Wednesday, 31 October 2018


I was talking to a friend recently, and the subject of e-readers came up. He claimed he had an uneasy relationship with his Kindle, because of its exclusive linkage to Amazon. A lot of people, I know, are unhappy to use Amazon, partly because of its domineering position in the digital marketplace, and the negative effect this is having on traditional retailers, and partly because of the appalling working conditions in its warehouses. Frankly, I am a complete hypocrite in this regard. I have been an Amazon customer forever, since it was just a novel way of buying books and I experienced the pleasure of receiving a pristine, shrink-wrapped copy of a book that would, in a most regular bookshops, have suffered so much "shelf wear" and been so well-thumbed by previous browsers that it might as well have been a second-hand copy. I suppose I think of Amazon as a wicked but wealthy and well-connected uncle who sends the most brilliant birthday presents.

However, did my friend not know about other, alternative e-readers, such as Kobo or Nook, I wondered? Or, given he already had a Kindle, did he not know about Project Gutenberg?

I thought everyone knew about Gutenberg, but apparently not. If you don't, and might have an interest in almost 60,000 free e-books, which are proof-checked, transcribed texts of classic out-of-copyright material [1], then I suggest you check it out. Less surprisingly, it seems that even among those who do know about Gutenberg the business of how to get a Gutenberg book onto your Kindle is not common knowledge. Well, Amazon do not exactly advocate the practice. So let me revert to my former profession and turn you on.

To use a Project Gutenberg e-book on your Kindle, you first need to find your Kindle's email address. (I know! Who knew your e-reader had a private life?) To do this, open Amazon in your Web browser and go to "Your Account" and then "Manage Your Content and Devices".

You will be asked to sign in, and you will see what is, in effect, your Kindle management page. Go to the "Devices" tab, and you'll see your various Kindles and Kindle apps. If, like me, you've acquired several Kindles and set up numerous PCs and phones and tablets to read Kindle books [2] the list may be quite long. However, click on the "Actions" icon to the left of the one you regard as your main device, and – behold! – you will see it does indeed have an email address. Make a note of it.

Now click on the "Preferences" tab. Scroll down, and click on "Personal Document Settings". You'll see various things, but what you want to check is that your own preferred email address is listed under "Approved Personal Document E-mail List". If yes, nothing need be done, If not, simply add it.

You're all set. Go to the Project Gutenberg page and look for something: the search facility appears antiquated, but it works. Click on a book's icon -- for example, this one -- and you'll see the available download choices. A quick read in the online version is always a good idea, just to check it's what you really want. But, to get it onto your Kindle:

Click either "Kindle (with images)" or "Kindle (no images") in the download options. In the random example I've chosen, you'll see that the file with pictures is bigger, but in most cases you will probably want the pictures. This will download the book as a Kindle-compatible file onto your PC. Alternatively, if you use a "cloud" application like Dropbox or Google Drive and prefer to download stuff there, click the relevant icon over on the right. Dropbox (which I use a lot: please don't tell me they're evil, too) will automatically create a special "gutenberg" folder for you under "Apps".

Now, this is the bizarre part: send an email to your Kindle's email address with the Gutenberg file as an attachment. Shortly thereafter, you should see it either in your "Docs" (on more sophisticated devices like the Kindle Fire, where you can use "Send to Kindle" to add it to your Kindle Library) or in your library of books, ready to read. That's all there is to it.

However: please do respect your Kindle's privacy, and refrain from reading its email correspondence... Mind you, as Wittgenstein might have said, if an e-reader could email, we could not understand it.

Early prototype e-reader

1. In the USA, that is. Copyright is a complex business, but I'm not aware of any reported difficulties using Gutenberg material anywhere else in the world.
2. You do know that is possible, without even owning an actual Kindle, don't you? E-books look great on  tablet.


Zouk Delors said...

"a wicked but wealthy and well-connected uncle who sends the most brilliant birthday presents"

Surely you mean "sells you the most brilliant birthday presents"?

Is it possible to get books by Mike Chisholm on a Kindle via email (presumably ticking the "include illustrations" box!)?

Mike C. said...


True enough, I stand corrected! He's a wily old geezer...

Yes, in theory, you can put Blurb books onto Amazon for the Kindle, but I'm not keen on Blurb's conversion of books into e-books -- it's a bit too "one size fits all" -- and besides, anyone can use a PDF on anything, and it's a precise representation of my original intentions (provided people get the right pages facing each other, which can be a problem). Also, why give Uncle Amazon his cut of an already meagre profit?