Setting up your ebook reader to receive bundles of articles from web sites that interest you is a great way to add functionality and great content. Read on as we show you how to turn the RSS feeds from your favorite sites into ebooks.
If you’re a fan of the easy-on-the-eyes digital reading experience provided by your ebook reader, it only seems natural to set up your ebook reader to receive feeds from your favorite news sources so you can enjoy even more content. In this tutorial we’ll be walking you through a simple way to shuttle hand picked content to your ebook reader.
What You’ll Need
For this tutorial you’ll need the following things:
- A copy of open-source ebook management software Calibre
- An ebook reader
Why Calibre? While there are a variety of web-based solutions focused on converting RSS feeds into ebook-friendly content, many of them suffer from a variety of short comings. Most are Kindle only, there’s no guarantee they’ll stick around and many well meaning and useful web-apps close up shop for lack of profit, and you don’t have any sort of fine-tooth control over the content in the way you do when you’re the one configuring and running the process that delivers it.
While Calibre works with dozens upon dozens of ebook readers, for this we’ll be using an Amazon Kindle.
Note: If you’re unfamiliar with Calibre and curious if it’s worth installing, we’d urge you to check out some of the other how-to articles we’ve written focused on Calibre including: How To Organize Your Ebook Collection with Calibre, How to Convert PDF Files for Easy Ebook Reading, How To Access Your eBook Collection Anywhere in the World, and How To Use Calibre To Correctly Order Your Ebook Series.
Configuring News Sources in Calibre
In addition to all the excellent ebook-management and conversion tools bundled in Calibre, there is also a handy RSS reader designed to pull in news feeds from any RSS-enabled source and convert them to a properly formatted document you can enjoy on your ebook reader.
For the unfamiliar, RSS is simply a distribution system that many, many, web sites use in order to push out news to subscribers. Any application, be in a dedicated feed reader or the module in Calibre, that can read RSS feeds can utilize the information in the feed. You can check out the main and sub-feeds we offer at How-To Geek here.
To best understand how Calibre handles RSS feeds, you need to visualize the two sides of the process. First, Calibre downloads the raw news from the sources you point it at. Then, you create “recipes” for the ebooks compilations you wish Calibre to generate for you using those feeds as ingredients. This process can be as simple as subscribing to one feed or as complex as melding a dozen feeds on a topic that interests you into one file.
Calibre comes pre-populated with hundreds of news sources in multiple languages from around the world. To check them out open Calibre and right click on the Fetch news icon in the toolbar. Select Schedule news download. Finally, select your language of choice in the sidebar, we selected English which yields 350+ sources that range from food to programming to comic blogs.
First, let’s take a look at adding content from one of the pre-populated sources. From within the existing list, let’s scroll down until we find the feed source for the Dilbert comic strip.
By default, Schedule for download is unchecked. Check it and then select the frequency with which Calibre will check the RSS feed for the news source. Checking RSS is not at all resource intensive, so when in doubt error on the side of frequent checks for more current updates from your sources (the only real exception to this would be if you know for a fact the the source in question only updates on certain days).
You can repeat this process for as many as the pre-populated news sources as you wish. Keep in mind, each entry in this section is a discrete recipe that will generate a unique document. Our Dilbert entry, for example, will create a document in Calibre called Dilbert that is filled with the Dilbert comic strips found in the RSS feed that fuels it.
In addition to using the pre-populated sources, you can add your own sources. Let’s add the Most Emailed Articles RSS feed from National Public Radio (NPR). It’s a good feed to use as a test for a variety of reasons: it has ample content, it refreshes frequently, and most importantly the RSS feed shares the full text of the articles.
Again, right click on the Fetch news button in Calibre’s toolbar. Click on Add custom news source. This the place where you can both add RSS feeds not found within the pre-populated menus and create your ebook “recipes”. In order to add a new feed, look at the lower right corner:
Click Add feed and then, at the top of the custom news source menu, title your Recipe. We titled ours NPR Most Emailed Articles to distinguish it from any future NPR recipes we may create. Click Add/Update recipe to save the recipe.
Once you’ve saved, the recipe appears in the previous menu where we found Dilbert, except instead of under English it’s under Custom.
Go ahead and set the schedule frequency and then save again.
Now that we have two sources, it’s time to download them and let Calibre generate our ebook. Since we’ve set up the schedule, this is the only time we’ll need to manually do it (besides forcing a refresh outside of the set schedule). Also, it’s important to note that Calibre will create the ebook in the format you specified as the default format for your ebook reader. Since our primary ebook reader is a Kindle and that’s what we specified during the Calibre installation process, the content will be formatted as a MOBI file. If you need to change this, look under Preferences –> Behavior to change the default file format.
From the main Calibre toolbar, click the button Fetch news button. Calibre will scan the RSS feeds you’ve scheduled and download the content. Depending on the amount of media content in the feed, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to download the content and format the files appropriately. When it’s done, the two newest entries in your Calibre library will be for Dilbert and NPR’s most emailed articles like so:
Go ahead and open either file to check them out, Calibre’s built-in reader should do a fine job showing you how the formatting went. While previewing things on the computer is handy, the real test is how the articles look on your actual ebook reader. Let’s plug in our sync cable and send the files over now.
Dilbert looks great, the simple color scheme of the comic translates well to grayscale e-ink. It only puts a single comic on each page, but it’s so easy to click through them all that’s a minor complaint.
The NPR feed turned out great: all the articles are neatly formatted, Calibre generated an index based on the RSS entries, and it’s easy to read it straight through or hop from article to article. Success!
Now whenever you sync your ebook reader with your Calibre you can enjoy fresh news content in addition to new books.
Have an ebook power user tip to share? Whether it’s Calibre-related or not, sound off in the comments to help your fellow readers get more out of their ebook experience.
Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 05/29/12