We take a look at how New Order lost money on every copy they sold of their iconic single Blue Monday
A song with one of the most recognisable drumbeats in the history of music…
A deserved spot on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Best Songs of All Time…
38 weeks in the UK singles chart and a top 10 hit from the Netherlands to New Zealand…
The biggest selling 12” single of all time…
Why then did New Order supposedly lose money on every copy they sold of their iconic single Blue Monday?
Well, it all comes down to its elaborate 5¼” floppy disk inspired packaging by Factory Records’ designers Peter Saville and Brett Wickens.
A colour coded title strip (the accompanying album, Power Corruption And Lies,has a colour wheel on its back cover that can be used to translate it) and die cut holes on the sleeve didn’t come cheap and the legend goes, it ended up costing Factory Records more to produce than they recouped in each sale.
But how much truth is there in the rumour – propagated by the film 24 Hour Party People, which told the story of the label’s notorious boss Tony Wilson – and how much did they lose?
Wilson said at the time that Factory were losing 5p per copy sold, with no one expecting this to be an issue because they didn’t believe it would be a commercially successful record. And Matthew Robertson’s book Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album later noted that “due to the use of die-cutting and specified colours, the production cost of this sleeve was so high that the single sold at a loss.”
However, with Wilson’s reputation, as “a monstrous master of mixing fact and fiction to produce the truth of history” (Paul Morley, The Guardian, 2007), it’s been up to the band’s bassist Peter Hook to finally set the record straight (and actually paint a bleaker picture of Factory’s accounting).
“It’s absolutely true”, he said in an interview with NME. “Factory sold it for £1, and it cost £1.10 to make because of the sleeve – which had to have three die-cuts, all individually – the cost price to make it actually cost more than that…”
Later editions of the record replaced the die-cut areas with printed silver ink but based on Hook’s figures, the band would have paid £770,000 to make all those first run copies in 1983 and only recouped £700,000 back, losing them £70,000. Hook confirms this and that Wilson had brass awards made to celebrate hitting the 500,000 sales milestone but “what we were actually celebrating was a loss of £50,000. That could only happen at Factory!” Adding that,“They did rectify it later by having a normal sleeve, but that only came after a massive amount of copies had been sold. But that was the way Factory worked.”
It will come as little surprise that Factory was declared bankrupt on 22 November 1992 but, thirty years later, it’s still one of the most important labels of all time and in being so integral to defining a city and a cultural moment, it’s remained unparalleled – with an influence that’s felt as strongly now as back then.
It’s also firmly earned its place in the record label accounting history books. As well as being a True Royalty Story, it also tells a True Royalty Cautionary Tale. A lesson about the importance of budgeting and accounting – and having staff well trained in both of them – that Factory unfortunately learned the hard, and very expensive, way.