Building Enhanced eBooks for the iPad

Creating a beautiful resource for research, education, and pure enjoyment

During the late winter of 2017, Evelio Echevarria reached out to me with an amazing project: a mountaineering history of the high Andes in South America. Dr. Echevarria conducted his research over the course of an impressive 25 years and 90 trips to South America.

When I started to design the interior of the book, I immediately realized the technical challenges of distributing a printed book of this size—over 800 pages. The printed book was the size of a large phone book: 8.5″ X 11.5″ and almost 4″ thick! The size presented challenges in sales and shipping (similar to the problems of large academic textbooks). The printed book was both expensive to print and to ship. 

Near the end of the design process for the printed edition, I asked, “How will someone in South America or Europe or Asia acquire a copy of this book without paying a lot of money for shipping?”

One solution was to create an eBook. But not just any eBook would do. The Andes is a meticulously drafted history and reference book of mountaineering ascents in South America’s highest mountains. There are over 300 photos and illustrations (with captions), an appendix of over 3,000 first ascents, and a substantial index.

A traditional auto-flowing eBook that bounces images around and splits captions across screens would be a poor way to experience the beautiful images and history contained in the Andes.

Previously, I had created eBooks for the iPad using Apple’s proprietary process to build enhanced eBooks. What is an enhanced eBook? It is essentially an eBook that functions like an App. This means that the eBook can contain interactive features that take advantage of swipes and taps. Image captions can be opened and closed with the touch of a finger. Users can scroll through the images of a Visual Table of Contents, quickly finding the information they are looking for. The layout is also fixed, meaning that the designer does not have to worry about an image showing up in the wrong place or a paragraph having a poor column break. With the fixed layout, it is just like designing a print book. Further, the enhanced eBook offers an attractive user interface to search for keywords through the entire book—and this is important since many readers of this book will be doing research for climbs, articles, or even future books.

Using Apple’s iBooks Author app, I began creating the new eBook from scratch. As the layout process progressed, I soon realized that the enhanced eBook would offer more value to readers than the printed book. In particular, the eBook provided the following advantages:

  • Searchable text
  • Accessible for people with disabilities
  • Portable (It is a 900-page book)
  • Easy to navigate using the interactive Table of Contents
  • Retail price 70% cheaper than printed edition thanks to zero printing and shipping costs

For these reasons, I recommended that readers purchase the eBook edition over the printed edition (something I rarely do considering that I love printed books).

The process of designing the enhanced eBook took several weeks and came with a unique but manageable set of challenges, including tracking a large number of digital assets and creating a reliable workflow within the new software. Already, I had spent months designing the print book, and now I had to design the new eBook version from scratch. It was a significant task within the larger project of publishing the book.

Twice, I lost over 10 hours of design work thanks to auto-save bugs in the software. Twenty hours of labor wiped away in moments. That was tough.

These challenges aside, the process was rewarding and the finished product was worth the effort. Dr. Echevarria’s decades of hard work deserved a design format that would allow readers to find the inherent value in his words and images, rather than distract from them. Good design allows information to flow to the reader without speed bumps. The enhanced eBook delivered on this goal. In addition, we could set a retail price that was 1/3 the price of the printed version.

In addition to the screenshots posted, you can also view The Andes: The Complete History of Mountaineering in High South America on Apple iBooks:

Do you need help creating an enhanced eBook? Contact me to start that conversation.