful of copies of some releases (and a full download catalogue) left on sale on the Buzzin' Fly online shop, but beyond that it is unlikely much of our stock will ever be repressed if at all. A huge slice of the label's history has been destroyed. [Buzzin' Fly Records]
A couple of things occurred to me. First, it is interesting to see the concentration that has occurred in the physical distribution chain and the vulnerability that caused for the indie labels. Second, I was struck again by how one of the benign consequences of the historic model is that preservation is a function of the physical distribution of materials. As national libraries and others look to maintaining a record of the cultural and scholarly environment in a digital world, the model has changed in ways that we don't yet have a very good perspective on. However, it made me realise that I knew little about how well, or not, libraries and other memory institutions (in this case, this seems an appropriate term) are prepared for the acquisition, management and preservation of digital music.