How to Put Non-Amazon Ebooks On Your Kindle

Amazon and Macmillan have been in a pissing match recently over ebook pricing. On Friday, as part of their continuing battle, Amazon removed the “Buy It Now” button from all Macmillan titles in their catalog, even the print ones. The only way you could buy a Macmillan title through Amazon was through one of the Amazon Marketplace sellers.

As you can imagine, authors weren’t happy.

By Monday Amazon had given in and started re-instating the “Buy It Now” button on Macmillan titles, though they’re taking their time doing so. Meanwhile, lots of people on the internet are happily choosing to be on Team Amazon or Team Macmillan, since you want to choose which giant company will crush your dreams instead of having one forced on you. They’re also parsing the meaning of words like monopoly, monopsony, and collusion. It’s very exciting!

In the wake of what was a pretty stupid attempt by Amazon to muscle Macmillan, some have said that they don’t want to buy books from Amazon, but they bought a Kindle. What are they to do?

Since I’m a physicist and thus have a technical answer to any question, even “Who should I date?” (answer: the robot, for he is programmed to love you always), let me explain how you too can put non-Amazon ebooks on your Kindle.

The big thing you’ll need is a copy of Calibre. Calibre is free software that runs on Windows, Macs, and Linux. It’s the Swiss Army knife of ebook software. It’ll manage your entire library if you want, but the most important feature in this case is that it can convert ebooks from one format to another. The Kindle uses a modified version of the Mobipocket format (files that end in .mobi or .prc), so that’s the format you’ll convert to. (Calibre’s frequently-asked questions has an entire section on converting an ebook to different formats.

The big question when buying an ebook is: Does it have DRM? DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a scheme where the ebooks are locked so that they can only be opened by a specific ebook reader or piece of software.

No DRM: you can buy the book in nearly any format you want, though Mobipocket is best. If you buy the book in a different format (such as ePub or HTML), use Calibre to convert it to Mobipocket format. Once you’ve done that, you can plug your Kindle up to your computer and drag the files onto your Kindle.

DRM: Ooh, now it’s going to get tricky. You need to buy your ebook in Mobipocket format, and you have to jump through some hoops to make it readable on your Kindle.

Mobipocket DRM uses something called a PID key. The PID is a unique string that identifies a specific reader. Your Kindle has one that’s based on its serial number. You can find out your serial number by looking on the back of your Kindle (for some models), checking the box it came in (it should have a sticker on it with your serial number), or going to your Kindle’s “Settings” screen and typing “411” (without quote marks). To turn that serial number into a PID, you can use this online tool. (Alternatively, you can download a python script called Kindlepid.py to find out what your PID is, if you’re a Python kind of person.)

When you buy a DRM-protected Mobibook, you’ll be asked for your PID. Enter your Kindle’s PID and download the file. What happens next depends on your operating system and whether you want to get rid of the DRM entirely.

Are you on a Mac? If so, you can use Mobi2Kindle to convert your ebook to a protected format that your Kindle will read. This won’t get rid of the DRM, but it will make the book readable on your Kindle.

Are you running Windows? If so, you can use the unswindle package (as described here) to remove the DRM and create an unprotected Mobipocket book that your Kindle will read with no problem.

Are you on Linux, or on a Mac and want to get rid of the DRM altogether? If so, you’re going to have to do some Python hacking! You’ll need a copy of mobidedrm.py to remove the DRM so that you can read the book on your Kindle. The process is a bit complicated; fortunately, there’s a guide to help you out.

How can I tell if it has DRM or not? The best way is to try to purchase a Mobipocket format book. If you need to enter a PID to do so, you’re buying a DRM-protected book. Chances are, you’re going to be buying a book with DRM on it.

There you go. You now can read non-Amazon ebooks on your Kindle.

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16 Comments

  1. on February 3, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Tangentially, I’ve been working on finding the best formats for comic-books on the Kindle. There’s a built-in viewer for collections-of-images, but it sucks in a multitude of ways, even if you run your comics through the Kindle-specific “Mangle” utility.

    The best quick way is evidently to put sequentially numbered comic-book images into a .cbz file (just a zip file with a different extension), and run it through Calibre to get a .mobi. This gets decent image quality, useful metadata, reasonable size, good refresh speed, and navigatability by page. The only thing it really doesn’t seem to do — and Calibre doesn’t seem designed to massage this information at all — is put chapter breaks between issues. I’m working on that, but it looks like the only way to get that fine control is to go by way of ePub in producing your monolithic ebook files

  2. on February 3, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Oh, huh! How do the images look in b&w on the Kindle? I’ve got cbzs of some old comics that I might have to try out now that I know Calibre will mobi-fy them.

  3. LB
    on February 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post, Stephen. Very helpful!

  4. Tom Davis
    on March 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I have two Kindle 1’s. I got the PID for one no problem. The other gets a not valid error message and I have checked the # and case several times. It appears in a similar format and I verified it on the back and through 411. Any Ideas?

    thanks

  5. on March 2, 2010 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Not really. Have you tried the Kindlepid.py script?

  6. Lunaslairnyc
    on February 5, 2011 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    Thank you for taking the time to post such a thorough response. I will be trying all these steps. I bought my grandmother a kindle assuming I could load some of the multitude of e books I have stored in various formats on my laptop. Seems a bit tedious but at least now what need to be done makes sense. I downloaded “owners manual”,searching through for an hour or two the other day and couldn’t even find what file format it used. U really explained it all so well that even the novice such as myself could understand. You seem good at it…do you do this regularly-are you a teacher of some type…physics perhaps?

  7. GV
    on March 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    If you are trying to find a way to read epub format books in kindle there is a simple solution. Firefox has an addon that reads epub formatted books. All that one has to do is to open the epub books in firefox and use the vertical reading option, select all and paste it into a notepad, export the notepad to kindle and read it! The format is undisturbed.

  8. Ashley
    on March 27, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    This was so helpful! I was really angry that there were books I wanted but weren’t available for purchase in the kindle store. I didn’t know a program such as calibre existed so im really excited, the only problem is when I click on a chapter from the table of contents it takes me to the cover page…

  9. Bookworm
    on April 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Stephen,
    Thank you for your wonderful, detailed post. It makes so much more sense to me now! I work for a tiny, independent bookstore that has just started selling e-books. I want to be able to help our customers, even though I don’t have an e-book reader. (I’m a Luddite at heart.)
    GV,
    What is the specific add-on to Firefox that you recommend? None of the ones I found seem to be available for Firefox 4.0. Thanks.

  10. on August 24, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    This is great. Before I become an Amazonian, I bought all my books at B&N. Now I can’t read them…blah. Will this DRM removal method work when switching previously bought books from epub to mobi?

  11. on August 24, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    No, unfortunately you’ll have to find a way to remove the DRM from your epub books if you want to still be able to read them.

  12. on November 25, 2011 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    is it legal to remove drm?

  13. on November 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Depends on your country. In the US the DMCA makes it illegal to do so.

  14. monica
    on January 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Hi I really wanted to buy the kindle 3 with wify and 3gb instead of a nook but found amazon dosn’t have a lot of the books i want.Barns and noble does…will calibre make it possable to read the nook books ?I have a windoows laptop.we are in australia .Not very computer savey.

  15. on January 10, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Barnes & Noble sells books in the epub format with DRM. The only way you’d be able to read them on a Kindle would be to remove that DRM, which (if you’re in the US) is illegal and also requires a lot of technical hoop-jumping.

  16. jasde
    on February 18, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    lorsque j’envoie un livre sous . doc , le kindle l’accepte et je peux lire facilement mon livre , mais mon problème , c’est la compatibilité de mon livre en langue espagnole avec le dictionnaire de langue espagnole intégré dans mon kindle
    que puis je faire
    je me suis servie de word pour transformer mon doc en pdf , et ensuite converti mon pdf en mobi , envoyé à kindle sous cette forme , mais il ne l’accepte pas
    help !!!

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