Amazon Kindle provides a popular, easy-to-use, and (sometimes) cheap ecosystem of devices and books for anyone who enjoys reading eBooks. Of course they are also not the most ethical of companies which might make the proposition entirely unattractive to you - which is not a topic I’ll deal with here. However their monopolistic ways are such that many folk end up with a stash of Kindle ebooks they bought.

One problem though is that Kindle books are (usually) encrypted with DRM. This means that whilst they open smoothly on Kindle devices, Kindle apps and the Kindle Reader website they won’t work anywhere else. You can’t switch to a different ereader device, a different app or read them on an operating system that doesn’t have the app (except perhaps via the web).

Furthermore presumably if you lose access to your Amazon account then you’ve also lost all your books. That’s presumably unlikely to happen most of people, but there are plenty of stories on the internet of people this has apparently happened to.

And it’s not absolutely unheard of for Amazon to magically make a book you thought you purchased vanish. Famously, people woke up one day to find that the copy of George Orwell’s book ‘1984’ of all things - you know, the one about how the government retrospectively rewrites history by changing the digital records of what happened - had vanished, from the Amazon store and their own Kindles. They’re also able to change the content of the books after you purchased them - in theory for good, but each individual case might depend on your opinion. So all in all, whether you’re switching apps or devices or simply trying to make a safe backup, you’re going to end up with a bunch of unusable files if you try to open them in something not officially created by Amazon. I don’t love this, to say the least.

But it turns out that the wonderful internet people have figured out how to remove the DRM from Amazon eBooks. Once the DRM is gone you can open it on any device or app that supports the file format, or use a tool such as Calibre to convert them to other formats that your chosen reading setup can work with.

Obviously if removing DRM is illegal where you live - and to be honest it probably is, but hey, you never know - then you shouldn’t do it. But once you moved to a country where it is permitted then the below is - purely in theory of course - one of the simpler ways you might do it.

One method to do this is via the aforementioned Calibre ebook management software which is free, open source and available for Windows, MacOS and Linux operating systems and one of its plugins. Calibre is actually well worth a look if you’re into ebooks even if you aren’t stuck with a load of DRM-laden Kindle files.

Below I’m going to outline what I believe to have been the most reliable approach over time.

There are two downsides to this approach though:

Firstly you have to have a hardware Kindle eInk device currently registered to your Amazon account. It shouldn’t matter which model as long as its one of the eInk ones and not one of their Android ‘Fire’ style tablets. I have heard of people buying an old and cheap ereader from eBay just to connect it up to their Amazon account to enable the below, even if they have no intention of using the device itself.

It doesn’t actually matter if your Kindle is later broken or lost; the key is that it must currently be registered to your Amazon account.

Secondly you have to download your books from the Amazon website to your computer one at a time as far as I can tell. This will be painful if you have a lot of books.

If it’s unbearable then I know some people have had success using the Kindle apps for Windows and Macs to download books en masse. But the encryption Amazon uses in that case is different than that used when you are using a Kindle eInk eReader. It seems to change often enough that depending on exactly what and when you try it you might come up against problems with the actual DRM removal.

That said, if you want to try that way you’ll still need the plugin mentioned below - but also I’d suggest you search for another guide as there’s more to it than what I’m outlining here. The Calibre subreddit is perhaps one of the best places to find this stuff, but there are plenty of possibilities.

But if you can cope with that, then:

  • First make sure you have Calibre installed.
  • Then download the DeDRM_tools plugin. I think the newest version is from the noDRM repo; this one. Download the zip file at the bottom of the page ( at the time of writing).
  • Extract the files from the zip somewhere onto your computer.

Then load Calibre and do the following inside it:

  • Preferences -> Advanced -> Load plugin from file.
  • Choose to load the file you downloaded.
  • Reboot Calibre (maybe).
  • Preferences -> Advanced -> Plugins -> DeDrm -> Customize Plugin -> Kindle eInk ebooks
  • Add the serial number of your Kindle, which is available either somewhere in your Kindle settings or on the Amazon website if you go to the page called “Manage your content and devices” and enter the devices section. Now you can see why you need an eInk Kindle to have been connected.

Now back the Amazon website page “Manage your content and devices”:

  • Go to Content and then Books and find the book you want.
  • Under “More actions” select to download and transfer via USB.
  • Pick the device that you added the serial number of when it asks you which devices. This will download a file, currently ending in azw3.

Lastly, Inside Calibre, import the azw3 book as usual via Add Books menu. And there we go, the book should hopefully open just fine in Calibre and be freely available for reading, conversion and all the other good stuff Calibre does.