Weightless Books Sitewide Sale

Indie ebook retailer Weightless Books ran a 25% off sale for the week between Xmas and New Years Day. However, they still have the sale banner up and I made a purchase yesterday and was still able to use the coupon code, which is “25off” . There is some good stuff in here, particularly for fans of fantasy, science fiction and romance genres. If you like ebooks yet decry the Amazon hegemony, there is no better way to fight the power than doing a little business with the little guys.

For most books, you can choose to download in ePub, Mobi, Lit or PDF formats, and they are all DRM free. Even though I have a Kindle I download in ePub and put them in Calibre to let it convert them. Thus far, it has turned out great every time.

Using Calibre to Fetch Instapaper Documents

Today I was listening to Episode #81 of the Kindle Chronicles. It was especially interesting to me for three reasons:

  1. James McQuivey’s analysis of the Amazon/Macmillan dispute
  2. Len gave tips about using the great Instapaper service with one’s Kindle and
  3. Len mentioned me by name to reference this post on my thought experiment.

In the show, Len discussed the options in Instapaper to email documents to a Kindle but there is another way I’ll discuss shortly.

To back up, Instapaper is a great service that lets you mark long form articles to be read later. I have a bookmarklet in all my browsers that with a single click and mark any page as such. The service is good and seems to handle multipage articles pretty well.

If you are already a user of Calibre (and I suggest everyone serious about using e-reader devices should be), there is another option. Calibre already has functionality under the “Fetch News” option to pull down and create documents with a simple scripting language. There are a few hundred built in sources and the ability for you to create our own pretty simply, and then a scheduler to set up how often this news source is fetched.

Click the “Fetch News” button in the toolbar of Calibre. You can either type “Instapaper” in the search box, or navigate to the “Unknown” category at the bottom of the list and select “Instapaper.com”. Click the “Scheduled for Downloads” checkbox, select the frequency or schedule that you want to have it fetched. Below, enter your username (email address) and your password on the service. It’s that simple. Now, when Calibre fetches the news from Instapaper, it will assemble all of your “Unread” items into a document and also tell Instapaper to move those articles into the “Read” category so you don’t repeatedly fetch them.

I’ve had it set up this way for a few months now and really like it. If I see a blog post or link to an article that I’d like to read but is longer than I have time for currently, I hit the Instapaper “Read Later” bookmarklet and forget about it. At a future time, Calibre will fetch it and then it will automatically get moved to my Kindle and I’ll have it there to read – typically on the orbital trainer at the gym. It’s a nice, seamless way to keep from letting these longer articles drop through the cracks.

Update: I can see Len Edgerly has kindly linked to this blog post from the most recent Kindle Chronicles and will use this tip on a future show. Via email, he asked me a few days ago what the advantage is to this over having Instapaper just email it directly to you Kindle. My response in part was that I’m not sure I’d consider it an advantage per se. It’s just a different mode of interaction. I almost never email anything to my Kindle, and I do use Calibre as the central point in my book management, equivalently how you might use iTunes with music. All books from here on go into Calibre first for me, and from there to my Kindle or whatever future device I might have. Whether Gutenberg or any other DRM free source, I tend to get ePub and convert from there.

After I emailed Len I did think of some more explicit advantages. If one has a few different devices (like Len does) that you use interchangeably, whichever device you connect will automatically get the newest news content transferred to it. This means that you could hook your Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader et al to it shortly before you walk out the door and you’ll get the Instapaper document. It removes the Kindle specificity and makes it more of a total ecosystem tool.

In my case, I’m such a cheapskate that I’m not going to pay $0.15 per Instapaper push. I have to plug the Kindle up to charge it, so I just get the news when that happens. Different strokes for different folks.

Kindle Tools I Am Using

I got my Kindle in March 2009 and shortly after that I installed Calibre, mostly to test out its ability to convert PDFs and other documents into Mobi format. It wasn’t until the holidays that I really worked with it a lot and realized what a sophisticated library management tool it is. I’m too lazy to look at the release history to see if a lot of this functionality is new or I just missed it last spring. It doesn’t matter, I’m using it now.

A really cool bit of functionality is the news fetching and conversion functionality. I had experimented with subscribing to some of the Kindle blogs via Amazon but to be honest, none of them excited me enough to pay $1/month for them. The news fetching is cool and Calibre converts to very readable books. You have the option to configure the program to email the converted books to your Kindle but that’s really not necessary. I have it configured to automatically move the news books to my device and then delete them from the library on the laptop. It works really well, and then when I read them on the Kindle I just delete them.

Because the conversion is so good, I changed my strategy in how I deal with Project Gutenberg books. I used to download those books in MOBI format but I’ve started defaulting to getting them in EPUB. SInce EPUB is an open format with rich metadata it converts well so I’m treating it as my “lingua franca” format. Should I ever end up with a Nook (unlikely as that seems today), it’s a matter of one sync and I’ve got the same library of books on the new device.

Calibre is now the center of my Kindle experience. I don’t move documents to the device via file copy anymore. I add them to Calibre and let it be the transport mechanism, the catalog and format manager, and in the case of the news the RSS fetcher. It truly rocks and I’m very happy with it.

Another tool I found (via Teleread) is Neotake, an ebook search engine. I followed the link from my Teleread news ebook (as per above), and it took me to the mobile version of Neotake in the Kindle’s web browser. I searched for “George Eliot”, which gave me a very easily readable list of results. I followed the link to The Mill on the Floss and downloaded the MOBI version from the browser. In a few seconds the book showed up in my list in the home screen. It was basically about as easy to use as the Amazon store. I made sure to add Neotake to my bookmark list. It looks to be a valuable tool in the Kindle and other e-reader toolkit.