My wife got me a Kindle for Christmas this year, and from day one I’ve loved it. I’d spent some time with both tablets (iPad) and the Kindle for work last year and had a chance to dig in and understand the virtues of both. In the case of an ereader like the Kindle, it’s not a tablet and you’re not going to do spreadsheets, check email, surf the Web or watch videos on it, but it is exactly perfect for reading books. It’s just the right size and weight, the buttons are in the ideal place to turn the page with either hand, and it makes underlining or annotating easy and looking up words as you read is wonderfully convenient. The Kindle is (and I think maybe I’m recalling a Jeff Bezos quote here) to reading books what a pair of good running shoes is to running. While you could run, and do a whole bunch of other activities besides, in a pair of cross trainers, if you’re a runner, specifically, then you want specific shoes for running. Cross trainers won’t do it. That’s how I feel about the Kindle for reading books. iPads are awesome, but I prefer to read long form books on the Kindle.
One of the few downsides of the Kindle that I’ve discovered since getting it is that it’s not compatible with the EPUB ebook format, which is becoming something of a standard. You can view or listen to a variety of doc types on the Kindle (either natively or through Kindle’s conversion service), including Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, and Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files.
But not EPUB.
Google Books’ massive library of free public domain books is delivered in EPUB format. It’s also delivered in PDF, and so you could read these books on the Kindle in that way, but PDF doesn’t give you the flexibility an ebook format does in terms of adjusting text size; it’s harder to read. (Also, the ebooks that are available digitally from our public library are in EPUB format.)
But here’s where Calibre comes in. Calibre is a “free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books.” It will act as a library management, e-book conversion, syncing to e-book reader devices, downloading news from the web and converting it into e-book form, and more.
It’s easy to set up and use. I downloaded a copy of Calibre (38.6 MB), installed it and then added a copy of “The Confessions of Saint Augustine” I’d downloaded from Google Books to the Calibre library, the converted it the MOBI format, transferred it to the Kindle via USB, and viola. Piece of cake and now I have a copy of a favorite classic on the Kindle.
Getting your USB connection to work for your Kindle: One note on this. The first time I plugged my Kindle into my computer (Windows Vista), the system didn’t recognize the device. All I had to do to solve the problem was reset the Kindle (hold the sleep switch for 15 or 20 seconds and the device reboots) then it worked fine.
UPDATE – BUILD YOUR OWN KINDLE MAGAZINES: Playing around with this again on Saturday morning I realized that Calibre also allows you to build your own custom newspapers and magazines using the free public RSS feeds provided by Web sites, and includes preloaded feed “recipes” that produce really slick MOBI format issues of tons of newspapers, magazines and Web sites. I just tested by adding Slate, El Pais and The New York Times and they look amazing. Not as convenient as the subscription version as the Calibre software has to run out and fetch the new content each day, then you have to plug in and transfer it to the Kindle, but still… another very cool feature of the Calibre tool.
This also got me thinking over how a newspaper or magazine could make use of this to offer an ereader edition without a big tech/vendor investment. All you’d need would be good RSS feeds and a place to post the output. You could probably even work ads into it by developing and RSS feed for ads and including that in the aggregation recipe. Simple, cheap, maybe add ten or 15 minutes per edition to production once it was all set up?