Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How do I read epub and mobi formatted ebooks?


I joined an eBook club. I have a PC with Windows XP. The books to download
are in formats called epub or mobi. I heard from one of your email letters that
I can download Kindle for PC from Amazon so that I can download the eBooks. So
I downloaded the Kindle for PC and tried to install it. The Kindle for PC
software does not install from the installer that I saved, saying that there is
“no program on my computer that can open or recognize it.” I then tried using
Calibre to see if that would work, but it did not. Calibre appears to be some
sort of transfer mechanism of accepting the mobi or epub file prior to moving
it to another device, and not a standalone reader for the PC. Is there a simple
one-stop, downloadable program to download and read either epub or mobi books
on a Windows XP computer?

In this excerpt from Answercast #32, I look at a problem finding the right
program to read ebooks on a PC and show how to use either the Amazon Kindle
Reader or Calibre to do the job.


Kindle & eBook readers

So there are a couple of things that I don’t quite understand here.

  • The Kindle reader for PC absolutely should work!

  • It should read mobi files (.mobi files).

  • I don’t believe it reads epub files.

Installation problem?

I’m not sure what the installation problem you had is:

  • The reader comes down (as I understand it) as an .exe file, which is basically just a program that’s run on Windows.

That download is an installer that you then run. That should be able to install the Kindle for PC reader.

Once you’ve installed it, one of the things it will do is setup an association for the .mobi files; so that if you double-click on the .mobi file, it will open up in the Kindle reader.

The reason I know this is because this is one of the ways I test my own books. When I create a book, I end up creating a .mobi file. Double-clicking on it opens up that file in the Kindle reader which is installed on my PC.

Read a book with Calibre

Now, as for Calibre

For those of you who aren’t quite sure, the author is adamant that it is pronounced “Caliber” even though it’s spelled with “re” at the end. We’re all tempted to say “Calibrey” or “Caleebrey,” but in reality it’s “Caliber”

Caliber is a multi-faceted program. It actually does many things related to epublishing and it’s the closest thing to a one-stop shop that I know of to reading just about any format.

I realize that Calibre’s interface is a little bit confusing.

As I look at it here in front of me as I’m recording this podcast, the steps to read an eBook are actually pretty straightforward:

  • You would use the “Add Books” functionality to locate and tell Calibre where your books are (where the book you want to read is).
  • It will actually load it up (and then it will show up in Calibre’s list of books).
  • Then, above that, one would simply use the View button. (The View button will open an eBook reader on the book that you have selected in the list below.)

It actually is pretty simple.

Converting books with Calibre

I actually use Calibre myself because, among other things, it is a tool that will convert from format to format. You don’t necessarily need to have any devices associated with Calibre.

It does a number of different things and conversion is one of them.

I actually write all of my books in plain old HTML. It’s straightforward, it’s simple; it works for me; it’s what I use for writing on the web all the time. I import those files into Calibre simply using the Add books functionality and then I use the Convert books functionality to convert that to (as it turns out) .mobi format: which I can then upload to Kindle.

It’s a format that they accept.

You have the right tools

So, my belief is that the tools you’re talking about: Kindle Reader and/or Calibre, are all the tools that you really need.

I would recommend focusing on Calibre first, since it will read all of the formats that you’ve mentioned. Maybe spend a few minutes just sort of sussing out its user interface.

It’s not necessarily clear, but once you add a book you should then be able to view the book and read its contents entirely.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

7 comments on “How do I read epub and mobi formatted ebooks?”

  1. Helpful hint? The ebook reader ‘in’ Calibre is actually a standalone program in the Calibre program folder. You can set it to be the default reader for any ebook type that it can handle (EPUB, MOBI, and lots more!) in the usual manner using Windows Explorer. You do not need to use Calibre (altho why anybody wouldn’t use Calibre escapes me — its got to be one of the most well-done, useful pieces of programming I’ve come across in a long time) in order to use the Calibre ebook reader.

  2. Regarding the issue of the problem installing ‘Kindle for PC.’ I have no answer to any installation problem if you are actually downloading and installing the free app from Amazon. And, if you are, then Amazon Kindle tech support is there to help you — and they do it right. I assume you have established an Amazon account — you can’t get the app unless you have — and they will bill your account for 0.00 for ‘buying’ the free app. And that is good — also applies to any of the 1000’s of free Kindle ebooks that they will offer to you for downloading directly to your ‘Kindle for PC’ once it has been registered. And, of course, if you are so inclined, they are then available for import into Calibre with all the benefits that great piece of art provides. But its purpose is to sell Amazon books — does not read epub formatted books.

  3. First, as Leo noted, the Kindle for PC download is a self-contained installer so
    opening it should immediately install K4PC. And contrary to another’s comment, no Amazon account is required to download/install the program. If the installer doesn’t run, then it may be either a faulty download (so re-download a fresh file) or an XP problem. K4PC is for “Kindle books” so presumably, that means Kindle-compatible formats (for Kindle3: AZWs, TPZ, TXT and PDF, as well as unprotected/DRM-free MOBI and PRC) but I’ve only tested it with AZW and MOBI files. K4PC does NOT work with EPUBs.

    Second, I describe calibre to others simply as a multi-purpose ebook library management software with a built-in multi-format reader and conversion function. Sure, there’s more but that’s enough for the beginner or basic user. I installed calibre only a year ago only because I needed something to organize the unexpected number of acquired ebooks (namely, in PDF format). Initially overwhelmed by all that calibre could do, I only recently began to do anything other than add a new book for “storage”; I find that learning/using a calibre function one at a time on a need/want basis is less confusing. (Ha! I’m belatedly trying to figure out how to manage my Kindle collection via calibre.)

    To address the OP’s basic question, I would definitely recommend calibre over K4PC for a a casual ebook reader, especially if they expect to purchase both EPUB and MOBI formats (and probably other formats over time). In addition, calibre has the flexibility and continual software support/development to accommodate most future changes (ie, switch in ereader device or formats). And IMHO, K4PC is useless except for DRM-locked Kindle books. I finally gave in and installed K4PC this past weekend mainly because viewing cookbooks while cooking is easier with a laptop/PC than a Kindle device; I promptly UNinstalled it after my holiday cookfest. Why? K4PC looks pretty but its file management is shockingly crude at best. It is inexplicably inefficient in that the user cannot select multiple items to perform a function at the same time (ie, highlight 5 books to place in the same collection). It doesn’t even have the basic capability to alpha-sort user-generated collections! Most importantly, while I understand the reason behind it (DRM lock), I didn’t realize until afterwards that the ebook file on my Kindle wouldn’t work for K4PC. Instead of copy/paste from Kindle to K4PC folder as I expected, I had to re-download each book directly to K4PC. Worse, I didn’t see a “download all” function, but then I didn’t look too hard—by then, I got fed up and wiped K4PC from my laptop.

    P.S. … The use/spelling of calibre (vs. “caliber”) is simply original European spelling vs. later American adaptation. (Another example would be “theatre” vs “theater” which is more convoluted since both spellings are used in the US!)


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.