First look: Orient Express History, an eBook app for the iPad
Author Arjan den Boer has created a brilliant book app for the iPad which explores the history of the world’s most famous train
There are those few authors and publishers who look at digital books a little bit differently than the legacy publishers who see eBooks simply as another distribution channel for selling their print books. These authors and publishers are who, I am convinced, we should keep our eye out for because they are doing the best work in digital publishing.
But those who seek to create great eBooks have several fundamental problems to try and solve. First, how to create a great eBook that can be read by as wide an audience as possible. One year ago, while at Adobe Max, each session on eBooks always ended with the same questions: does this solution allow for the creation of an eBook that can be read on a Kindle, or on an Android device. Adobe was touting its InDesign publishing solution to an audience that already understood InDesigns capabilities, but wanted to know answers to questions Adobe couldn’t address (it’s the main reason I chose not to attend this year, along with the fact that Adobe changed its PR team and now I never hear from them these days).
The other big problem the creative eBook creator must address is whether they will produce their work as an interactive eBook at all, or instead as a book app. The app format, after all, allows for far more creativity compared to the eBook creation tools which can be fairly limiting. iBooks Author, for instance, is currently in this no man’s land where one can create a truly interactive eBook for the iPad and Mac, but must produce something far less interesting for the iPhone (and until recently you could not produce anything for the iPhone at all).
Orient Express History by Arjan den Boer is a great example of what can be done when the author/publisher chooses to create their eBook as an app.
“This app was born out of personal fascination of its creator, Arjan den Boer, who delved into the subject for over 10 years and started his own collection of posters, brochures and photographs,” the app description states. “About half of the featured images come from his collection, the rest is from museums, archives, libraries and other collectors.”
For the making of this app I traveled the various routes of the Orient Express myself, with modern trains, to Milan and Budapest and Istanbul – Arjan den Boer
The app opens to the Menu page, call a Table of Contents if you like. The “chapters” start with a video and end with a video. There is also three navigational buttons at the top: one to return you to the Menu, another called Highlights, and then the About page. Sometimes the navigation can get a bit confusing, but eventually the reader will make it back to the Menu page.
“For the making of this app I traveled the various routes of the Orient Express myself, with modern trains, to Milan and Budapest and Istanbul… I also started collecting original photographs, brochures and posters of the Orient-Express. The highlight of my collection is a poster from 1888, the very first Orient-Express poster,” den Boer said in the opening video.
“I created this app mainly for myself, to compile all the knowledge and the material I have collected, actually making a kind of product out of it. At the same time, I think it will appeal to people interested in the history of luxury travel, the whole atmosphere of grand hotels and stations — but also to design enthusiasts, because the app showcases many beautiful posters and brochures, and railway station architecture as well.”
The chapters that are not strictly video files are laid out in layouts one might expect from an eBook created using iBooks Author, but rather than swiping to move from page to page, one scrolls down to continue reading. Swiping instead takes you to the next chapter.
This form of navigation has more in common with digital magazines than common eBooks.
Orient Express History is priced at $4.99 (€ 4,99 / £3.99) and is well worth checking out. Even if you are not interested in the history of the Orient Express, an author/publisher will want to see what someone exploring the book app format can accomplish. This is a very good example and an app I will be returning to often.
Its author has launched a new publishing effort called Traiecto, based in Utrecht, The Netherlands. I hope den Boer has more plans for similar projects.
Note: Below you’ll find a very short walk-through video to give you an idea of the navigation and general look of the book app.