Those of you who still buy CDs & LPs will be familiar with that certain urge to re-organize your music collection because the current cataloging system hasn’t aged well. I’m beginning to get the same urge to reorganize my ebook collection as my Mac Finder / Windows Explorer method of keeping everything in separate folder according to subject matter (Food / Gardening / Home / Diet / Reference etc.) needs something better. I want to touch on the drawbacks of using your filesystem as an ebook manager and how I’ve adapted to using Calibre for managing my ebooks.
The File Manager is Familiar
The basic reason why I continued using my file manager to manage my ebooks was that it was familiar and didn’t require another app. Checking on my ebook collection was a click away from anywhere within the Finder (on the Mac) or Explorer (on the PC). Even better, I was able to customize my browsing experience using a couple of addons:
• The ePub-quicklook plugin (dropped into /Library/QuickLook) gave .epub files the same pretty covers in the Mac Finder’s thumbnail view as PDF files. You can achieve the same on Windows for .epub and .AZW, .MOBI files. Mysticthumbs is a PC program that will generate thumbnails for all your files (including .psd) and costs $30 per seat (some have complained that it’s a memory hog). If you also want metadata for your .epub books to show in Windows Explorer, then follow along here.
• Amazon’s Send to Kindle app made it simple to right-click “Send to Kindle” my ebook files.
The trouble in paradise with this setup are the other file formats: .mobi file previews still don’t show in the Finder, and .epub files aren’t compatible with the “Send to Kindle” service. I could live with the former, and to easily send .epub files to my Kindle I could leverage Dropbox. Here’s what I tried:
- WappWolf – It does work, but it’s rather complicated to setup and there’s very little feedback if something goes wrong. I still don’t know how to manage workflows in WappWolf so I’ve never been comfortable using it.
- BookDrop never worked for me, with the error:
Oops, it seems you don’t have any devices eligible for BookDrop! Make sure to register a Kindle with this Amazon account before trying again 🙂
The problem is that because these various send-to-Kindle services rely on Dropbox, files enter a sort of blackbox after you drop them into their trigger folders (located in the “Apps” directory of your Dropbox folder). There are also multiple points of failure – Amazon’s send by email feature is triggered by Dropbox’s special folders that are created by these third party apps. WappWolf is from a German developer who has never responded to my queries, BookDrop is run by an MIT student and that IFTTT recipe is user contributed with no implied warranty that it will be updated. My point being that if the Dropbox process isn’t inscrutable enough, I’m extra wary of trusting my ebook workflow of getting files onto my Kindle to these 3rd parties. (There are of course other options if you like reading ebooks on your tablet as opposed to your Kindle. For example, PDF Expert Pro can access your PDF files directly from your Dropbox).
Moving Away from the File Browser for Ebook Management
There are many other issues besides the ones already raised when using your file explorer for ebook management. Searching is relegated to using the system’s inbuilt search which isn’t out of the box able to search on metadata like author or publication date. Want to use tags to further categorize your ebooks beyond your existing folder structure? There’s limited tag functionality on the Mac (I’m already using the system color tags for other things) and none on the PC unless you want to use an add-on program: EagleFiler or Leap (to augment tags on the Mac) / XYPlorer or Data Crow (to add tags on the PC). Data Crow also has database modules for ebooks, movies, music and images but I wasn’t a fan of the slow Java interface on the app. I’ve tried Leap / Yep for managing my files but do to the size of my ebook library (well over 10,000 books) it slowed down too much to be usable.
Ebook Management Apps
Some ebook managers I tried include:
- http://www.collectorz.com/book/. Kind of like Bruji’s BookPedia, this program seems more oriented towards cataloging your hardcover / paperback books.
- Allmybooks.com [no longer active]
These programs might work for you – most of them are cross platform and are actively developed – they just didn’t fit my needs. I needed something that dealt with multiple versions of the same ebook intelligently (filing them under the same entry vs. creating duplicate entries) and that spurred me to search for other options.
I’ve had Calibre on my computer a while, both on the Mac and PC, but when I finally got around to using it I came away quite impressed. It’s now my primary tool for organizing my ebooks.
• Calibre imports ebooks into its own library, and it’s expected that you delete your ebooks from their original location and let Calibre manage them. This takes a leap of faith for someone used to “hands on” management, but the ebooks are stored plainly within Calibre’s library folder and not in any proprietary database so you can still inspect them at any time. As a side note, there is a Calibre fork (BookOno) that allows you freedom from Calibre’s strict library requirements though I haven’t tested it.
• Turn on the automerge option located in the Preferences. “Automerge added books if they already exist in Calibre library” will prevent Calibre from creating duplicate entries if you import and instead add them as additional formats to an existing entry. Note that Calibre allows only 1 file per format – you can have 1 pdf, 1 mobi and 1 epub per ebook entry but not 2 epubs for example. Here is how an ebook entry looks in Calibre with both epub and pdf formats (highlighted here in yellow):
You’ll still want to make sure you find duplicate files before moving your ebooks into Calibre. If you need to find duplicate ebook entries that have made their way into your Calibre library, there’s a Calibre de-duplicator plugin for that.
You can drag and drop books to your Kindle via Calibre when it’s connected to your computer via USB cable. You can also send books wirelessly to your Kindle via Calibre as long as you setup a “send to” email in your Kindle account.
Calibre also gives you numerous ways to divvy up your collection. You can use at least 4 different ways to make it easier to browse your ebook library and find a suitable book to read:
1. You can use different libraries, helpful if you want tags specific to each library. The library symbol icon is also where you can click to change your library location from its dropdown. The list of libraries in the Copy to Library and Quick Switch menus are normally sorted by most used. However, if there are more than a certain number of such libraries, the sorting becomes alphabetic (option is set in Preferences->Tweak->Sort the list of libraries alphabetically).
2. You can keep separate virtual libraries ( A search will only restrict the list of books shown in the book list. A virtual library does that as well as also restricting the results shown in the Tag Browser sidebar). You can assign a virtual library view on Calibre startup by going to Preferences-> Behavior-> Virtual library to apply when current library is opened. I usually create my virtual libraries by limiting what tagged books are displayed per virtual library.
3. You can keep different user categories.
4. And saved searches are easy to save and retrieve using the drop down in the upper right corner of Calibre. For example, let’s imagine you might have lots of non-fiction tags and only one fiction tag. To find only non-fiction books of any tag, simply create a saved search for not tags:”=non-fiction”.
When using Calibre, don’t forget to backup your library including your metadata. You can use a utility like Duplicati to automate backing up both the library folder and the settings folder (the location can be discovered by checking preferences-> advanced).
You can set the default page display of your Calibre reader by clicking preferences (labeled #1 in the pic below) and setting the default number of pages to view (I set it at 2 to mimic a paper book, or to 3 pages at a time if I’m going to be using the fullscreen feature a lot). If your Calibre viewer flows your document like a word processing document instead of nicely formatted like a book, click the pagination button in the upper right (#2 in the pic). You can also view your book in full screen by hitting the fullscreen button (#3):
If the view options aren’t to your liking when viewing ebooks with Calibre’s default viewer, you can opt to open your ebooks with a seperate application on your computer. I like the Mac’s Preview app since it has that nice thumbnail overview of all the pages of a book. The cross-platform app Okular also gives you this overview:
To use a 3rd party ebook viewer with Calibre, go to Preferences – Behavior – ‘Use internal viewer’ and uncheck the filetypes for which you don’t want to use the built-in Calibre viewer. When you press the Calibre View button, these unchecked filetypes will then open in the program you have assigned them to them via your operating system defaults.
Here’s an old Calibre video that shows just how powerful its organization features are:
Some Notes on Reading With a Kindle
Once you purchase a Kindle, it becomes the centerpiece of your ebook reading universe. You realize what a needless strain on your eyes it was to be reading off of a LCD screen instead of the Kindle’s e-ink. As such, I’ve begun to orientate my computer desktop apps based on how well they get along with the Kindle. Here are a few tips for Kindle – Desktop synergy.
Reading ebooks on the computer Sometimes I’ll read a particular ebook on the computer if it requires lots of copying or has graphics that show better on an LCD. Besides Calibre, you can also use the Kindle App for iOS and Android if reading on an LCD tablet is satisfactory for you. I’d still recommend using a matte screen protector to reduce glare along with either enabling “white on black” mode in the Kindle App or enabling the “blue shade” tool if you own an Amazon Fire to make it easier on your eyes, especially at night.
Managing your Kindle Collections The collection management built into the Kindle itself works quite well for my purposes.
Working with highlights of Kindle books Kindles are touch-sensitive which makes them ideal for highlighting passages you wish to recall later. There is some difference in how Kindle treats books you bought from Amazon versus sideloaded ebooks (add to vocabulary and Word Wise won’t work on sideloaded books). But the Kindle will happily sync highlights of books not purchased from the associated store. The only provision is that you need to email the books to your device rather than sideloading them using USB.
For getting your Kindle annotations off of your device, you can email them from the Kindle device menu. More in-depth tools for working with annotations are provided by the Kmate app or the Clippings.io service. Both will require you to attach your Kindle device via USB, and the KMate app does have an auto-sync feature for highlights and vocabulary words. You can also use Calibre’s (experimental) fetch annotations feature: