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How to Download EPUB, PDF, and Mobipocket to the Kindle Fire

It’s almost hard to remember, but when it came out, iBooks could read only EPUB files, not PDFs, and the only way to load them was by syncing with iTunes. Over a number of releases of both iBooks and iOS, Apple finally arrived where we are now, where you can load ebooks (purchased or downloaded outside the iBookstore) into iBooks from Safari, Mail, and any other iOS app with the necessary document copying support. From our perspective as publishers trying to make our ebooks available to iOS users, support for Web-based downloading was the most important, since it enabled us to let users download ebooks from their Take Control accounts.

But what about the Kindle? Until the release of the Android-based Kindle Fire, the only way to load ebooks purchased or downloaded outside Amazon’s Kindle Store was via a manual Finder copy to a USB-connected Kindle. The E-Ink versions of the Kindle are remarkably limited in their capabilities beyond actually reading a book (they do have Web browsers, but good luck actually using one for anything beyond the simplest of pages), but the Kindle Fire has an entirely acceptable Web browser and touch interface.

So that raises the question of how Kindle Fire users will interact with our ebooks. The most obvious answer, as with the iBookstore, is that many of our titles can be purchased from the Kindle Store. But it’s hard for us to recommend that because we make vastly less for each copy and because it’s difficult or impossible for readers to create Take Control accounts, get their ebooks in different formats, learn about and download free updates, and get discounts on new editions.

If you’re a Kindle Fire user, then, you have three basic options: download our ebooks to your computer and copy them to the Kindle manually, download them to the Kindle directly and perform some magic to move them into the proper location, or send them to your Kindle via email. Muddying the issue is the fact that while the Kindle Fire prefers the Mobipocket format, it can also open PDFs and, with some more effort, EPUBs.

Get a New Reader — First off, let’s make sure you can read all three major ebook formats: EPUB, PDF, and Mobipocket. The Kindle Fire handles Mobipocket and PDF internally (it’s actually a Kindle app that’s doing the work), but for EPUB, you’ll need another app. Plus, although the Kindle app can open PDFs, it doesn’t support PDF links, so I recommend using another app for PDFs. Luckily, there are Android ebook reading apps that can read both EPUB and PDF files, with full support for internal PDF links and many other features beyond what the Kindle app can do.

I tried a number of these apps, and ended up settling on Aldiko Book Reader, which is free, does a good job rendering both EPUB and PDF, supports internal links, and makes it easy to access downloaded or copied ebooks. A close second was Mantano Reader, whose ad-supported free version had essentially the same feature set (there’s also a $4.99 premium version that drops the ads). Bluefire, which also has an iOS version (see “OverDrive, Bluefire, and the EPUBlic Library,” 18 February 2011), works well for reading, but
requires serious hoop jumping to import downloaded ebooks.

Getting Aldiko Book Reader onto your Kindle Fire takes some effort. In a protectionist move that puts even Apple to shame, Amazon prevents EPUB reading apps from being accessed from the Kindle Fire, even though the company allows EPUB reading apps to be in the Amazon Appstore for Android for other devices. Plus, the Kindle Fire isn’t compatible with Google Play (previously known as the Android Marketplace), so I was unable to get Aldiko Book Reader from there (though at least one commenter was). But since Android is much less locked down than iOS, you can install anything you can download, as long as you run through these steps first:

  1. Tap the gear button in the upper right corner of the screen to access the Kindle Fire’s settings.

  2. Tap More > Device.

  3. Turn on Allow Installation of Applications From Unknown Sources.

(A brief aside: Given the prevalence of malware in Android apps acquired through “alternative markets,” I strongly recommend you turn that setting back off after you install Aldiko Book Reader. And if you do want to install other apps not available from the Amazon Appstore for Android, go directly to the company in question and avoid random app stores that might come up with a simple search.)

Luckily, Aldiko Book Reader is relatively easily downloaded from the company’s Download page using the Kindle Fire’s Web browser; just enter your email address in the field and click the Grab It button. (When I did this, I got an error about the server not being able to send me email, but it provided a link to download directly, which worked fine — zoom in on the page and tap and hold on it if you have trouble tapping it.) Then tap the Menu button at the bottom of the screen, tap Downloads in the pop-up button menu, and tap aldiko-standard-200160.apk (or whatever yours ends up being called) to install Aldiko Book Reader.

For the most part, opening a book in Aldiko Book Reader is self-explanatory — from its main screen, tap Shelf View or List View to see your loaded ebooks, or tap Files to show the Kindle Fire’s file system and open or import ebooks from any local location. Reading is similarly obvious: tap on the right or left side of the screen to page forward or backward, or swipe left or right. However, two tips will improve your experience:

  • While reading an EPUB book, tap Menu > Settings > More and turn off Advanced Formatting so the publisher’s styles and formatting are honored. (Obviously, this is optional, but in my admittedly biased opinion, our ebooks look better when our styles are honored.) This is a global setting and will be remembered.
  • When tapping links in Aldiko Book Reader (and this was true in other apps I tried as well), you have to be a little careful, since a tap on the screen generally brings up controls. My experience was that very quick, light taps worked the best for following links without invoking the control display.

With that done, the next question is, how do you get a book into the Kindle Fire, either to read in its native Kindle app (for Mobipocket files) or in Aldiko Book Reader (for EPUB and PDF)? There are three approaches: direct USB transfer from a Mac or PC, direct downloading via the Kindle Fire’s Web browser, and email via the Kindle Personal Documents Service.

Load Ebooks via USB — Copying an ebook to the Kindle Fire via a USB cable is simple, but it does require that you have access to a Mac or PC and a micro-USB cable. Assuming both of those are true, follow these steps:

  1. Connect the Kindle Fire to your computer with the micro-USB cable. If necessary, wake the Kindle Fire up and swipe the slider to get to the page that tells you that you can transfer files. Once the Kindle Fire is properly mounted as a USB disk, you’ll see it in the Finder window sidebar, under Devices, as KINDLE. Click it to view the Kindle Fire’s file system.

  2. Open a second Finder window, and navigate to wherever you keep the ebooks you want to copy to the Kindle Fire.

  3. Drag the desired ebook to the desired spot in the Kindle file system. Where it goes depends on the file type and how you plan to read it.

    • Mobipocket: Drag the file to KINDLE/Documents to have it appear in the Docs page in the Kindle Fire’s home screen. You can also drag Mobipocket files to KINDLE/Books, but they will still appear in the Docs page, not the Books page. Copying files to the Books directory goes against Amazon’s instructions; presumably Amazon wants it to hold only purchased ebooks. (Technically, you can put a PDF file in KINDLE/Documents, but then tapping it will open it only in the Kindle app, which isn’t nearly as good a PDF reader as Aldiko Book Reader.)
    • EPUB and PDF: Although some ebook reader apps (notably Bluefire) have a special import directory, Aldiko Book Reader can load EPUB and PDF files from anywhere in the Kindle Fire’s file system (at least the user-writable space). So, it doesn’t matter where you copy the files, but for sanity’s sake, I recommend you put them in the KINDLE/eBooks directory that Aldiko Book Reader creates.

  4. Click the eject button in a Finder window’s sidebar, and tap the Disconnect button on the Kindle Fire’s screen.

  5. If you’re copying files for use in the built-in Kindle app, you’re done. Mobipocket and PDF files copied to the Documents directory appear in the Docs page and can be opened in the Kindle app from there.

  6. If you’re copying files for use in Aldiko Book Reader, one more set of steps is necessary:

    1. In the Apps page, launch Aldiko Book Reader and tap the Files button on the main screen to view the Kindle Fire’s file system.
    2. Navigate into the eBooks directory.

    3. Tap a book and tap either Open or Import to open it temporarily or import it permanently into Aldiko Book Reader’s library.

    Either way, the file remains in the eBooks directory, so if you import it, you may want to delete it from the eBooks directory later.

Load Ebooks via the Web — Downloading an ebook from the Web requires a slightly different approach, because although the Kindle Fire’s Web browser can download files of any type, they end up in KINDLE/Download, and the Kindle app is inexplicably incapable of opening even Mobipocket files from the browser’s Downloads page. So, if you’re downloading Mobipocket files to read in the Kindle app, follow these steps after you have downloaded one or more files.

  1. Tap Apps on the Kindle Fire’s home screen, then tap Store to go into the Amazon Appstore for Android.

  2. Search for “File Expert” (it’s a free file management app that lets you browse and manipulate files on the Kindle Fire — a radical concept for iOS users!). When you find it, tap the Free button, and, once it morphs, the Get App button.

  3. Once File Expert has downloaded, tap the Open button (or just open it from the Apps page like any other app). File Expert displays a list of top-level collections.

  4. Tap Folders > SD Card > Download and tap and hold on the file you want to work with. A File Operations dialog appears.

  5. Tap Cut (you’re going to move the file), tap the Back button at the bottom of the screen to navigate up a level in the file system, tap Documents, and tap Paste. File Expert moves the file from the Download directory to the Documents directory.

  6. Return to the Kindle Fire’s home screen, tap Docs, and see if the file you just moved appears. If it doesn’t (it didn’t in my tests), restart your Kindle Fire by pressing and holding the physical Sleep button for several seconds, tapping the Shut Down button, and then pressing the Sleep button again to power up the device.

    (Honestly, I was shocked that this restart was necessary, but apparently the Kindle Fire’s interface software isn’t smart enough to detect file system changes that take place behind its back — in other words, that don’t occur via Amazon’s preferred direct USB method.)

Luckily, thanks to Aldiko Book Reader’s capability of opening or importing files from any directory on the Kindle Fire, none of this fuss is necessary for downloaded EPUB and PDF files. Instead, follow these steps after downloading the files:

  1. Launch Aldiko Book Reader.
  2. Tap the Files button on the main screen to view the Kindle Fire’s file system.

  3. Navigate into the Download directory and tap a book to open it (for a quick peek) or import it (for repeated reading) into Aldiko Book Reader’s library.

    Either way, the file remains in the Download directory, so if you import it, you may want to delete it from the Download directory later, which you can do from either File Expert or the browser’s Download page.

Load Ebooks via Email — This final approach — email via Amazon’s Kindle Personal Documents Service — works only for a small set of file formats, including Mobipocket and PDF, but not EPUB. Though there is a fee for sending documents to E-Ink Kindles that rely on Whispernet, Wi-Fi-based transfers, which are all that are possible on the Kindle Fire, are free.

There are other requirements too. Email attachments must be sent from an address you have added to an approved list, must be sent to your special email address (it’s listed in the Kindle Fire’s Docs page), must be less than 50 MB, and must be in one of the following formats (note the lack of EPUB). And you can send no more than 25 attachments at once.

  • Documents: AZW, TXT, PDF, MOBI, PRC, DOC, DOCX
  • Audio supported within Music: MP3, DRM-free AAC, MIDI, OGG, WAV
  • Images: JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • Video: MP4, VP8

Mobipocket and PDF files that you send to your Kindle Fire via email show up in the Documents directory and appear in the Docs page. Unsupported file formats like EPUB are dropped in transit — they never arrive on the device, and Amazon sends you email telling you that they’re not accepted.

To read a PDF sent to a Kindle Fire via email, assuming you’re using Aldiko Book Reader, just navigate to the Documents directory and open or import the file as you would a document loaded in any other fashion.

[Update: The day after this article was published, Amazon released the Send to Kindle app for the Mac. It’s an easy-to-use interface to the Kindle Personal Documents Service that enables you to send a file to your Kindle Fire by dropping it on Send to Kindle’s Dock icon or main window, by Control-clicking a file and choosing Services > Send to Kindle, and by printing to Send to Kindle (as a PDF). Like the email interface to Kindle Personal Documents Service, the app supports only a small set of file formats, including PDF, but not EPUB. Although Amazon doesn’t acknowledge this, Mobipocket files also work. Files end up in the Documents directory and appear in the Docs page. In short, Send to Kindle is useful for transferring Mobipocket files into your Kindle Fire, but isn’t useful for EPUB, nor for PDF if you want to use Aldiko Book Reader. -Adam]

Final Recommendations — Some publishers restrict themselves to certain formats, but if you have a choice, as you do with our Take Control ebooks, I recommend that you standardize on the EPUB format and Aldiko Book Reader (or some other competent EPUB reader).

When comparing with Mobipocket, I prefer EPUB because it’s more likely that a publisher will convert an EPUB to get a Mobipocket file (that’s what we do). As a result, the Mobipocket versions of ebooks may suffer from conversion artifacts and other issues.

When comparing with PDF, I also prefer EPUB because PDF is not a reflowable format, and the small screen of the Kindle Fire makes reading a full-page PDF an effort unless you have extremely good vision. You can zoom in, of course, but then it’s more difficult to navigate around in the PDF.

Regardless, though, with the instructions here, you should be able to use your Kindle Fire to access and read any DRM-free ebook you want, in EPUB, PDF, or Mobipocket format.

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