Calibre: iTunes for Your E-Reader

Yesterday I wrote about how I was enjoying my Barnes & Noble nook, and mentioned a specific software program that doesn't come with nook that I think has been essential in my enjoyment of it. Calibre is like iTunes for my nook, though if you don't have a nook it works just as good with Kindle, and many other physical and software based readers. This means if your phone has software to read e-books you can use this software.

As I mentioned yesterday, a simple folder of the books I owned worked well for, say, 20 titles but as the library grew it became increasingly difficult to manage books both on the computer and on the nook. I was using iTunes to manage books on the computer, but as it won't recognize anything other than an Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad it was of no use to me for the nook. I was quickly becoming disenchanted with the whole e-book/e-reader world and was beginning to feel that an iPad would be in my future, if only for the book management. Then I ran across nookTalk, a nook centric e-reader site and found out about Calibre.

Calibre is an open-source, meaning free, (though a donation would be appreciated by the developer) software package available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It wasn't until this most recent update (0.7.1) that I felt I could really recommend it to geek and non-geek alike because the usability of the previous versions decent, just not polished. This version got a little more polish, though it ain't iTunes. It basically serves as a database for your books; drag your books into it and it adds it to your library. It allows for easy editing of metadata (author, title, publisher, year published, series, tags) and will even get information from the internet. This can be hit or miss as it looks like the internet's book databases are user created, and since there can be so many different version of a book (hard back, trade paper back, US version, Euro version, etc.) your mileage may vary, but you can generally get the basic information, and so long as your not a book collector you should be well served. The service will also download a picture (if available) of your book, which is always nice.

From the main screen you can filter by Author, Series, Formats (epub, pdf, .lit, .doc... there are LOTS of formats to include), Publishers, Ratings, Tags, and News. Most of these are self explanatory; you click on Authors you see a list of the authors in your collection. You click on Dan Brown you see only the books by Dan Brown. Tags are other ways to sort your books; fiction, non-fiction, adventure, historical, basically words that describe your book so you can find books similar. Useful when looking for that next book to read. I particularly like the Series heading as some of the authors I like write 2 or more different series and I can easily sort them with this. The nice thing is that all these fields are uses editable. You can even add fields. For instance I added a "Read?" field so I can keep track of if I read a book or not. You could make a field for genre (fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.). But this is only 1 or 3 things that makes Calibre indispensable for me.

Connect the nook and Calibre recognizes it's been attached and I can look at what books are on it, with the exception of B&N DRM epubs. My main books window now has a heading of whether or not the book is on the nook or not, and I can easily send a book to the device. If the book is in a format that's not readable by the nook, click send to device will convert the file into an epub file then send it to your nook. Honestly your mileage will vary with this as a lot depends on the source file, but I've had little to no problems with all formats except PDFs, which I understand is expected. So, if I were to obtain a book in LIT format, Calibre will quickly convert it to an epub and I'm ready to go! Awesome, no more worrying about if this file will work with my nook. One thing to keep in mind is that it won't strip DRM out of Amazon files.

The last thing about Calibre that I'm a huge fan about is it's ability to pull down websites and make them into epub files. Shortly after I got my nook I purchased a subscription through B&N for the San Jose Mercury News. It wasn't a bad deal at $6.00 a month, but I was noticing it didn't have some of the featured writers and columns that I enjoyed. Calibre has preset actions to ping websites at specific times and download them as an e-book. I've not subscribed to many of these sites, but out of the box they had the San Jose Mercury News, with just about all the content (minus the classifieds) available. All I had to do was pick what time Calibre should get it, and what it should do with it and that was it. Now at 6am (so long as Calibre is open) it will download the SJMN, and when I connect my nook it will automatically upload today's "paper" to it. There are over 230 sites/publications available for US English alone, and there are tools to make your own feed.

If you're an e-reader I can't see why you wouldn't use Calibre; it's simple enough to use for basic tasks, and can give you more control over your books. I highly recommend this, even if you don't use a nook.


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