Fire Destroys U.K. Record Distribution Center, Millions Of CDs Lost

Firefighters battle the blaze at the Sony distribution center in London.

Firefighters battle the blaze at the Sony distribution center in London. Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

A fire that broke out late Monday night in Northern London has turned one of the U.K.'s biggest stockpiles of independent music to ash, according to an official statement from the warehouse's owner, Sony DADC.

"We can confirm that the Sony DADC U.K. Distribution Centre in Enfield, U.K. has been damaged by a fire which was reported shortly before midnight, 8th August. There have been no injuries to employees," the statement reads. "The London Fire Brigade is at the scene and the fire is under control. Due to the current levels of smoke at the scene it is impossible for anyone to enter the site. We do not anticipate being able to get on site until at least midday tomorrow to assess the full scope of the damage."

The three-story, 215,000-square-foot warehouse served as storage space for PIAS (Play It Again Sam), a major distributor of independent music in the U.K.. The fire broke out in the midst of riots that have consumed the neighborhoods of northern London, though the cause of the fire has not yet been released.

PIAS distributes music for over 150 independent labels, though the number of CDs damaged or destroyed is not yet known. For many labels, the warehouse was distribution center for all of their U.K. stock.

"All of our stock was in that warehouse" says Alex Stevenson, who, along with BBC radio personality Gilles Peterson, manages Brownswood recordings, a U.K. label that distributes music worldwide. Stevenson anticipates losing just about everything. "Unless it's in a shop or in our offices, it was in that warehouse. PIAS did all of our distribution."

Stevenson says that for smaller labels, the fire will have devastating consequences.

"It's a pretty big blow," he says. "We had a lot of capital tied up in our stock, so for our cash flow, which is pretty important for any small label, it's going to be an issue," he says. Brownswood employs only six people.

A spokesperson for Beggars Group, which encompasses the labels 4AD, Rough Trade, XL Recordings and Matador and distributes recording by those labels in both the U.S. and the U.K., says that estimates put their physical losses at around 750,000 albums.

For many larger labels like Ninja Tune, stockpiles exist in other locations, so the fire might not have as big an impact as it would have on a company with all of its stock stored at DADC. Ninja Tune lost around 100,000 units, but according to Jamie Collinson, who is the head of international operations at Ninja Tune, the company will be okay.

"Were a large to middle sized indie label, and it might impact our profit margins, but I think well survive it," says Collinson. "A lot of the smaller labels probably haven't lost as much stock, but by the same token they might not be quite as well set up to deal with a financial loss like that. It will probably affect small labels more, and I'd be very sad to see any of them go out of business."

Collinson adds that he's unsure whether Ninja Tune's insurance will cover the damage. "Riot damage normally isn't insured," he says.

Alex Stevenson says that though digital sales are growing, independent music still puts a great deal of its value into hard copies.

"In general, because the music that we release isn't very mainstream, at least 60/40 if not 65/35 is in favor of physical releases," he says. "It's typical of independent labels. There's quite a strong ethos of making a good physical product. For the majors I'd say its pretty much all digital products now, unless they're making box sets."

He adds that it's likely that only the newest releases in Brownswood's catalog will be reprinted.

"There's going to be some back catalogue stuff that we've lost that we're not going to repress," Stevenson says. "It's going to depend on how healthy the bank account is looking, because it's obviously quite expensive to repress in bulk."

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