How-To: Manage and Convert Your Ebooks with Calibre


With the arrival of the much-hyped iPad and the rest of tablet-mania, it seems like ebooks are about to have their “iPod moment,” when they’ll go from a favorite of early adopters and bibliophiles to a mainstream phenomenon. There’s one problem, though: Unlike MP3s, there’s not a single, near-universal standard for ebooks. Historically, this has made it difficult to organize your ebooks and transfer them between various reading devices.

Fortunately, there’s one program that can help you solve nearly all of your ebook-related problems: Calibre. A free, open-source project, Calibre is one part iTunes-esque library-management program, one part batch-conversion tool, and one part file-transfer manager. In this article, we’ll show you how to use Calibre to manage your ebooks and to get them working on any reader.

1. Set Up Calibre

To get started with Calibre, visit the project homepage at and download the latest version. Let the .msi do its job and install the program on your computer, and then launch the program. If this is your first time running Calibre, you’ll be presented with a few choices.

First, you’ll be asked where you want to save your Calibre library (image A). Calibre will use whichever location you select as a home for its hierarchical file system, containing all your ebooks. It’s worth noting that whenever you import a book into Calibre, it will actually create a copy of that ebook in its library, which can take up a lot of space.

(Image A)

Next, you’ll be asked to select your preferred reader. If you have one of the readers on the list (and pretty much every reader is on the list), make sure to select it, because this will change the default output settings Calibre will use when converting ebooks. These settings optimize the outputted file for reading on the specific device you choose, and take into account screen size as well as file type and DRM restriction.

If you told Calibre that you have an iPhone or iPad, you’ll be asked if you’d like to run the Calibre content server. We’re going to show you how to use the content server to access your files, so go ahead and choose yes, but don’t worry if this option didn’t pop up for you—it’s easy to turn the server on at any time.

2. Add Books to Calibre

Now that you’ve finished setting up Calibre, you should be looking at a depressingly empty ebook library (image B). Unless you plan on reading the Calibre Quick Start Guide over and over again, you’re going to want to add some books to your library. For use as an example, we downloaded a handful of classic books from the Gutenberg Project (and one classic comic book from ) in different ebook formats.

(Image B)

Loading books into Calibre is easy. Start by clicking the Add Books button in the top left corner, then browse to a folder containing ebooks (image C). You can select multiple books, then click Open to import them all to Calibre. If you’ve already got an ebook library spread out over multiple subfolders in a directory, you can import all books from a directory tree by clicking the small arrow to the right of the Add Books button.

(Image C)

Hopefully, Calibre has properly read the metatags from the books you’ve chosen to upload, and you’ll now be looking at a populated, searchable library. Unfortunately, many ebooks are missing proper metadata, so you may have to add it in yourself. There are three ways to do this.

First, you can simply click the book, click the Edit Meta Information button, and enter the information (such as title, author, and publisher) by hand (image D). This works fine if you only have a few books you need to add data for.

Second, you can click Edit Meta Information, enter the book’s ISBN number (easily found on Amazon) and click Fetch Metadata from Server. This will automatically pull down all the information Calibre can find about the book, and is generally very accurate.

(Image D)

Finally, if you want to enter the same metadata for a whole bunch of books at once (say, an author for a series of novels or comic books) you can select all the books at once, and click the Edit Meta Information.

(Image E)

Once you’ve gotten the important metadata (title and author, at the least) entered for a book, you can open the metadata editor for that book and click Download Cover. This will attach a cover image to the book (image E), which allows you to use Calibre’s slick Cover Viewer feature. If Calibre fails to download a cover, or downloads a different cover than the one you want, enter the ISBN for the version of the book that you want, and click Download Cover again.

3. Browse Your Library

There are a couple of ways to browse through your ebook library in Calibre. The default is a simple list view, with a search bar at the top, which lets you view only books with a certain title, author, or tag. Tag view, which lets you view your library in a branching, hierarchical structure, can be accessed by clicking the tag icon in the lower right corner of Calibre.

(Image F)

You can also view your library in a cool-looking Cover View mode (image F) by clicking the arrow button in the lower right corner of Calibre. Cover View will show you the covers of whatever books are currently being viewed in either search or tag view. If you want search view to open in a separate window, or to view more covers at the same time, those options are available in Properties > Interface.

4. Convert Your Ebooks

Calibre isn’t just an ebook organizer, it’s also the most powerful tool for batch ebook conversion. This is handy, because in the current, volatile ereader market, ebook standards change constantly, and it’s easy to end up with a collection of books in multiple formats.

To convert ebooks, simply select them, and click the Convert button in the upper left of Calibre. A conversion window will open, with pages and pages of options you can dig through, to produce a perfect copy. For most books, however, the default settings will work and you can just click the OK button to start the conversion. If you want to convert to a different format than the default (which is based on the reader you selected when installing Calibre), you can do so using the drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the convert window (image G).

(Image G)

It will take Calibre a little while to convert each book (you can view its progress by clicking the Jobs button). When it’s done it will store the created file in its library, alongside the original. You won’t see the new file in Calibre by default, unless you click a title, then click the View drop-down list, then select View Specific Format.

5. Transfer Files

Transferring files from Calibre to a reader is easy, though it works differently, depending on which reader you have. For most readers, such as the Kindle, Nook, or Sony reader, you simply connect your reader to your computer, select the books you want to transfer, then hit the Send To Device button. For the iPhone or iPad, you’ll need to turn on the Calibre content server in Preferences > Content server, then download an app that can retrieve books from a remote source, such as readMe (for iPad) or Stanza (for iPhone and iPod touch).

(Image H)

If you want to be able to access your ebooks from anywhere using a web browser, that’s also accomplished using the Calibre content server. You simply activate the content server and leave both your computer and Calibre running (image H). After that, you can view your library from any computer, by pointing a web browser to your static IP address (or, if you don’t have a static IP, your account).

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