Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sideloading ebooks with Dropbox

Whether you create ebooks for a living or just read them, getting books onto your reading device—or devices!—of choice is not always as easy as it should be. Sure, Amazon has its Whispersync that shuttles files straight to your Kindle apps and iBooks will get books to your iPhone/iPad or iPod touch, but what if you buy a book from an independent author (like me :), or download one of Cory Doctorow's books, or create your own and want to see what they look like? The answer is sideloading, the term for getting ebooks to your reader without a store's help.

The most basic way to sideload is to hook your ereader up to your computer via the USB cable. Most ereaders (but not iOS ones) will appear on your desktop just like any other external drive.



Just drag your ebook file (in the appropriate format, of course) to the Documents folder on the ereader (actually NOOK is not very picky about where you place it), then eject your disk, and you can find the new ebook installed. (Nook and Kindle Fire put your sideloaded books in the My Files/Docs area, respectively.)

On iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod touch), the process is a fair bit more laborious. You're supposed to use iTunes, as I describe in EPUB Straight to the Point, either syncing manually or automatically. But it takes longer than it should. Apple offers a little app called Book Proofer to folks through its iTunes Connect program that lets you edit a book on your computer as you simultaneously preview it on your iPad or iPhone, but it's not public, and it's not foolproof.

It turns out DropBox is a brilliant alternative to all of this. Dropbox lets you create a folder on your computer that is automatically copied to the "cloud". That means that you can access it from any other computer or even reading device.

(If you don't already have a Dropbox account, you can follow this link to get one and you and I will both get 500Mb additional free disk space.)

To sideload a ebook with Dropbox, first copy the ebook to your Dropbox folder. (If you don't know where the folder is, you can use the Dropbox menu at the top of your screen to open it: dropboxmenu, or just find it yourself, generally right in your home folder.


Then, on your iOS device, download the Dropbox app, launch it, and sign in.

Select the ebook that you want to sideload from the Dropbox menu. It will start to load.

sideloading ebook to iOS

Dropbox can view some file formats right in the app itself, but not EPUB or mobi. So when it gets done copying the file, it will tell you it doesn't know what to do with it. Thankfully, all you have to do is click the "Away" icon in the upper right corner of the screen, and Dropbox will offer to transfer the file to an app that can view it, like iBooks in this case. Bravo, just what we wanted.

dropbox to iBooks

Once you choose iBooks in the menu, iBooks will open automatically and show you your book. It's really lovely:

in iBooks

Dropbox will work on iOS for both EPUB and Kindle/mobi:

dropbox to Kindle

This is pretty interesting, considering that before Dropbox there was no way to test a Kindle book on an iOS device before selling it through Amazon. you had to use iTunes to copy mobi files to the Kindle app on iOS. (Connect device, choose Apps, go down to the bottom of the screen, click Kindle, click Add…, choose your mobi file, then sync. Thanks, Dan Rodney—see comments—though I still think iTunes is a slow solution.) The closestAnother alternative was using the Kindle Previewer app.

I thought Dropbox might even be the answer to the conundrum that you can create a Kindle book with audio and video, but there is no way to test it, because there is no way to get the AV book to Kindle app for iOS which (ironically) is the only Kindle app that supports audio and video! — you can only see it *after* it is published to Amazon, which, sadly, still does not allow independent authors and publishers to sell books with audio and video.

Alas, I have not been able to get this to work. I can get the audio/video Kindle books to the Kindle app on iOS, but the audio and video do not play. I haven't finished poking at it yet, though. I'll keep you posted.

Note that some ebookstores make changes to books as they deliver them. That is, a sideloaded book is not always identical to its purchased cousin, though in my mind, it sure should be. In particular, I've heard complaints about NOOK and Kobo, and I'm wondering if Amazon doesn't bake something special into its AV books for iOS as well. More on that another day.


  1. Thanks for the Dropbox tip.

    As long as its converted to mobi (stores some other formats too, but not epub) Amazon now gives 5 Gb of 'personal documents', where all independent books can be placed by email, or by using their uploader for Windows.

    Its then whispersynced to a kindle-device at choice. The new apps for iPhone and iPad now have quite nice access to the Amazon Cloud, and will sync your highlightings. bookmarks and notes to your other devices.

  2. Sometimes it's easiest just to email an EPUB to your iPad/iPhone. When you click the attachment, after it loads, you'll get the prompt to open it in iBooks or another reader app.

  3. With iOS5 wireless sync, the iTunes sideload may even work wirelessly, but I can't remember off the top of my head and I'm not on my wifi network to test it now

  4. It looks like the first time I posted this it didn't work. Here it is again:

    This statement is not true: "considering that before Dropbox there was no way to test a Kindle book on an iOS device before selling it through Amazon."

    You "can" sideload files into the Kindle app. You do it the same way you sideload files into any iOS app (that supports it). Here's how:
    - Plug in your iPhone or iPad (although you don't even have to plug in if you're using the new Wi-fi sync)
    - In iTunes select the device.
    - Click the Apps tab at the top.
    - Under File Sharing below, select the Kindle app.
    - Drag a file into the Kindle Documents area to the right (or click the Add button if you prefer).
    - The file is copied instantly, no need to even sync again!

    I'm sorry you didn't know this before. You've actually been able to do this for quite some time. I hope it helps!

  5. Dropbox is an ultimate solution to many devices including Android devices.
    P.S: Does not allow sideloading for Nook on iOS.
    I often share folders with author and keep a current copy there so author can critique and I can modify directly from dropbox.
    This trick cuts way down on sending bulky emails.
    I love introducing dropbox to new authors because I get the extra space for it.

  6. For Android users (and possibly Fire users too since Fire is actually an Android in cognito) you need two things to happen:
    You need to be able to move a file to the appropriate file location and
    You need to have access to the dropbox file as if it were a folder on the device.
    I use EStrongs File explorer available an the market for free.
    Once installed, click on the net tab and click new...Dropbox and enter your info. ES file manager will treat dropbox like a file now.
    Now simply copy and past file to appropriate folder depending what app your using to view with.

  7. I find it depressing that an entire post from the world's leading eBook designer needs to be dedicated to how to get a file on your device. The big companies are really making it extraordinarily difficult to use anything from outside their "ecosystem", and the simple act of copying a file that wasn't purchased from their storefront has become a Herculean task. Thanks to Ms. Liz for finding an easy workaround to all of these hoops.

  8. @eBook-Wizz "Dropbox is an ultimate solution to many devices including Android devices." Especially for collaboration it is.

    I use multiple methods though (Dropbox, iTunes, Book Proofer) depending on the situation. When you're troubleshooting a problem (going back and forth testing and retesting, local sync can be much faster than waiting for the file to upload and then re-download via Dropbox. If troubleshooting ePubs, you may want to use Apple's Book Proofer if you have access to it, but that doesn't work for Kindle books, so local sync can be nice.

    Either way, it's nice to have options!

  9. Thanks for the how-to!

    But I find this yet another example of Apple being an incredibly hostile platform for users and developers. Why do so many people insist that Apple products are "easier to use" than others?

    I just want a WiFi link from my e-device that makes it look like a drive on my PC. This is easy to do on any Android device. Why can't I do this on my iPhone?

    (Sorry. Rant over. I know you are not responsible for Apple's clumsy user interface.)

  10. @Ken: You can access your iPhone/iPad as a disk (certain non-protected areas, of which the Books are a part) with PhoneDisk . But the nature of the way ebooks are stored (uncompressed, and indexed into the iTunes database) makes simply copying them not work.

    You can, as delineated, access wirelessly via iTunes and do it, or email it and load the attachment, or use Dropbox.

  11. I thought I had posted this yesterday. Ill try again.
    There is an extra step to sideload books on Android devices via Dropbox. This may work on the Fire too because Fire is basically an Android incognito.
    Install Dropbox and a good file explorer app like Estrongs File Explorer(I use this one) and link the dropbox account to the app and you can drag n drop files back and forth to the appropriate file locations.

    1. This whole subject got me thinking that Dropbox just had to have a way of moving files to the SD card so I looked into it and there is an easier way to get your book into the appropriate reader app on Android Devices.
      Right-Click the file in Dropbox and choose [Export] from the menu. Choose [Save to SD card] on the menu and select the folder that your apps use to store books (IE: "Kindle" or "My Documents" in "Nook" folder.) Then click [Export].
      When you open the app, your book will be available.

  12. I've just got a GoFlex Satellite:
    I'm still testing it, but it seems easy-to-use and it offers 500GB of storage that is easy to access from an iPad.

    Derek (UK)

  13. For there is also File Sharing. Here, you simply drag and drop files into the app upload area for Kindle Reader, Stanza, Adobe Reader (PDF) and other eReader apps on your iOS device.

    As well, if you set your iOS device to be manually managed in, you may drag files directly to that device menu in iTunes.

    Finally, you can use Safari for iOS to download *.epub files from web sites, your Calibre library, Gutenberg, Internet Archive, etc. Here, you get a prompt asking what app you want to use to read it. The default is iBooks.

  14. I use Calibre to download my .mobi books on to my kindle.
    I open the .mobi file in Calibre, plug my Kindle into my computer, and Calibre sees the Kindle automatically. I select the book in the Calibre interface, and choose move to Kindle.
    I do this over and over as I tidy up the .mobi file before publishing.

  15. Dumb question: Why can't side loading the mobi to to Kindle (or the ePUB to iBOOks) show the embedded fonts. If I preview the mobi in Kindle Previewer, the fonts read as intended. In the Kindle app I get Arial and Time Roman. In Ibis i get the fonts embedded in the ePUB, but if I side load with DropBox, iBooks does not show the fonts.

  16. Thank you! I avoid iTunes completely - tried Dropbox for this but it turns out that I gave up before the last step...

  17. I was able to test kindle books with embedded video on Ipad. I used a jailbroken ipad to load it directly into the proper directory.

    I stopped doing it when Amazon decided to NEVER release embeded multimedia functionality.

    Scott Wickham - Alina Adams

  18. I have a question about _reversing_ this process. What about if you want to copy the books on your ereader back to your computer just for backing up/safekeeping? I can do this with most ereaders but have hit a giant block on both iOS and android devices with respect to Kindle books (and my desktop computer is Ubuntu, which complicates the picture slightly more). Still and all, I have not been able to locate where Kindle downloads its books onto its mobile devices so that I can copy them off. Ideas? Googling has not helped thus far, and most people seem to talk about the other direction as you did here. Thought I might as well ask, though.


    August 13, 2012 3:30 PM

  19. Yes! I've been wrestling with this issue for hours and your post solved it. Brilliant! Thanks very much.

  20. I know this thread hasn't had an update in a while and I may not get a solution to my problem but here goes.

    It appears that files "side loaded" via DropBox or as an attachment don't sort the same as the same files uploaded via iTunes. If uploaded to iBooks via DropBox the book is sorted by First Name. If the same book is uploaded via iTunes it will be sorted by Last Name. The metadata fie-as option is set to Last Name, First Name.


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