By Maggie James
A range of free apps for all your devices
'I'd love to read your ebook,' somebody commented recently to an author friend of mine. 'But I don't have a Kindle.'
There's a common misconception that, to read Kindle books, you need a Kindle. Not so! You can enjoy Amazon's huge selection of over two million e-books without buying a Kindle. Let's look first at what Amazon themselves offer as a solution.
Naturally, Amazon want to make it easy for their customers to read Kindle books, and recognise that not everybody will buy a device simply for that purpose. So they provide other options. You can download a range of free Kindle e-reading apps to your computer, tablet and smartphone, as well as use Amazon's Cloud reader.
Available for smartphones, tablets and computers, and it's free!
In doing so, they've covered virtually all bases, as you'd expect. Their Kindle app is available for every major smartphone, tablet, and computer, meaning you can read Kindle books on any device on which it's installed.
The app uses Amazon’s Whispersync technology, enabling you to save and synchronise your e-books across all your devices. As you'd expect from Amazon, it's awesomely efficient! And it's free, of course. Here's the link.
What if you already own a Kobo or Nook?
What if you already own an e-reading device, such as a Kobo or Nook? These e-readers only work with ebooks in ePub format, whereas Kindle uses the AZW format. You'll need to convert your Kindle books from AZW into ePub, and there's a simple way to do so, one I've been using for years. Enter calibre (yes, it's spelled with a small 'c'!)
What is calibre? It's free ebook management software, and its uses extend far beyond format conversion. I store all my ebooks in calibre, no matter what the format. Kindle, Word documents, PDFs, ePubs - calibre will collate them all, allowing the user to add notes, tags, edit metadata, and organise them according to choice. It will also transfer books to and from your e-reader.
You can also connect via calibre to a wide range of e-book stores to browse for new purchases, as well as share your ebook library with friends. The software is also an e-reader, meaning you can access your books within calibre itself. I find it immensely useful for storing and collating my e-library, and wouldn't be without it.
It's quick, free and easy to convert ebooks
So how do you use calibre to convert your Kindle books for your e-reader? Here's how.
1. Download and install thefree calibre software. It's available for Windows, OS X and Linux, as well as in a portable version.
2. Open the software. In the top left-hand corner, you'll see the 'add books' icon. Click on it to navigate to the Kindle book you'd like to include. For PC users, they usually download to C:\Users\Name\My Documents\My Kindle Content.
3. Once you've added the book, highlight it. Click the 'convert books' icon on the toolbar, the third one from the left. A new screen will appear.
4. The book's existing format, AZW, will show as 'input format' in the top left-hand corner, via a drop-down menu. In the top right-hand corner is another menu for the output format. There are several different ones available, but for Nook and Kobo, you'll want to select ePub.
5. Click the 'OK' button, and in the bottom right-hand corner, you'll see calibre's progress in converting the book. It usually takes a second or two to complete.
6. Once the book is in ePub format, attach your e-reader to your computer. Highlight the book again and click on 'send to device'. (This icon will only appear once your device is connected). If you forget to convert a book before attempting to add it to your e-reader, calibre will prompt you to do so anyway.
7. Remember to eject your e-reader once you're done, via the 'device' button.
What about digital rights management?
What if the Kindle book you buy has DRM installed, however? DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and some authors add this to their Kindle books as a way of preventing piracy. Books with DRM can't be converted or used on any device other than with Kindle. As a writer myself, I don't use DRM, for two reasons. One is that readers want to access their books as and when they choose, on any device. DRM annoys a lot of people when they find it's in the books they've bought. The second is that DRM as a means to prevent piracy is useless. It's quick, easy and free to strip it from a book, with no technical knowledge required, via third party software available as a plug-in to calibre. This works by stripping out the DRM as you add the book. Whether it's legal to do so depends on the country where you live. It's a grey area, and I'm not suggesting anyone should break the law. In practice, though, if you're converting books for your own use with no intention of piracy, you'll probably be OK. Due to the legal complexities, I can't and won't advocate removing DRM from books, however.
Let's spread the word!
I'm keen for as many people as possible to know a Kindle's not necessary to read Kindle books. If you've found this post useful, I'd be grateful if you'd share it, via the buttons below. Thanks for reading!
Other related posts:
Digital or physical books - which do you prefer? Read it here.
E-reader or tablet for digital books? Read it here.
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By Maggie James
The wonderful world of Goodreads
As somebody who has always been a prolific reader, I can't believe it's only been a year or so since I first discovered Goodreads (www.goodreads.com). Goodreads is now owned by Amazon, and I'm hopeful that in due course this will mean some changes will be made, as the user interface is clunky and old-fashioned. However, that is the only downside for me.
For anyone who loves books, both fiction and non-fiction, this website is truly amazing, and the largest of its kind. It is enormous – it took me a long (but enjoyable!) time to check out all the options available. Don't worry, you probably won't need most of them and of course everyone will use the site differently. I never bother with the quizzes and polls, but explore the virtual bookshelves and the groups all the time.
So what exactly can you find on the Goodreads site?
Well, once you've joined up and created your user profile, perhaps the best way to get started is to create some bookshelves. The you can add some books to them. Yes, that's right – instead of physical bookshelves, Goodreads uses virtual ones so you can organise your books. You can have as many shelves as you like, and name them in any way you want.
I arrange my shelves by genre, although Goodreads gives everyone shelves for 'currently reading', 'to read' and 'read. When I'm browsing the site and notice a book that I'd like to read, I simply click on the green 'want to read' button and Goodreads automatically adds the book to my 'to read' shelf. This means I don't have to remember all the wonderful books that I find, as Goodreads automatically lists them for me. Simple! It's quick and easy to move books between shelves, too.
Want to add in books you've already read? No problem! Simply use Goodreads' search function to find them. Then, if you wish, you can rate them using Goodreads' five-star system, and write a review of the book as well. Want to find new books to read? Again, no problem - Goodreads has several ways of presenting you with possibilities, once it's learned about your taste in books.
Widgets and other fun things
On the home page, Goodreads provides me with a section for the book I'm currently reading, where I can update my reading status and make comments. All such updates appear in the feed that streams on the home page, so other Goodreads members who are my friends on the site can see what I'm reading and whether I'm enjoying it.
There are also some fun things for Goodreads readers to do with their shelves, such as prepare a shelf cloud (see mine in the picture above), view their reading statistics, and use widgets such as the Amazon bookmark. This is a toolbar add-on that allows readers to add books to their Goodreads shelves whilst surfing Amazon - very convenient! You can also connect your Goodreads profile with Facebook if you wish, so that book reviews appear on your Facebook feed.
Liaise with other readers
I mentioned that other people can see what I'm reading – Goodreads is also a very sociable site, although you don't have to connect with other members if you don't wish to. Adding a friend is as easy as clicking on their profile and then the 'add friend' button. As with any other social media site, you can either approve or ignore friendship requests, and send messages to other members.
Another fun option is comparing what books you and your friends have on your shelves, with Goodreads delivering a Venn diagram to show how similar (or not) your tastes are. Send a book recommendation to your friends if you discover a title you think they'd love, and you'll doubtless receive lots in return. An excellent way to discover new books and authors! I have found many great titles from the recommendations sent to me by my Goodreads friends. And I love meeting new people on the site - if you'd like to connect with me on Goodreads, here is the link to my profile.
Now let's look at the Goodreads groups. There appear to be in the region of 90,000 groups on Goodreads, split into just about every possible category. Many groups are defined by genre, so whatever your reading taste you'll find like-minded people with whom to share books. There are also groups split geographically - I'm in one of the U.K. book groups - as well as ones for parents, ones devoted to specific authors, and groups that exist just for fun. Others are very specialised - check out the 'Tournament of Books' and 'Bookmarks Subscribers' ones in the picture. With 90, 000 groups on offer, you're sure to find some that suit you.
What happens when you join a group? Well, you can find and review books, browse the myriad of topics being talked about, join in the 'book of the month' reading discussions, and liaise with other people in the group on just about anything.
Groups are also a good way of exploring new genres. For example, I decided recently that I'd like to read more science fiction novels. I've been put off by some of the dry, dull ones that I've read in the past, so I joined one of the science fiction groups and asked for recommendations. I now have several possibilities on my 'to read' shelf, and so far they have been excellent.
Newsletter, blogs, lists and other stuff
What else? Well, the Goodreads site has its own blog and email newsletter, two more excellent ways to discover new authors and books. Members can also set up their own blog on the site. This can be useful if someone doesn't want to maintain a Blogger or WordPress site, but just wants to post now and again about anything related to books. If you do have your own blog elsewhere, it's possible to sync it via RSS feed to your Goodreads one, so that posts appear automatically (there is a time delay of a day or so, though).
You can see from the picture of the Explore section that there's a host of other things you can do on Goodreads, although I've shown only a small selection of what's available there. For example, members can post events, such as book swaps and book club meetings, take part in quizzes and create lists in Listopia. These can be about absolutely anything; for example, when I was on Goodreads this morning, the site was featuring a list about the best books written about dragons. Not my sort of thing, but hey, somebody on Goodreads will no doubt love it! Really, the best way to see what's on offer is to dive in and explore the site - but allow yourself plenty of time! Be aware - it can become addictive.
Another great thing about Goodreads is the Giveaways. This is when an author makes available as a Giveaway hard copies of their books (sadly, not e-books, although it's rumoured this will soon change). There are hundreds of Giveaways available at any time, as Goodreads also has a thriving author community, of which I'm a member. You can search by popular authors, recently listed, Giveaways about to end, and so on.
Once you find a book you'd like to win, simply click to enter the competition, and at the end of the stipulated period, Goodreads randomly picks a winner.
I've now done several of these, and I've found them great for connecting to my readers.
To sum up...
If you're not already a Goodreads member, I heartily encourage you to join so you can explore the wonderful world of books on the site. if you're already a member, hopefully I've been able to point out some features of which you might not have been aware. I look forward to connecting with you on Goodreads!
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