by George Heymann

Calibre open-source ebook management

by George Heymann

Calibre is a free open-source e-book management program that makes it easy to download web content and convert it to e-book format for import into your e-book reader of choice.

Calibre developer Kovid Goyal wrote the original application (libprs500) back in 2006 as a way of converting existing e-books for use with the then recently released Sony PRS-500 e-reader. With the help of the open source community, Calibre has developed a robust following — the project has soared to support almost 3 million users in 232 countries. (It’s interesting to note that the total number of countries in the world is estimated between 192 and 245 depending on your political persuasion. I’m not sure how Goyal is drawing his geographical estimate of countries served.)

Main Screen of Windows version of Calibre

Since its introduction, Calibre has seen various iterations and now supports multiple devices (more than 20 at last count) including, of course, the Kindle & Nook devices as well as any e-book reader that exports itself as a USB disk. Calibre also supports conversion to/from 20 input formats and 13 output formats, including the most commonly used formats: LIT, MOBI, EPUB, HTML, PRC, RTF, PDB, TXT and PDF.

Calibre has myriad features to satisfy most e-book needs, including library management, e-book conversions, syncing to e-book reader devices, downloading web content and converting it to e-book form, an e-book viewer, and a built-in web server for remote access to your e-book collection.

E-book viewer built-in to Calibre

For me, what makes Calibre most valuable is its ability to convert website feeds into an e-book format that I can easily import into my reader. Calibre comes pre-configured with many feeds it calls “recipes” that automate the conversion process for you. Diving a little deeper into the Calibre feature set will allow you to set up your own “recipes” that will allow you to import any web RSS feed and convert it to an e-book.

I currently have 43 feeds that I regularly download and convert . This allows me to access that content at any time without having to be tethered to an internet connection. You can add or subtract feeds as you see fit. It takes a few steps to initially set-up a custom feed but once it’s set up, future downloads are automated at the schedule that you selected.

I’ve had several interesting conversations with friends and co-workers about the advantages and disadvantages of e-books and e-readers. The main objection raised against e-books is the fact readers want the physical feel of an actual book. There is something about the tactile interaction of a physical book that is lost in the translation of a virtual book. There is no denying that point.

But for me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages — almost instant access to content and access to content that wouldn’t be available through normal channels. The convenience outweighs the cost to purchase an e-reader. E-books cost less than their paper counterparts. If you are an avid reader, you can overcome the initial cost of the device in the first year. E-books are environmentally friendly and present opportunities for self-publishing that wouldn’t be economically feasible using conventional methods.

Of course, there is more, but hopefully this is enough for you to consider the possibility. I’m not trying to sell you one or convert you to my religion. You may decide that e-books and e-readers are not for you and that’s OK — they’re not for everyone. Programs like Calibre just make an already useful tool more valuable.

Calibre runs on Windows, OSX and Linux and is available as a free download from The developer has set up an optional donation page for users who want to help support the development of Calibre. The donation link can found


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