How to read your Amazon Kindle books on any e-reader
Please note: this article was originally written a few years back. I currently own a Kindle Paperwhite (incidentallly my friend Tara wrote a great article on why you should too) and I haven't used Calibre or tried to convert my ebooks as a result. The method described below may or may not work anymore.
Will, August 2017
I can't help myself, I love Amazon. It was my first taste of the wonders of e-commerce in the late 90s and I have been a loyal customer ever since.
I read a lot of books and in many ways Amazon has replaced the library as my main source of books. It is the only webshop I know that manages to offer me actually useful buying suggestions, enough user reviews to allow me to make an informed buying decision and of course good prices, stock/availability and fast delivery.
And yes, I'll admit it: I buy far too many books as a result! But, I only buy hard copies. No Kindle e-books.
Perhaps you have also picked up the habit to spend far too much money on books. You might have been intrigued by the usually much lower prices for Kindle e-books. And wondered... wouldn't that be sweet?
Chances are you have heard about the hassle of DRM and incompatible e-book file formats. It makes you uneasy, not sure what to do. Is there really no other choice than to simply accept the Amazon way: save up for a Kindle e-book reader and tie yourself down to purchasing all your future books exclusively from Amazon? Is there no other option?
Spoiler alert! There is!
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Although I am the proud owner of one of the best e-readers on the market today, a Kobo Aura HD, until recently I have never actually purchased an e-book. I rely exclusively on what I can find for free online. Why? DRM.
All legally purchased e-books come with DRM or Digital Rights Management. DRM identifies the e-book as purchased by me and imposes all kinds of restrictions, such as the ability to copy the e-book, lend it to a friend or sell it. It is also usually tied to one or just a few devices.
(Where have we heard this story before? Right... the music industry)
Despite the fact that my Aura HD is perfectly capable of opening e-books in the Kindle file format, I cannot actually enjoy it to read my legally purchased Kindle e-books. I would have to buy myself another e-reader, a Kindle e-reader, to be able to read my Kindle e-books purchased from Amazon.
Publishers have decided to implement DRM to prevent rampant piracy and I sympathise, but this is madness. So I went looking for a practical solution. And found one.
The solution provided in this hub shouldn't piss off the publishers too much: the reader will still have to buy the e-book and piracy is not an issue. It merely helps out consumers like you and me in situations of fair use.
Nevertheless, a few things to note:
- The method described below to remove the DRM copy protection will only work with Amazon Kindle e-books which you yourself have legally purchased. It will NOT work with protected e-books purchased by others.
- You would think that the above 'limitation' clearly constitutes fair use, but the applicable laws in your country might disagree. Please check before you follow the instructions in this hub.
- You are not allowed to share the unprotected e-books once you have followed the instructions and removed the DRM. It would also be unwise to do so, as the file might still contain other identifiable information. Don't do it.
Step 1: install the Amazon Kindle app on your PC or Mac
Amazon provides a free Kindle App for PC or Mac. We'll use this program to download (synchronise) your purchased Kindle e-books. The DeDRM plugin discussed later requires the Kindle App to be installed (and logged in) to be able to remove the DRM protection.
The Amazon Kindle app is available for Windows (PC) and Mac:
Installation couldn't be simpler, just follow the instructions. You can't go wrong.
Once installed you can start the program. It will ask for your Amazon login credentials. Once you are logged in, the program will sync your Kindle e-books. Whenever you have purchased a new e-book, start the Kindle App and allow it to re-sync your e-books.
One final step is to note where the program saves the e-books on your harddisk. You can find this setting in the Preferences.
Step 2: install Calibre on your PC or Mac
Calibre is to books what iTunes is to music. Or, if you really hate iTunes, forget about this analogy. Calibre is an excellent, free, open-source e-book manager.
Calibre can manage all your e-books, regardless of the file format. It allows you to change the meta information of any e-book (title, writer, year of publication, etc) and it can sync the e-books to your e-book reader. If your e-reader came with a clunky brand-specific e-book manager, you could probably forget all about it and use Calibre instead.
For the purpose of this hub, Calibre has two more tricks up its sleeve: it can convert between one e-book format to another and it can be further extended with plugins. We'll use both capabilities to achieve our purpose.
Download Calibre from its website, calibre-ebook.com. Installation is once again a breeze: just follow the instructions.
We have now installed the official Amazon Kindle App and we have installed the Calibre e-book manager. We are almost there!
Feel free to get familiar with both applications. You won't be using the Amazon Kindle App much, but you should become comfortable with purchasing Kindle e-books on the Amazon store and having the App sync them to your computer. You will be able to read the e-books on your computer. But that is of course not what we are aiming for.
Before you proceed, you should buy at least one Kindle e-book from the Amazon store and have it synced to your computer.
Ready? Let's continue!
Step 3: install DeDRM plugin for Calibre
As it stands, Calibre will not be able to do much with your purchased Kindle e-books. The DRM protection prevents Calibre from opening them. Enter the DeDRM plugin.
The DeDRM plugin for Calibre is brilliant in its ease of use: once installed, it will automatically remove the protective DRM from any Kindle e-book you add to your Calibre library. No dialogs, no settings, nothing. It just works silently in the background.
I downloaded the plugin from Epubor, which also contains installation instructions for PC users. I found getting DeDRM installed in Calibre on my Mac a little bit confusing. Not difficult, just confusing. It seems there are two different ways to get to Preferences and only one will get you where you need to be.
Mac users should follow these instructions to get the DeDRM plugin installed successfully:
Download the plugin
Download the plugin from the Epubor website. Remember where you put it (probably Downloads).
Add the plugin to Calibre
Click the Calibre menu and select Preferences. See the screenshot below: there is actually a separate Preferences menu that we do not want to select.
A new window opens. Click the Plugin near the bottom.
Almost there. It the next window, click the button "Load plugin from file" at the bottom right. Select the ZIP file you downloaded earlier when you downloaded DeDRM.
Calibre will remind you that installing a plugin is a potential security risk. Click "Yes" to indicate that you know what you are doing.
You are done! DeDRM is now successfully installed.
Step 4: convert your ebooks
My Kobo Aura HD supports both e-books in the Kindle file formats (MOBI, AZW) and the more common EPUB file format. After adding my purchased Kindle e-book to Calibre, with DeDRM doing its magic on the background, I am in fact all done. All that is left for me to do is sync the book to my Aura HD and enjoy my new book.
Your e-reader might support both formats as well, but most likely it will be limited to e-books in the ePub file format. That is not a problem at all. Calibre can convert one file format to another and it does a fine job at converting Kindle e-books to ePub.
Add your Kindle e-book to Calibre
Now that DeDRM is installed, you can simply drag your Kindle e-books onto Calibre and they will be added to its library. You could also click the large "Add books" button in the button bar. Just browse to the directory you noted earlier where the Kindle App saves its e-books and select the correct one(s).
Convert your Kindle e-book to the ePub file format
Now that your Kindle e-book has been added to the Calibre library and DeDRM has removed its DRM protection, Calibre is able to convert the e-book to a different file format. The ePub file format.
Notice the large "Convert books" button in Calibre's button bar? With your e-book(s) selected, click it. A new window will open. Near the top you will find a selection box for input format and output format. The input format will probably say AZW3 or MOBI. The output format should say EPUB. Change it to EPUB if it currently does not. Next click "OK" at the bottom and Calibre will do its magic!
Back in library view, at the bottom right you will notice that Calibre is hard at work converting your e-book. Once it is done, all that is left for you to do is hook up your e-reader and sync.
Please note that the conversion is not perfect: there may be small deviations from the original in things like line height and such. These deviations are so small though, you probably won't even notice them. A small price to pay?
Step 5: enjoy your book!
Your Kindle ebook has been successfully converted to an unprotected ePub ebook, which can be opened on any non-Kindle ebook reader. All that is left for you to do is to hook up and sync your ereader with your new ebook and start reading. Enjoy!
You now have the best of both worlds: the awesomely large Amazon Kindle e-book store at your fingertips AND total freedom to buy and use any e-reader you want to read your favorite books.
I hope you have found this hub useful. Please leave your comments below and don't forget to share this article with your book-loving friends!