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Converting Kindle Books to Audiobook Files on Mac

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The words in your Kindle books are just simple text characters. But due to Draconian DRM, it’s a hassle and a half to make those words more accessible. Thank goodness for the Open Source community.

Before we get into it, I have a few caveats:

  1. These instructions are provided for informational purposes only. I hold no liability for how you use this info.
  2. The purpose of these instructions are to provide better accessibility for the content you’ve legally purchased.

In my opinion, making information accessible is one of the key imperitives of using tech. I also believe accessibility through tech is a human right. We should be able to take the text we’ve purchased (or bought a license to read), then view/interpret using tools/etc. in whatever way best fits how our individual brains work. Artificial corporate limitations (that take more work than just making the content accessible) feel gross and wrong.

Not everyone who has purchased a Kindle book has a working Kindle device. (I have a stack of broken Kindles whose screens just suddenly stopped working, or whose batteries stopped taking a charge.)

Our society is brutal for those facing disabilities, and it’s cruel to assume that someone struggling with sight should be required to purchase additional devices when finances are probably already tight… just to listen to an ebook on a device they already have.

The Easy Way to Listen to Kindle Books

The simplest way to listen to your Kindle books – any text at all, actually – using built-in accessibility features. Here’s a great video walking through the steps to turn on Accessibility and listen via Voiceover:

If you have an iPhone or iPad without a physical home button, you can change the settings to turn it on by swiping two fingers down from the top of the screen.

I’ve also run into a few frustrating problems:

  • Sometimes, the Voiceover will automatically turn pages and allow you to listen indefinitely. Sometimes it won’t.
  • You’ll occassionally find times where the Voiceover service will start reading too soon (like on pages you’ve already read).
  • If your screen locks, your Voiceover may randomly stop (this doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen).
  • If you accidentally touch the screen, your Voiceover will be interrupted.
  • There’s no way to easily start in the middle of a page, and you can’t really control it from the lock screen.

Those minor quibbles aside, it’s how I typically listen to Kindle books when I’m on the go.

If you prefer to use voice commands, you can also use the separate Alexa app:

I haven’t tried this, but it looks promising!

The More Compatible Way

What if you don’t want to listen to your audiobook on your iPhone? What if, for whatever reason, you would prefer to convert your Kindle book to an audio file that you can use on any device – even an iPod Classic?

This takes a few more steps than just turning on Voiceover. But it results in a much more consistent experience, IMO. I prefer it because I can listen to my Kindle book Voiceovers in an app that keeps place of my position and doesn’t freak out if I accidentally graze the scren with a fingertip.

Here’s a video walking through the entire process:

You can find a written walkthrough below:

1. Strip Kindle DRM

The lengths you have to go to in order to remove DRM

It’s absurd. Use the following:

First, download and add Calibre 4.23.0 to your Applications.

A screenshot of the Calibre Release 4.23.0 page with an arrow pointiing to the Apple Mac disk image file download link.

If you already have Calibre installed, just use a different name for this version.

Next, grab the DeDRM_tools plugin for Calibre from Github. (I used v7.2.1 without a problem.) Just click the DeDRM_tools_7.2.1.zip file right under Assets for the release.

Screenshot of the DeDRM Tools GitHub page with an arrow pointing to the zip download link.

Finally, retrieve your Kindle serial number.

You’re now ready to set up the DeDRM plugin!

To install the plugin, follow the instructions on the DeDRM wiki.

Note: I did run into a weird case where my situation was slightly different than the instructions provided on the wiki. I had to manually copy/paste my Kindle serial into the plugin settings. But this was easy.

  • Open Calibre
  • From the top menu bar, go to Preferences > Preferences > Plugins (under “Advanced”) > File Type > and double-click DeDRM
  • Then on the “Configuration” screen, click “eInk Kindle Books”, then click the green + and enter your Kindle serial number

Now you’re ready to convert your Kindle file to something more accessible.

2. Download your Kindle Files

At least this one is relatively easy. Go to your Amazon Digital Content page and find the book you want to hear. Then, under “More actions”, select “Download & transfer via USB”. Finally, select which Kindle device you want to associate the file with (ie, the one you retrieved the serial number for earlier). This will allow you to download the DRM file.

Screenshot of the Amazon Digital Content page with "Download & transfer via USB" circled.

3. Convert Your Kindle Book to a TXT File

The last step in this arduous process is using Calibre to convert your Amazon Kindle file to a TXT file. Plain text is fine.

You can bulk convert (Calibre’s default setting), but I prefer to convert indvidually by right-clicking a book, going to “Convert”, and selecting “TXT” in the top-right Output Format dropdown on the conversion settings window.

Then just click “OK.”

You’re done!

2. Create Voiceover File Using iTunes

Now that you’re finally working with a DRM-free file you can highlight to your heart’s desire, you can convert it. But first, you need to make sure you have the right Services enabled.

Open your System Preferences, then go Keyboard. Next, on the Shortcuts tab, find the Services:

Screenshot of the Mac OS Keyboard Systems Preferences window

Make sure “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track” is checked.

To create a Voiceover file, follow the steps in this video:

You basically open the TXT file Calibre created, then select “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.” Select your voice, choose a file location, and click “Save.”

Now just import that file into your iTunes library.

3. Convert to Mp3

FINALLY, we’re at the last step. All you have to do is configure iTunes to convert your music files to MP3. It’s easy. Just go to iTunes Preferences, then click “Import Settings” and select “MP3 Encoder” for the “Import Using” dropdown.

Then click your newly-imported AIFF (spoke word audio) file and click Files > Convert > Create MP3 version. Now you just need to right-click your song once the conversion completes, and you can click “Show in Finder” to find the MP3.

You’re done! Move your MP3 to whichever device you want to use to listen to the text.

Accessibility Shouldn’t Be so Hard

This is another example of how digital license agreements – based using an outdated legal paradigm – unfairly punish users who need accessibility services. Whether due to poor eyesight, or simple being able to better retain info when listening to audiobooks (like me), the ability to listen to OUR content on OUR devices should be intuitive.

Instead, we’re essentially being punished if we want to convert our digital files into a better format. Despite the tech existing and being built into our operating system, artificial restrictions prevent this from being simple.

But that’s why we have the wonderful open source community.

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We occasionally write about conversion-focused design (including UX design and conversion copywriting).

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