The “Collections” feature on the Kindle has so much potential, but Amazon has done a terrible job implementing it. Read on as we show you how to use third-party tools to properly manage your Kindle Collections and make them truly useful.
Why Do I Want to Do This?
The Kindle has a feature known as Kindle Collections. This feature allows you to group books together into unique collections like “Mystery Novels”, “Textbooks”, “To-Read” or whatever other sorting/tagging method you wish to apply to any given group of books.
It has enormous potential to make arranging and managing the books on your Kindle really awesome, but the past and even current (slightly improved) implementation is pretty lackluster compared to the rest of the Kindle user experience.
Historically (and still on older Kindle models), it’s extremely kludgy to create and manage collections. It’s a little better on the new Paperwhite as the on-Kindle collection management experience has more user-friendly checklists, but it’s still a huge pain. Amazon even introduced a way to manage your Kindle collections via the PC Kindle application, but the implementation is a hot mess that 1) often duplicates your collections creating clutter on your Kindle like “Mystery Novels” and “Mystery Novels@” for the same collection and 2) Only works with Amazon-purchased content, which makes it useless for any content you’ve side-loaded onto your device using tools like Calibre. In short, the Collections tool has the potential to be super awesome, but Amazon has completely underdelivered.
Thankfully, the Kindle has a thriving community of hackers, modders, and third-party developers who are quick to jump on an oversight like this and provide a fix. In today’s tutorial, we’re going to walk you through two techniques for fixing the mess that is the Kindle Collections tool and put the power to manage your ebook collection properly back into your hands.
What Do I Need?
In order to unlock the inner workings of the Collections system on your Kindle, you’ll need the following things:
- A Jailbroken Kindle Touch or Paperwhite (for updated on-Kindle Collections management + Calibre support).
- A Jailbroken Kindle or Kindle Keyboard (for Calibre-only Collections management).
- A USB Sync Cable.
- A Host Computer (for transferring files).
In addition to the above things, you’ll need a few small (and free) files for your Kindle which we’ll link to at appropriate times in the tutorial.
How Exactly Does This Work?
There are two methods we’re going to highlight in this tutorial, both of which use tools to manipulate and edit the tiny collections data file stored on the Kindle.
The first method is a strictly Kindle-only technique that installs an alternative Collections manager on the Kindle and is called, appropriately enough, Kindle Collections Manager. If you wish to manage all your content using only your Kindle (but with a much superior Collections manager than the one Amazon offers) this is the section for you. This method is only available for the Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite, as it uses improvements in the Kindle OS that are not present in the OS versions of earlier model Kindles.
The second method is our preferred method and is implemented slightly differently depending on the type of Kindle you have. For readers with a Kindle Touch or Paperwhite, the second method links Calibre to the newly installed Kindle Collections Manager (the app we talked about in the previous paragraph). This gives you the best of both worlds as you can use a superior editor on the Kindle or edit things at your computer.
For readers with a Kindle or Kindle Keyboard, there is no updated on-Kindle collection management tool but you still get to use Calibre to manage your Kindle collections, which is a vast improvement over pecking at your Kindle’s onscreen keyboard.
Both methods are significantly more powerful than restricting yourself to just editing collections on the Kindle, and they allow you to rapidly create, edit, and manipulate collections from Calibre and then transfer them to the Kindle. For any Kindle user who has ever grown increasingly frustrated with the on-Kindle collections tool and said “Why the hell can’t I just do this on the computer?”, this is the solution you’ve been waiting for.
Installing the Kindle Collection Manager on Your Kindle
Again, echoing the previous section, this portion of the tutorial is only for Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite owners. If you own any other Kindle model, you can’t install a third-party collections manager directly on your device (jump to the next tutorial section to see how to edit your content with Calibre). For brevity and clarity, we’re going to refer to the Kindle throughout this section of the tutorial as the Paperwhite to avoid any confusion with the regular Kindle/Kindle Keyboard.
In addition to the actual Collections Manager, you may require the Kindlet Jailbreak and the Developer Certificates Bundle. If you recently followed our Paperwhite Jailbreak and Screensaver Hack guide, both of these should be installed already. We’ll make a note later in the tutorial at the point where you may need to install them again if you 1) used an alternate jailbreak method or 2) they didn’t install correctly when you were following our jailbreak guide.
Once you’ve downloaded the tools, attach your Paperwhite to the host computer with the sync cable. Copy the Collections Manager installer, CollectionsManager.azw2, from the downloaded zip file onto the documents directory of the Paperwhite (e.g. if it mounted as M:\ on your computer, the file should be placed directly in M:\documents\).
After copying the file to your Paperwhite, eject the device from your computer. After ejecting, you should see the the Collections Manager on your homescreen (if not, sort by “Recent” to bring it to the forefront):
Go ahead and click on the Collections Manager to launch it.
Note: If the screen that loads is an error message instead of what looks like a file browser, you need to (re)install the Kindlet Jailbreak and Developers Certificates. Download them and refer to our Paperwhite Jailbreak guide to see how to install .bin based update files on your Paperwhite.
When the Collections Manager launches, you’ll see a screen that looks like a hybrid between a web browser and a file browser. There is a heavily annotated .png file included in the Collection Manager download that does an excellent job labeling all the buttons and interface elements, as seen here:
Not only does the interface of the Kindle Collection Manager offer a more efficient way to do simple collection management, but it also offers two really cool features not available via the default on-Kindle management tool: nested collections and the ability to hide books from the homescreen. Using these two techniques, you can create collections within collections (e.g. a master collection called Textbooks and then sub-collections for each of your classes), then can you hide books from the homescreen if you prefer to only see them in their respective collections (e.g. all those textbooks would only appear when you were looking inside the Textbooks collection and wouldn’t clutter up your homescreen browser).
If you’re happy with managing things on the Paperwhite itself, you can stop here. If you’d like to further supercharge your collections management, however, read on as we show you how to link the Kindle Collection Manager to Calibre.
Installing the Calibre Plugin
Both Kindle Touch/Paperwhite users and regular Kindle/Kindle Keyboard users can benefit from managing their Kindle Collections via Calibre. In order to unlock the Calibre-driven collection editing, we’ll need to download a specific plugin for the task. Let’s download and install the plugin now.
Note: There are two different versions of the same plugin, one for the Touch/Paperwhite and one for the Kindle/Kindle Keyboard. You must download the matching plugin or it will not work.
Installation Instructions for Kindle/Kindle Keyboard Users
The plugin currently hosted in the Calibre Plugin repository is the correct one for Kindle/Kindle Keyboard users. To install it, open Calibre and navigate to Preferences -> Get plugins to enhance calibre. When the User Plugins screen pops up, sort by Plugin Name (as seen in the screenshot above) and scroll down until you see “Kindle Collections”. Click Install.
You’ll be prompted to select where you want access to the plugin; the default is “The main toolbar when a device is connected”, which is fine, as the majority of the work you do with the plugin is on a tethered Kindle. After that, you’ll have to authorize the plugin install and then restart Calibre for the plugin to become active.
Installation Instructions for Touch/Paperwhite Users
If you’re a Touch/Paperwhite user, you need to install a slightly modified plugin that plays nice with the changes Amazon made to the Kindle Collections database between the Kindle OS version in use on the older model Kindles and the Touch/Paperwhite version.
Instead of downloading the plugin through Calibre’s plugin manager, you’ll need to install it manually (exactly the same way we manually installed plugins in our DRM-removal tutorial).
First, download the plugin from this Mobilereads post. (Only download the “Kindle Collections.zip”; the “kcoll_pw_tweaks-v32.patch.gz” is a development file that is of no use to us.) Save the .zip file in a safe location and leave it unextracted. In Calibre, click on Preferences on the toolbar and select “Change calibre behavior” (or, alternatively, press CTRL+P).
Within the Plugins menu, click on the “Load plugin from file” button in the lower right hand corner:
Browse to the location of ”Kindle Collections.zip”, select it and add it to Calibre. You’ll receive a warning about installing third-party plugins, so click OK to continue. After you’ve authorized the installation of the plugin, restart Calibre to activate the plugin.
Using the Calibre Collections Plugin
If you’re already a Calibre power user, you’re well aware how powerful Calibre’s tagging and organizing functions are. Get ready to enjoy that same level of tagging and organization on your Kindle via extensive Calibre-driven management.
Note: On the Calibre-side of things, managing Collections for both the Touch/Paperwhite and the Kindle/Kindle Keyboard is identical. Only when it comes time to actually load the freshly edited collections on the device does the workflow differ slightly. We’ll highlight the differences at the end of this section. Until then, all Kindle users should follow along.
Importing Your Existing Kindle Collections
If you have already built up some Collections on your Kindle using the on-Kindle collection editor, you’ll want to import those collections into Calibre to preserve them. If you have no collections on your Kindle (or you’ve previously used the feature so little that you don’t care to preserve them), go ahead and move onto the next step.
Before we import the collections off the Kindle, we need to create a place to park them. In Calibre, right-click on the header bar at the top of the main book panel. Select “Add your own columns”. (Alternatively, you can find this menu via Preferences -> Add your own columns.)
On the right side of the columns list, there is a big green + symbol. Click it to add a new column entry.
For your custom column, enter the values seen above: Lookup name, “importedkindlecollections”, Column heading: “Imported Kindle Collections”, and column type “comma separated text, like tags, shown in the tag browser”. Click OK and then click Apply in the main column editing window to add the column to Calibre.
Now, with your Kindle attached and detected by Calibre, click on the Kindle Collections menu bar icon in Calibre and select “Import Kindle collections into Calibre…” You’ll be prompted to select which column the plugin should use:
Select “Imported Kindle Collections” and click OK. It will take a few seconds, but all your existing Kindle collections will be copied from the Kindle and added to the column in Calibre as tags attached to the books within the Calibre collection located on the Kindle (e.g. if you have a book called “Parenting in the 21st Century” in Calibre and that book is also on the Kindle in a collection called “Parenting Books”, there will now be a tag “Parenting Books” in the “Imported Kindle Collections” column).
Automatically Exporting Collections to the Kindle
Now that we’ve learned how to pull our collection off the Kindle, let’s take a peek at how to automatically generate collections via the Calibre tagging/column system. First, we need to repeat a portion of the previous section to create a new custom column. Using the same column creation technique demonstrated above, make a new column with the values: Lookup name, “mycollections”, Column heading: “My Collections”, and column type “comma separated text, like tags, shown in the tag browser”. Click OK and Apply to save the changes.
Now, back in the main Calibre interface, click on the Kindle Collections icon and then “Customize collections to create from Calibre”. You’ll be presented with the following screen:
This a very powerful tool for Kindle Collection customization. Here you can take any column in Calibre and turn it into the source data for a collection. We’re going to start off easy and then highlight a few neat applications of this powerful tool.
Scroll down until you see the entry in the Calibre Source column for “My Collections”. In the column to the left of that, “Actions”, use the pulldown menu to select “Create”. You’ve just instructed the plugin to create collections on the Kindle based on whatever you put into the “My Collections” column. Click “OK” to save your settings.
Now any information you put in the “My Collections” column for a book that is either already on the Kindle or that your intend to transfer to the Kindle will be converted into a collection tag.
In addition to using the “My Collections” column as a semi-manual collection creator (in that you manually choose to enter a tag into that column or not), you can also automate the creation of collections based on existing Calibre metadata. The power of this feature can’t be emphasized enough. Here are three great examples of how you can leverage Calibre’s metadata to create awesome and time saving collections:
Creating Series-Based Collections: Let’s say you read a bunch of serialized books where there may be anywhere from two to a few dozen books in the series. Wouldn’t it be nice if you program Calibre to automatically create a distinct collection just for that series? In the ”Customize collections to create from Calibre” menu we just looked at, you can select “Series” as the source, set the minimum to “2″ (so it won’t create collections for books in which you only have one book out of the series), and save it. Now any books on your Kindle that are tagged as belonging to a series in Calibre will get their own discrete collection.
Creating Author Collections: Just like you can group based on your custom “My Collections” column and by the “Series” column, you can group by author name. Further, you can filter the results so you don’t end up with a collection for every author. Want all your Bill Bryson books in a Bill Bryson collection? Select the “Authors” row, change the Action to “create” and then scroll to the right until you see the column “include names matching these patterns”. Enter “Bill Bryson” and all your Bill Bryson-authored books will be grouped into their own collection. Want more author collections? Comma separate each author in that column and you’re good to go.
You can repeat these techniques to create all sorts of neat collections. Want an “Urban Fantasy” collection? Find which column that metadata is stored in, activate the “create” function, and then use the include/exclude column to filter the tag data you want. Any metadata Calibre stores can be used to create a set of collection-creation rules.
Manually Editing the Kindle Collections
As awesome as all those automatic creation rules are, sometimes you just want to dig in and manually make a few changes. The Kindle Collections plugin makes that dead simple. With the Kindle attached to your computer, fire up Calibre and click on the Kindle Collections icon. Select “Edit Kindle Collections manually…”.
Here you can manually create and remove Collections, as well as check off which books you wish to include in each collection. It’s about as dead simple an interface as you could ask for and allows you to manually edit the names of collections and the books contained within them from the comfort of your computer, instead of pecking at the Kindle keyboard.
Keep in mind that any manual changes you make here take precedence over the automatically generated collections we previously explored.
Saving the Changes to Your Kindle
Regardless of how you created the collections in Calibre (manually, semi-manually by editing your My Collections column, or setting up the batch to create collections from Series, Tags etc.), we need to get that information from Calibre onto the Kindle.
Sending the Data to the Kindle: The first step applies to all Kindle models. With the Kindle attached to the computer via the USB sync cable and recognized by Calibre, click the Kindle Collections icon on the toolbar. Select “Preview collections from Calibre without saving”. This will first popup a simple box that indicates how many Collections will be created. The part we’re most interested in is the detailed output, so click the Details button. You’ll see a text output that indicates which collections the plugin will create, as well as the operations it will use to do so (such as the “Series” based collection script we highlighted in the last section of the tutorial).
If the output here doesn’t look like what you setup, now is the time to go back and double check what you entered in the previous steps.
If everything looks good, now you can select “Create collections on the Kindle from Calibre”.
Loading the Data on the Kindle: Here is where the process diverges depending on the Kindle you’re using. If you’re using the Kindle/Kindle Keyboard, you need to eject your Kindle and restart it for the collection data to take effect on the Kindle. Do so by navigating from the home screen to Menu -> Settings -> Menu -> Restart. When the Kindle restarts, the new collections will be displayed.
The process for the Touch and Paperwhite relies on the third-party Kindle Collection Manager we installed earlier in the tutorial. If you’re using the Kindle Touch/Paperwhite, you do not need to restart the Kindle. Instead you need to launch the Kindle Collection Manager.
Press the Menu button in the upper right hand corner and then, from the drop down list, select “Import collections from Calibre”. The Paperwhite will do a very fast reboot (a framework refresh) that lasts only a few seconds, and then your Calibre-generated collections will be available on the Paperwhite both for browsing/use and further editing via the Kindle Collection Manager interface (if desired).
That’s all there is to it! Reading this entire tutorial and installing the plugins actually takes significantly longer than managing your collections. Once you have everything in place, it’s as easy to manage your entire set of Collections as it is to manage your tags in Calibre.
Have an ebook, Kindle, or Calibre related tutorial you’d like to see us tackle? Sound off in the discussion below and we’ll see what we can do.
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 08/1/13