How to convert e-book formats like a pro
Got a book in Amazon's AZW format and want to read it on your Barnes & Noble Nook? There's an app for that.
E-Books are growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. For Amazon, Kindle e-books alone now outsell hardback and paperback combined. Unfortunately, with more than two-dozen formats, it's not always easy to read the book you want on the device in your hand. Fortunately, there's an app for that: Calibre.
Calibre isn't the prettiest application on the avenue, but it's essential for anyone with a serious e-book library. Besides being able to convert just about any e-book format to another, Calibre enables you to manage your e-book library and to sync it with your e-book reader and tablet of choice. You can also use it to read books on your PC and you can set it up to let you read your e-books over the Internet.
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I also like that Calibre lets me keep my e-books on my PC and far away from any attempt by my e-reader vendor to modify or delete them. Sounds like science fiction? Think again. In 2009, Amazon removed copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from their owners' Kindles. This kind of thing will happen again so long as there are people who prefer censorship over freedom of speech. And I want my e-books away from their e-book burning hands.
It may not be pretty, but Calibre is the best e-book library and convert program around. (Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)
The open source Calibre program is available on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. The software requires minimal resources and you can use it on pretty much any PC. It also offers full support for the Amazon Kindle line, Barnes & Noble Nooks, the SONY PRS devices, the Kobo Reader, Android phones, and the iPhone/iPad.
What really makes Calibre a killer app is its ability to translate e-books from one device's preferred format to another. Calibre currently supports importing from the following formats: AZW, CBZ, CBR, CBC, CHM, DJVU, EPUB, FB2, HTML, HTMLZ, KF8, LIT, LRF, MOBI, ODT, PDF, PRC, PDB, PML, RB, RTF, SNB, TCR, TXT, and TXTZ. It can then output them to these formats: AZW3, EPUB, FB2, OEB, LIT, LRF, MOBI, HTMLZ, PDB, PML, RB, PDF, RTF, SNB, TCR, TXT, and TXTZ.
This won't always go perfectly. For starters, as any of you who've downloaded e-books from any of the smaller vendors know, some e-books aren't that well organized in the first place.
In addition, some formats translate badly. Adobe's PDF is the worst of the lot. To quote from the Calibre FAQ, "PDF is a really, really bad format to use as input. If you absolutely must use PDF, then be prepared for an output ranging anywhere from decent to unusable, depending on the input PDF." In my own experience, I've always been able to get readable text out of PDF e-books into my Kindle software and my Nook Tablet, but the formatting is often, well, whimsical is a good word for it.
How to load e-books into Calibre
When you want to add a book to your Calibre library you simply pick it out from its directory. (Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)
The basic process is simple. After you launch the program, simply click the "Add books" button in the top toolbar, make your way to your downloaded e-book and pick it and then Click the "open" button and the e-book will be added to the library.
That may be all you need to do, depending on the e-book's format and its metadata (the information about the book within the e-book such as a cover illustration.) If, however, the e-book's metadata is incorrect -- for example, the author's name may be in first name, last name order and you want the reverse or it's missing a cover illustration -- you can edit the book's metadata to meet your demands.
Once you have the book in the library, you can edit its metadata both by hand and by seeking information on it from the Web. (Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)
To edit metadata you select the book from the display and then hit the Edit Metadata button or click on a title and right click it to bring up editing options. This will bring up a display that will let you both edit the metadata manually and use the Web to pull up the appropriate information. For instance, I often download cover art for my older books that I scanned in myself.
In this case, rather than the text block cover for my old pulp Doc Savage book I've used the built-in Web cover finder tool to find an appropriate cover for my book. (Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)
Moving your books from Calibre to your e-reader
Calibre gives you several options on how to put books into your device. The easy way is to connect your e-reader to your PC with its USB wire. Then launch Calibre, pick the books you want to sync, and click the Send to Device icon.
You can also set up a Calibre e-book server using the connect/share icon. Once it's up and running you'll have a Web server running off your PC's IP address. To access it, use your e-reader or tablet's Web browser to navigate to its address, for example, http://192.168.1.2:8080. You'll need to log into the server. The e-book server's default user name is Calibre and there is no password. Once there, you simply pick the link for the book you want and in a few seconds you'll have it on your device. You can, if you set up your network and firewall just right, access your home e-book library from anywhere. Considering the security problems you'll be courting, you should only try this if you're already a network expert.
Converting e-books with Calibre
If you have an e-book in one format but you want to read it on an e-reader that doesn't support that format, Calibre is your program of choice. In my case, I often want to convert PDF books, which I've scanned in from my own library, or Amazon Kindle books, which come in a variety of AZW formats, to the next best thing to a universal e-book lingua franca: EPUB. This format also happens to be the native one for my own favorite e-reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet.
To make this happen, first you need to set up your default export format. To set the Preferred Output Format to EPUB, or any other format, go to the Preferences icon on the far right of the tool bar. Unless you have the program maximized on the screen, that icon may not appear. Once there, do Preferences -> Behavior and select EPUB for your default format. This format will also work for most Android and iOS-based e-readers. If you want to export books to the Kindle, choose AZW3 for your format. At this time, Calibre doesn't support Amazon's newer Kindle Format 8 (KF8), but all Kindles can still read AZW3 so that shouldn't be a problem.
When it comes to comes to converting books from one e-book format to another, you start by setting up your default format translations. (Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)
Next, you'll need to find your e-books. Each PC e-reader program puts its book in a different place. Kindle, the most popular e-reader, keeps its books, on Windows machines, in C:\Users\
Once you know where your e-books are and you're set up, all you need to do is pick a book, hit the Convert Book icon, hit OK for the defaults and you're done. There's nothing to it.
With your default e-book conversions set, you then start translating files. In this case, I'm moving from a PDF I made myself to a much more e-reader friendly EPUB format for my Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and iPad. (Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)
Converting e-books with DRM with Calibre
Many, but far from all, e-books come with DRM restrictions. I'm no fan of DRM. When I buy a book, or a DVD, I rather fancy that I own it and I should choose what to watch it on. Fortunately, there are third-party extras that will let you dodge most, but not all, kinds of e-book DRM.
Before doing this keep in mind that, as the makers of these tools point out, "None of the developers and maintainers of these tools or this site are in favor of e-books being 'pirated'. We expect people to use these tools only to gain full access to e-books they have bought themselves. De-drmed e-books should not be uploaded to open servers, torrents, or other methods of mass distribution. No help will be given to people doing such things, and no links to such books should be posted here. Authors, Publishers and e-book retailers all need to earn money to be able to carry on making great e-books available."
In addition, in some cases the DRM removal doesn't remove your information from the cleaned up e-book. Kindle and Nook e-books without DRM still retain some of your personal information in the cleaned-up version. So unless you really want a lawyer to come knocking on your door, don't try to give away these e-books. Bad things will eventually happen to you.
That said, here's how you do it, from the just released, September 10th, 2012 Calibre plug-ins: the simplest option for removing most eBook DRM by "Apprentice Alf:"
First download the latest version of Calibre. Next, download the latest combined e-book DRM removal tools package, tools v5.3.1. Then unzip the files and place them in a temporary directory.
To get rid of DRM from e-books, you need to download and then install several anti-DRM plug-ins. (Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)
Image credit: ITworld/Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
Now, you want to start Calibre and from the Preferences menu head to the Preferences/Adanced/Plug-in option. Once there, click on the "Load plug-in from File" icon. From there, navigate to the tools folder you unzipped earlier. Once there, open the "Calibre Plug-ins" folder and choose the load plug-in from file option. You'll need to pick each plug-in one at a time. Every time you do this, it will then give you a message warning you that the plug-in isn't an official Calibre plug-in and it may prove a security risk. Go ahead and OK it.
So far, so good. Now you'll need to configure the plug-ins. To configure them, go to "File Type plug-ins", choose the plug-in that needs work and select. If you don't need a certain plug-in, say you'll never be decrypting secure Adobe PDFs, you won't have to mess with that plug-in. According to Apprentice Alf:
If you have Amazon Kindle e-books that were downloaded to your eInk Kindle, you must enter your Kindle's serial number into the Kindle serial number customization field of the K4MobiDeDRM plug-in. Remove any spaces from the middle of the serial number. If you need to enter the serial numbers of more than one eInk Kindle, separate the serial numbers with commas (but no spaces).
If you have ePub e-books from Barnes and Noble (e.g. for nook), you must enter your name (not your email address) and full credit card number into the customization field of the Ignoble EPub DeDRM plug-in. The name and credit card number should be the ones set as part of the Credit Card unlock code on your Nook Library page. Separate the name from the number with a comma and do not put any spaces in the card number or around the comma.
If you have Mobipocket e-books, where you either entered a PID on the retailer's web site, or you must read them in Mobipocket Reader, you must enter the PID you entered on the retailer's web site, or the PID of your installation of Mobipocket Reader into the PID customization field of the K4MobiDeDRM plug-in. The PID will be ten numbers and letters, with * or $ as the eighth character. If you have more than one PID, enter them separated by commas (but no spaces).
If you have eReader e-books from Barnes and Noble, or from, say, Fictionwise, you must enter your name and the last 8 digits of your credit card number into the customization field of the eReader PDB 2 PML plug-in. Again, the name and credit card number must be the ones entered at your eBook retailer's website as the DRM key/Unlock code
See what I mean about not wanting to use these tools to go into your own free e-book business?
Finally, click on the Apply button in the upper right, restart the program and you're ready to go.
You won't need to choose a "remove DRM" button or the like. As you import books with DRM into Calibre, the program will automatically strip the DRM out of them. No fuss, no muss.
I've been using Calibre and its anti-DRM plug-ins for several years now. While setting it up initially was time consuming, once done it's made my e-book archiving, converting, and reading experiences much better. I hope it will prove the same for you.
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