Oakbook, Web site emphasize upbeat side of oft-maligned city
By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER Until 2006, Oakland residents Alex Gronke and Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar were working at Red Herring, the Silicon Valley monthly, and trying to boost the magazine’s online presence. Around that time, Sharma-Sindhar went to a party in Fremont and mentioned to someone that she lived in Oakland.
Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar, left, and Alex Gronke at the publishers of the Oak Book, a guide to Oakland,
pose for a portrait atop their offices in Oakland, Calif.
The new acquaintance was horrified. “Why Oakland? Is it safe there?” she asked.
“I got really angry,” Sharma-Sindhar recalled in a recent interview, “and I started off on how cool Oakland was.”
The next day, while talking to her colleague Gronke, another Oakland enthusiast, they hit on the idea of launching a Web site about the pleasures of living in Oakland. They left Red Herring, and in 2006 they went live with a Web site —http://www.NovoMetro.com — to spread the word about Oakland. In December, they launched a printed magazine — called OakBook — to complement the online version.
The first issue of OakBook, the December/January 2008 edition, is a glossy presentation of local fashion, artists, sports, dining and clubs. Itis free, and the founders promise it will be widely distributed to cafes, restaurants and bookstores. Eventually, they will mail the periodical free to residents.
NovoMetro’s online’zine is still in its beta version, and its founders expect another version to be available later this month.
OakBook is expected to complement the Web site by expressing the founders’ goals: “We wanted to find another way to tell some of the interesting stories in Oakland and give people a new look that we enjoy life in Oakland,” Sharma-Sindhar said.
Gronke and Sharma-Sindhar are the only staff members. They financed the enterprise with their own money.
Have they maxed out their credit cards yet?
“Not yet. We have very supportive and loving spouses,” Sharma-Sindhar said.
“Who only occasionally wake up and say, ‘What are we doing?’” Gronke quipped.
The NovoMetro home page features stories by contributing writers about the community and artistic events, as well as links to news stories from nearby daily newspapers, such as the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. Links to 14 Oakland neighborhoods guide users to a map of the district they choose that indicates its retail, sports, schools, personalities and other features. They’re both very interested in Oakland education and have offered several articles on the subject.
These two entrepreneurs think Oakland residents don’t get enough news about their city. Neither do they think they are competing with Oakland Magazine, which emphasizes neighborhoods in the same fashion the newcomers are attempting.
“We know people who live in Oakland and don’t know there’s great stuff to do in Old Oakland,” Gronke said.
The enterprise is funded by advertising, and a year after launching their site, the founders say they’re breaking even and expect to be profitable this year. NovoMetro.com attracts 20,000 hits a month, a modest record, but Gronke says the hits have been growing 10percent monthly.
New mother Yoko Idate is delighted with NovoMetro.
“I don’t know any other Oakland
that is very useful for going anywhere local,” she said. “I have a 1-year-old baby, so I need constantly updated information.”
The NovoMetro operation is lean. The founders rely on a dozen or more contributing writers and hire an editor and art director on contract.
G. Pascal Zachary, a Stanford University lecturer in journalism and a former instructor of Gronke’s, said he hopes the enterprise will do well.
Zachary said NovoMetro is counting on its geographical appeal.
“Major cities, like Oakland, no longer have the amount of media coverage they used to,” Zachary said. “As more and more newspapers go online, you’re going to see more such experiments.”
Contact business writer Francine Brevetti at 510-208-6416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.