Manage your ebooks

Easy Reading

Article from Issue 230/2020

Calibre can help manage your ebooks by bulk converting files, adding metadata, and making content available across all your devices.

In July 2009, thousands of Amazon's Kindle users logged into their devices to find that their purchased copies of George Orwell's 1984 had been erased. Internet pundits quickly drew comparisons between the corporate giant's move and that of "Big Brother" in Orwell's dystopian imagining of England. More recently, in April of this year, Microsoft announced the closure of their own ebook store. Customers lost access to their book collections but were offered a full refund.

The abundance of e-reader devices such as the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble NOOK has made a lasting impact: In 2018, electronic books made up 25.8 percent of book sales worldwide. Most reading devices are designed to sell content for specific platforms, which has resulted in a number of differing, incompatible ebook formats. For instance, an EPUB book purchased from Barnes & Noble cannot be transferred and opened automatically on an Amazon Kindle. While Kindles support open format MOBI books, Amazon stores your Kindle ebook purchases in its own proprietary AZW. Although the formidable PDF format is compatible with a number of e-readers, it doesn't always work with their features, such as highlighting or sharing text.

It's unlikely the e-publishing industry as a whole will embrace a universal, open format anytime soon. In the meantime, the developer Kovid Goyal has addressed this problem by creating Calibre, a one-stop utility for all your ebook management.

Calibre is compatible with a huge number of devices and most crucially can convert from one ebook to another. This means that if you exchange or upgrade your device you can copy any non-DRM protected books straight over to a new e-reader. The software also supports scraping the Internet for book metadata like blurb and cover images. Readers with multiple devices will enjoy discovering Calibre's library feature that allows other machines on your local network to access your ebook collection. The latest version of Calibre available at this writing (4.1) boasts all new content server capabilities and a much-improved ebook viewer [1].


Calibre is free and open source software (FOSS), making it available for a number of platforms. You can use it to convert a variety of formats, such as EPUB, MOBI, PDF, DOCX, ODT, PRC, PDB, PML, RB, and RTF, among others.

Linux users benefit from an auto install script, which you can load by opening a terminal and running

sudo -v && wget -nv -O- | sudo sh /dev/stdin

On first launch, the Calibre Welcome Wizard appears. Start by choosing where you would like your books to be stored on your computer. If you are unhappy with the default settings, click Change to edit. Once you have chosen your preferred location, just click Next. The following screen asks you to choose your e-reader, for example, Amazon Kindle Oasis 3. Select Generic under Device and Manufacturer. Once this is done, Calibre is ready to use.

Add Your Books

Although Calibre doesn't support DRM protected content, it can open and convert a wide variety of ebook formats. There are a huge number of public domain books no longer under copyright available from websites such as Project Gutenberg [2] and Internet Archive [3]. However, copyright varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, George Orwell's 1984 is no longer under copyright in Australia, but it is still protected in the US.

To add books already on your computer, simply click Add Books at the top left of the screen. Scroll through your folders to select the books you want to upload (Figure 1). Click on the item, and it will be added to Calibre's library. It can now be located on Calibre's main screen.

Figure 1: Scroll through your folders and select books to add to Calibre's library.

Missing Metadata

The program automatically displays any existing book metadata, such as title, author, and cover illustrations. However metadata can often be missing or incomplete. You can rectify this by clicking on the Edit Metadata button at the top of the screen. You can now edit the author's name, book title, and series (Figure 2). If you wish, you can also change the book's rating, the tags associated with this particular novel, and publication dates. The book cover can also be incorrect, which can be changed from this screen. You can browse for new covers; trim or delete the current cover; and download or upload a new cover.

Figure 2: Edit or add metadata to your titles, such as author, rating, and publication dates.

If you have a number of books that need updating, instead of entering the information manually, choose Edit Metadata | Download Metadata. Calibre will now search websites such as Google and Amazon for your chosen titles. In most cases, you'll see different editions of the same book. Choose the match that seems most relevant to you and click Next. You can select from a number of book covers that Calibre scrapes from various online book sellers. Choose your preferred cover and click OK.

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