Calibre: iTunes For Your E-books

In recent years e-books have experienced a notable surge in popularity. Much of this can be attributed to devices such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, which have seen a huge rise in popularity over recent years and seem to always be in those “top 10 gadget lists”. Amazon now sells more Kindle-format books than standard paper copies and the research and advisory firm mediaIDEAS forecasted that e-book readers are set to become a $25 billion market by the year 2020.

So with all these e-books floating around, you’ll need a way to manage them, right? Well, that’s where Calibre comes in. Think of it as iTunes for your e-books. Although e-book readers such as the Kindle provide their own software, it is a bit basic and you can only read books purchased from the Kindle store.

Calibre allows you to categorize all your books, convert them into different formats and upload them to your device. Although it won’t win any awards for its looks, the old adage is true, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” (or should that be e-book? Sorry, bad joke). Calibre is, to use the age-old comparison, iTunes for your e-books. Read on to find out why.

Introduction

Calibre is a free e-book manager available for both Mac and Windows. The Mac version requires an Intel processor (however a version for PowerPC is available) and can be downloaded via their website. Once you start up the app, you are greeted with the homescreen.

Calibre Main

The main screen of Calibre, showing all your e-books categorized alphabetically by title

It may look a bit complicated and clunky, but the application is relatively simple to use. The app boasts 3.2 million users since it was released in August 2009 and due to this, the developer is very active and updates are released for it extremely regularly (in fact, every time I open the program there seems to be an update!). The app is also compatible with a large number of e-book readers (the full list is available here) so most people can use it as the default software for managing their e-books.

Features

Calibre has a number of useful features which really emphasize it as a must-have program for anyone with an e-book reader.

Library Management

Any books that you add to your library in Calibre are automatically saved to a separate location (not unlike iTunes) and organized by title and author, meaning that if you do have to hunt around for a particular e-book, you can rest assured that they are all in one location.

Calibre Library

A look at the Calibre Library folder in Finder, showing the organization

In the actual app, your books can be sorted via their author, series, publisher and more. You can even add tags to your e-books to allow quick and easy searching. Upon adding an e-book, Calibre will automatically download the metadata from the Internet. This includes the blurb (description of the book’s storyline) as well as the cover and any other information relating to the book, useful if you are trying to sift through what to read next!

Calibre Metadata

The metadata shown on the book "Freakonomics" in Calibre

And if you’re really stuck for what to read, Calibre’s website has over 2,000 DRM-free (Digital Rights Management) books available for purchase, or you can try Project Gutenberg, which has over 33,000 free books available for download (if you do not live in the United States, then check the copyright restrictions in your country first before downloading).

Conversion

Calibre is able to convert both to and from many popular e-book formats, including the major ones used by most e-book readers. You can even customize the export settings, such as the font size and layout on the page (depending on your e-book reader) and it can detect chapters and the table of contents, meaning you are not flicking back and forth to find your page.

Synchronization

As mentioned above, Calibre supports a wide range of e-book readers, including Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook range of devices. When you plug in your device, Calibre will automatically detect it and inform you whether the book is synced on both devices or not.

calibre - || Calibre Library || 3

The device view of Calibre, showing you which books are synced with your device

You can set up Calibre to automatically sync any books that aren’t on your device or you can sync them manually. Calibre can even convert books to your device’s respective format before copying them over, thereby saving the need for you to convert them yourself.

Built-in Reader

Calibre features a built-in e-book reader, allowing you to quickly scan through books before uploading them onto your device.

Calibre Ebook

The in-built e-book reader in Calibre

The reader supports tables of contents, printing, referencing, searching and more. Although it is not ideal for reading long passages of text (Stanza is the best for this), it is good if you want to skim read a few pages or quickly read the introduction of a book.

Conclusion

Calibre is an shining example of a well-thought out, well-designed program bursting with features and functionality. For anyone with an e-book reader, I could not recommend this program enough.

Although it won’t win any awards for its interface, looks aren’t everything and you’ll soon discover that Calibre does pack a mighty punch when it comes to managing your e-books.


Summary

A free e-book manager for both Mac and Windows which supports a wide range of formats and e-book readers.

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  • Rob

    I’m using Calibre to manage all my e-book. I think it’s a great piece of software and it’s constantly updated by the dev. I would really like it to have a better built in reader that support comics as well.

  • http://keywordsgame.com Xiao

    One thing Calibre should be commended on is its command line tools in combination with its ability to convert news websites to readable e-books.

    I’ve got a server set up with calibre to pull Sydney Morning Herald, convert it to mobi and put it on my webserver. I can then use the 3G on my Kindle to download it every morning instead of having to plug in the Kindle. Pretty awesome.

  • Steven Griffiths

    I use this all the time. Great bit of software. It’s only letdown is the UI. Pretty Awful.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/james.cull James Cull

      You’re completely right. The app is extremely functional but the interface is god-awful. Hopefully the developer will improve this soon!

  • Gregory

    Its definitely got a clunky UI compared to most apps, but I still find it rather usable. Either way, Calibre is very useful for me as I have a Kindle, letting me move lots of non-Amazon books onto it ;)

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/james.cull James Cull

      That’s exactly why I use it as well – I’ve got loads of non-Amazon books and it’s the best (and easiest way) to transfer books onto my Kindle.

      And agreed concerning the UI – it’s horrible. Hopefully this will be fixed in the next update!

    • Mike

      Me too. I have a Kindle and that’s another reason I love Calibre; it makes syncing non-Amazon books to the Kindle device a breeze!

  • Wes Taylor

    I used Calibre as a library manager and epub reader for a while before. I read, and own, technical books in paper, pdf and epub formats with relatively more complex formatting than the average fiction book. These books have multiple fonts, often embedded in the same line, sections that may be highlighted by a shaded background, bulleted lists, etc. Calibre still has problems with books this complex, both in converting to epub format and in displaying in the embedded epub reader. This version of Calibre is improved, but still falls short in a few places.

    For reading epub format files, I find that the best free ePub reader is the Firefox plugin EPUBReader. It is not perfect, but produces a more faithful display (when compared to the hard paper or PDF version) than the Calibre reader. Again, for simple formats like fiction, Calibre is just as good. The EPUBReader plugin has a simplistic file manager-like library manager which is just adequate to list your epub format books.

    EPUBReader’s home page is :

    http://www.epubread.com

    It is also available through the firefox addons and plugins page.

  • Mike

    I use Calibre and I love it! It organizes all of my books by the authors last comma first name in its folders, making it a dream to include in my SugarSync cross-computer-syncing perimeters. It also makes it easy to mass download meta information so I can see the ratings on my books and such.

  • http://www.3rddesign.com 3rddesign

    I have lots of e-books in my PC and honestly it’s cluttering on my computer. I downloaded Calibre just now and I am excited to organize my books. Thanks for this.

  • Wyatt

    I love Calibre, but its use of QT – and a non-standard implementation at that – for its interface means it doesn’t fit in with the rest of my beautiful Mac. I took some steps on fixing that by re-building the included icons with the Mac-like elementary icon set. To get it looking a little more native:

    1. Download the new icons from: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2444329/images.zip
    2. Right click on Calibre icon and “Show package contents…”
    3. Navigate to the resources folder.
    4. Rename images folder to something like “images-backup”
    5. Replace images folder with the one you downloaded above
    6. Restart Calibre and enjoy the prettier interface.

  • Pingback: Calibre: iTunes – для ваших электронных книг | Mac Apps

  • Ram

    How to convert Hindi/Nepali books to eBooks in calibre

  • http://goodexamplepapers.com/ paper writing

    If i have time i read e-books. In recent years they have experienced a popularity and much of this can be attributed to Kindle and iPad. But i admire such case study for the objectivity. Your review of the matter is solid.

  • http://www.pdf-converter-macosx.com/ PDF Converter

    What I really loved when using the app was the interface, the fact that you could make some major changes to a book in under one minute, and that you could catalog your books while reading one of them from your collection.

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