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A few months ago I wrote an article titled “Usual Suspects Absent From the iPad Revolution” for Blackweb20.com.  The story questioned why no African American media organization had created an Apple or Android app for their audience.  It was well received, and sparked quite a bit of dialogue around the web, from the comments on the article and corresponding tweets to similar articles on sites like AOL Black Voices.

The range of opinion included everything from app development being cost prohibitive for AA organizations and an overall lack of leadership around moving to new platforms, to questioning whether Apple was doing enough to support the AA community and its publications.   Eventually, the chatter became loud enough to be heard by Black Enterprise Editor in Chief Alfred Edmonds Jr., who soon posted to the thread, “Thanks for this post, and all of the comments. Just wanted you to know we’re paying attention”  — that was four months ago.

One month ago Edmonds posted the following comment:

As a major fan of Black Web 2.0, I just love the discussions–and the passion that drives them–of the present, future and fate of black-owned media, both in its traditional forms and on new and yet-to-be introduced delivery platforms. As an executive of one of the companies often discussed on this site, Black Enterprise, I find the discussion to enlightening, thought-provoking, and most importantly, a straight-no-chaser gut check. Sometimes, what is said hurts, but it’s so clear that it’s done out of love. So, let me say to the author of this and all of those in this discussion: THANK YOU for holding us to a high standard and pushing us to higher ones.

Finally, I just wanted to let you know we expect to introduce the Black Enterprise iPad app soon–VERY soon–as in check the August 2010 40th Anniversary issue of Black Enterprise Magazine for details. Some may feel that introducing an app several months after the debut of the platform it was designed for constitutes foot-dragging. On the other hand, the first one through the door usually gets shot. Many of the first magazine iPad apps have been disappointing, and we’ve tried to take into consideration market feedback to those efforts to create an app that we hope is worth the wait. Anyway, we anxiously await your assessment once our app is available. I know that whatever we present, we’ll be able to count on you to push us to make it better.

-Alfred Edmond Jr.. Editor-in-Chief of BlackEnterprise.com

While it was unusual to get such a public response from traditional media, it was definitely refreshing to see them take a new media approach in speaking directly to the audience.  And on August 19th Edmonds and BE made good on their pledge to create an app that was “worth the wait” when they released Black Enterprise Wealth For Life for the iPad.

The app, created in partnership with f2f 6Sixty Digital, is a quality reproduction of the magazine, down to the color-coded navigation, designed to exploit the power of the iPad and enhance the BE reader’s experience.  It was a pleasant surprise to see that BE didn’t just patch together PDFs of the magazine, but instead made entirely new pages that actually change with horizontal and vertical page orientations.  While other magazine apps use exaggerated motion graphics and video to make titles more competitive with TV experiences rather than magazines, BE uses their app to make the magazine a more valuable tool to small business owners who rely on BE content.

Each person that reads the magazine through the app has the opportunity to create a Reader Account, which is basically a user profile that exists solely within the app.  A Reader Account can sign into Facebook and Twitter to share stories, or bookmark and leave notes on articles, all while not exposing the info to any other Reader Accounts.  In fact, a Reader Account is necessary to take advantage of any of the apps interactive features like sharing and bookmarking.  Although BE hasn’t released any statements saying so, it wouldn’t be outrageous to assume that some metrics can be taken from each Account, giving BE & its advertisers an accurate picture of who likes or shares certain articles – even more if they begin asking to access user location.

There are other great features too, like the ability to literally browse the entire magazine by media type (text, photo or video), and the possibility of live discussions around streaming videos through the BE Live feature, though this doesn’t appear to have launched yet.

Strategically, the release is perfectly timed.  The August issue marks BE’s 40th anniversary, and the app gives users the July & August issues for free. Future issues will need to be purchased from within the app, though it may be possible that BE follows Time Inc. and makes these issues free for current print subscribers in the near future.  The latter would be wise, as the possibilities of BE Live alone are a reason for the magazine to want to grow this niche community quickly.

With less than two weeks on the market, this app hasn’t received much feedback, though there are a number of congratulatory tweets.  The App Store is currently showing an average rating of three and a half stars, out of 13 ratings.  Two of the only three comments mention that the app was extraordinarily slow to download, though I haven’t experienced that personally.

BE has proven itself a leader in the AA space by being the first publication targeted at the AA audience to launch an app, and a contender amongst small business publications by introducing innovative features like the Reader Accounts and BE Live.  However, only time will tell if the Black Enterprise Wealth For Life app will bolster the publication’s digital strategy.

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Ken Gibbs is an entertainment, culture and tech writer, who consults personalities and brands on digital strategies for new and emerging platforms. Keep up with Ken Gibbs on Twitter, @Kengibbsjr and visit his website http://kengibbsjr.com/.

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