About 15 months ago, Route 66 News and other media outlets reported about M.E. Sprengelmeyer, a former reporter for the defunct Rocky Mountain News, and his purchase of the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa, N.M. Sprengelmeyer said he still had faith that print newspapers could survive, and staked his life’s savings on it.
A new article today by Editor & Publisher tells how tell he’s doing:
[H]e’s been successful with his 16-page weekly, increasing revenue some 75 percent over the previous year by staying local and relevant. […] Sprengelmeyer, who drives 99 miles weekly on a press run, said if he’s not back with the papers by 2 p.m. Thursdays, cross-armed customers are waiting for him. He doesn’t like to disappoint.
Editor & Publisher tells about how Sprengelmeyer planned a congratulatory extra edition the day the local high-school football team was playing in the state championship. Victory wasn’t guaranteed — Santa Rosa had a 7-4 record, and was facing an undefeated foe. Sprengelmeyer said he’d “eat” the extra cost — and embarrassment — if Santa Rosa lost.
“I called up one advertiser and said, ‘Look, I’m taking a gamble here. If we win, we both look great. If we don’t, we never had this conversation,'” Sprengelmeyer said. “I told him I’d eat the cost.”
In-house, the secret paper was known as the “Dewey Defeats Tularosa” edition, because if the Lions lost and the paper ended up on Facebook, they’d be as embarrassed as the Chicago Daily Tribune was when it wrongly printed “Dewey defeats Truman” in 1948.
Santa Rosa won, and Sprengelmeyer sold 2,000 copies of that extra edition at the game. Another 2,100 copies were sold at Santa Rosa. And in the subsequent editions after the game, the newspaper sold dozens more congratulatory ads.
“What did I risk?” he asked [about the extra edition]. “I risked $700. It was a coin flip. Anything you do that just creates excitement about the paper is critical.”
Not every publication needs to be global or universal, he said, adding that he is “disgusted” with newspaper corporations that think they must slash expenses and staff.
“If the revenues are suffering because people are questioning the relevance of your paper, invest to make it more relevant,” he said. “Do exciting things to make it more relevant. Do whatever you have to to make it more relevant. Or die.”
Sprengelmeyer refuses to “give away” his newspaper’s content on the Internet. If you want to read an article in the Guadalupe County Communicator, y0u have to buy a print copy. And we do.
The irony is the media outlet that reported on Sprengelmeyer’s story, Editor & Publisher, still posts its material for free on the Internet, and nearly ceased publication a year ago after years of declining revenues.