Reading Library EPub Books on a Kindle

Our local Library uses the OverDrive Library Reserve System to make online content available to its patrons.  This includes, among other things, the ability to “reserve” and “check out” e-books.  While cool in concept, it’s rather problematic for Kindle owners, because the books are only available in EPub format, which Kindles don’t support.

So what are we Kindle owners to do?   First, yell loudly at Amazon!  Seriously go there right now, click the “Contact Us” button, and demand support for the EPub format.

With that out of the way, here’s what you do in the meantime.  Unfortunately this is probably out of reach for non-technical readers – you’ll need to be comfortable using your system’s command line interface (Terminal.app on Mac, “cmd” on the PC).  Also, I’ve only done this on my Mac. PC owners, your mileage may vary.

Here are the steps:

Get the EPub file

The file you download from your library website isn’t actually an “.epub” file.  It’s a “.acsm” file that tells Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) how to download the EPub book for you.  Once ADE has downloaded the book,  you’ll need to locate the .epub file.:

Mac: It’ll be in the ~/Documents/Digital\ Editions directory.

PC: Probably under “My Documents” somewhere?

Unzip/Re-zip it

I’ve found that most of the EPub books I get don’t have the proper file format to be read by the script I use to remove the DRM.  So to get things to work, it helps to rebuild the book file by unpacking and re-packing the book.  EPub books are just ZIP files under the covers, so unpacking is easy:

> mkdir mybook
> cd mybook
> unzip ~/Documents/Digital\ Editions/the_book_you_downloaded.epub

Re-packing is a little trickier; you can’t just use the ‘zip’ command.  The file has to have a very specific structure, so use an app designed specifically for this:

Mac: I use ePub Zip.app.  Just point it at the ‘mybook’ directory, and click “Choose”.  It should create a “mybook.epub” file alongside the mybook directory.

PC: Maybe use ePubIt, or one of the other apps on that page.

Remove the DRM

*sigh* … and this is where we get into the legal and moral quagmire of digital copyright protection. While the act of bypassing DRM restrictions on copyrighted content is not illegal, distributing the software for doing such apparently is.  At least, according to Wikipedia..  Thus, there is probably some line I shouldn’t cross in terms of how  easy I make this for you.  So rather than get into the weeds on this process here, I’ll just point you at the i?cabbages blog that showed me how to do it. Read it for yourself… or at least read everything after the “Here are the scripts:” part.  It’s not hard.

Convert from EPub to Mobi Format

Once you have a DRM-free EPub file it’s pretty easy.  Install and run Calibre (available on Mac/PC/Linux).  In Calibre:

  • “Add books” to add your [now DRM-free] EPub file to your library
  • Select your book
  • “Convert books”
  • Make sure the output format is set to “MOBI”
  • Click “Okay” and wait for the conversion to finish. (Click the “Jobs” button in the lower-right corner of Calibre window to monitor the progress)

Send to your Kindle

If you plug your Kindle into your computer, Calibre can upload it directly for you.  However, I find it’s often easier to just email it to my “free.kindle.com” email address and use the “sync and check for new items” feature of the Kindle to download it over wifi.  (You can get to the mobi file by right-clicking on the file in Calibre and selecting “Open Containing Folder”.

It’ll probably take you 15-20 minutes to walk through this the first time, but once you get the hang of it the process it’s not too hard.  It’s just sad that this is the current state of affairs.

4 Replies to “Reading Library EPub Books on a Kindle”

  1. Interesting…I think you just defeated the libraries “borrowing” system. When I dealt with this annoyance at my local library it seems that it is the DRM which seems to know the time period that you are allowed to read the book. After the book expires, the ebook reader software simply tells you that item can no longer be read.

    Of course, now that you removed the DRM, its up to your own honor to delete the book when you’re supposed to return it.

    Fwiw, I hate the whole Adobe Digital Editions thing. It was a pain to download a book from my library so it could be read on my Droid 2. Plus, rather than convert the book I installed yet another ebook reader called txtr to handle the book. Blech.

    Too hard to be convenient…

  2. This definitely defeats the “borrowing” model the libraries use. But that is by no means my objective here – I’m perfectly satisfied conforming to the checkout restrictions. ‘Have been for years; my wife and I are regular patrons of our local library and have no problems with that model.

    The problem is that the current online model is equivalent to borrowing a library book, but having where and when you can read it dictated by the publisher. “Sorry, you’re not allowed to read it in bed, or while eating. Oh, and no reading while walking or riding in a car either.”

    I hate to say this, but I actually think a better model for this would be to turn off the website entirely and only loan books to people who actually walk into the library. Maybe have a little “upload kiosk” you can plug your e-book reader into to get a (DRM free?) copy of whatever book you’ve checked out.

    Silly as that sounds, I think it would be better for our library system. And better for it’s patrons. And even better for book publishers. At least we wouldn’t be training a new generation of content pirates, which is what we’re very clearly doing now.

    (FWIW, I was very on the fence about writing this post. In my first post about the Kindle I had decided to not tell people how this worked. But when I mention to my friends/family that have Kindles that this is possible, they practically start salivating at the thought of being able to get loaned content. So… here we are. 😛 )

  3. Robert,
    Can you help me with by BetaMax tapes? Try as I might, I still can’t get them to play in my VHS machine.

    Merry Christmas
    Gordon

  4. Wow. This was keeping me from buying a Kindle. Thanks.

    I agree with your assessment about accessing content when, where, how . . . It is Amazon that does not want to open their reader up to library-based content because it keeps their users in their store.

    Here’s an apt analogy: if I checked out a cassette from the library and only had a CD player, would it be ok if I burned a CD to listen to it?

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