How to Organise and Convert Your Ebooks with Calibre

If you’re reading this blog then you’ve probably got an interest in ebooks. If you do, then you may have already heard about Calibre. Calibre is a free, open source, cross-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux) ebook reader, organiser and converter. If you’ve ever listened to music you downloaded from the internet, then you’ll probably be familiar with iTunes. Calibre is just like iTunes, but for ebooks, and not owned, locked in and operated by Apple. Did I mention it’s free? Download it here.

It’s a pretty big download, so it might take a while. Also, if you’re trying to install it on your work computer, you’ll probably want to get in touch with your IT department, because you need admin privileges to install it. If you’re at home, then fire away.


Installed? Great. The first step you’ll be confronted with once Calibre is installed and you open it for the first time is the wizard.

This is not the wizard you’re looking for.

This is the wizard

You’ll be asked to find a place on your computer to store your ebook files, and to determine what kind of e-reader device you use. Calibre supports a broad variety of e-readers, including the Kindle, Sony and iPad. If you use more than one kind of device, then don’t worry – Calibre supports more than one.

Look! It’s John Birmingham’s latest book: After America

The next window should be relatively familiar to anyone who has used iTunes. It has a library where you can filter your ebooks by author, title, series, publisher or rating. You can also search for keywords. All of those search functions will be pretty useless to you right now, though, because you haven’t added any books.

To add a book, hit the ‘add’ button, and find your ebook file. Calibre supports virtually every format you can imagine for an ebook, though you should keep in mind that if you bought that ebook from a store (like Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or even Booku) it’s likely it will be protected by DRM (digital rights management), which will stop you messing around with it. Never fear, though! Calibre still allows you to import books with DRM, organise them and load them quickly and easily onto your ebook reader (you just can’t convert it to another format or read it from within Calibre).

Also, strangely, Calibre does not support Microsoft Word format – so if you want to read something you only have as a Word file, open that sucker up in Word first and save it as RTF. Then add it.

There are plenty of places you can buy ebooks from that don’t have DRM, and there are plenty of places you can download ebooks from for free as well. You can find a few of them in the resources at Booku. For those ebooks, Calibre really comes into its own.

Calibre can automatically download the cover, publisher, publication date and blurb for your ebooks from the internet. You can save ratings and tag your books for easier searching.

Calibre will also convert your non-DRM ebooks from one format to another. Say you have a free ePub book, but you want to read it on your Kindle. By hitting ‘convert e-books’ in Calibre, you can easily and automatically convert your ebooks from ePub to Kindle’s Mobi format. Then to send it to your Kindle, all you need to do is hit ‘Send to Device’, and Calibre will automatically email the file to your Kindle (though you will need to tell Calibre your Kindle’s email address in ‘Settings’ first). If you want to send a book to your Sony reader, just plug it in and Calibre will automatically copy the book you select onto your reader. Calibre will even send your book via iTunes (or email) to your iPad or iPhone. It’s very versatile, and once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to use.

Calibre can do a lot more than convert and organise your ebooks. It can automatically download news from your favourite blogs and news outlets, package them up and send them to your e-reader. If you’re a self-published author trying to convert your own ebook, it can pull apart ebook files so you can iron out the bugs. And it can do much much more. But those are topics for another blog post, and you don’t need to be interested in any of that to get some use out of Calibre. If you have any questions about Calibre, or any of the topics raised in this post, feel free to post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Published by

Joel Naoum

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.

17 thoughts on “How to Organise and Convert Your Ebooks with Calibre”

  1. Thanks for the info. I’m not quite ready to use it but I admire gd clear instructions when I see them! I think the issue of access to ematerial is interesting. To what extent does format (mobi, ePub, etc) and their restrictions, mirror pre-existing publication restrictions between countries and to what extent do they protect intellectual property as well as make it possible for publishers to remain viable? I love that programs like this exist but I’m still interested in the implications…. Anyone else?

    1. Hi Celia, thanks for your post. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. Do you mean mirror the print publication world? If so, there’s not really a print-world analog for formats. But there are certainly territorial restrictions based on territorial copyright.

      I’m not convinced that DRM is a great way to protect intellectual property, but it seems to be the standard way of doing it at the moment. I might do a post some time soon about DRM. Till then stay tuned!

  2. Hi and thathanks for such great instructions. YYou talk about kindle but i have about 3 eReaders with differing formats and I don’t usually have a problem BUT (there is always a but, unfortunately) I was given a a gift card for B & N and they only sell nook books – will Calibre help me translate the file – or do I need to? I own a Sony, kobo and a generic type e reader

  3. Hi Christine, you probably won’t need to convert B&N ebooks for your Sony Reader. As far as I know, B&N uses ePub files with Adobe’s ADE DRM, which the Sony supports.

    If you don’t know what any of that means – the answer is: don’t worry, you can buy Nook books and read them on your Sony!

  4. Christine’s post raises another confusion that some suppliers are not in a hurry to explain. We have to work out what Joel has reasonably explained, – is the format transferrable? I tried to get an answer from Amazon UK about this as they had ePub DRM books for sale but assured me I couldn’t read them on my Kobo, they were only for Kindle . I thought I cd read any epub, but they say no. It’s hard to know what one can and can’t buy sometimes. Oh, & sorry, my last post was confused! Must have been a full moon!

  5. Kindle definitely doesn’t sell ePub formatted books. They sell Mobipocket format ebooks with their own proprietary DRM. That’s why they won’t work on your Kobo.

    There are basically two issues with reading ebooks on different devices: DRM (copy protection software) and format. If your device can’t read either one of these, then the book won’t work. If the book does not have DRM on it at all (very few ebooks for sale these days don’t have DRM), then the format doesn’t matter so much, because you can convert it to read on any device (using Calibre). If it *does* have DRM, though, you won’t be able to convert it or copy it at all, so you’ll be stuck.

  6. I have downloaded 20 books into Adobe Digital Editions today, downloaded calibre to convert the books for my kindle but calibre brings up adobe digital editions greyed out so I can’t get my books from there to calibre – any suggestions really welcomed PLEASE

    1. Where did you download the books from? If they’re from Adobe Digital Editions it’s likely they have DRM (copyright protection software) on them. If they do, Calibre won’t let you convert them.

  7. So because I’ve downloaded them on my laptop that is the only place I can read them? I wanted them for my Kindle:( I have managed to get all but 6 across having been able to download them to a flashdrive but the other 6 wouldn’t download to a flashdrive. Any ideas?

  8. The only way to convert them for your Kindle at this stage would be to strip the DRM off them, which is a complicated procedure. I suggest Googling for it if you’d like instructions – unfortunately I can’t advocate that here!

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