We recently published an in-depth article covering how investors can use Amazon’s Kindle 3 for reading SEC filings.  The approach outlined in the article can be a viable solution for investors who would like to save paper, but it only scratched the surface in terms of the Kindle’s utility as a newsreader.  While reading newspapers on the Kindle is not yet equivalent to traditional newsprint, the timeliness of delivery and the ability to subscribe to distant newspapers can be quite compelling.  Unfortunately, the cost of subscriptions through Amazon.com can meet or exceed the price of print versions which seems like a poor value proposition.  In this article, we will discuss a way to legally gain access to literally hundreds of newspapers and magazines at no cost.

Calibre E-Book Management Software

Calibre is a free e-book management package that can be downloaded for Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems.  The scope of Calibre is extremely large but to keep this article to a reasonable length we will not attempt to describe its capabilities beyond its use as a news fetching tool.

One limitation of using Calibre as an automated news fetching solution is that the software runs on your computer and must remain running for scheduling to work.  It would be vastly superior as a cloud based solution.  However, given the fact that it requires the user to host the software, we resurrected a six year old desktop computer running Windows XP with only 512 MB of memory and a very slow processor.  While very slow, the computer is sufficient to run scheduled jobs and will avoid using resources on computers required for other purposes.  All screen shots in this article were taken from this XP system.

Set Up Kindle for Automated Delivery

Needless to say, the computer running Calibre must be connected to the internet, preferably over a high speed connection.  Once the software is installed on your computer and the program is run for the first time, you will be asked a series of questions regarding your e-reader.  While this article covers the Kindle, Calibre supports numerous other news readers as well.

The screen shot below will appear the first time the program is run for users who specify that their e-reader is a Kindle (click on the image for a larger view):

Observe the following points when completing this screen (Note:  We did not use or test the “Use Gmail” or “Use Hotmail” buttons):

  1. Be sure to correctly specify the Kindle email address.  This should be the Kindle address that is set up on Amazon.com when customers purchase a new Kindle and is the same email used to send other documents to the device.  Note that Amazon.com charges a small fee for delivery of documents via the 3G service.  There is no charge for deliveries over WiFi.  For users who have the 3G/WiFi version of the Kindle 3 and wish to avoid charges, be sure to use the “@free.kindle.com” email address rather than the “@kindle.com” email address.
  2. The Send email from address must be an “authorized” email registered with Amazon.com or the deliveries will not be completed properly.
  3. Calibre states that the system can optionally use a specific server to send emails.  However, we could not get the email feature to work without specifying this information.  This is the same information used to set up email programs like Microsoft Outlook.  Internet service providers should be able to provide this information as well.
  4. After specifying all of the information, be sure to click on the Test email button to make sure the setting are correct.

Select Publications

Now that the email delivery information has been successfully set up, one can select numerous publications for delivery.  To bring up the news download dialog box, click on the “Fetch News” button on the toolbar, as pictured below:

Clicking on the Fetch News button will bring up the dialog that appears below (click on the image for a larger view):

As we can see from the dialog, the system lists available publications by language and contains a count of the number of publications in brackets.  We have expanded the English (China) node to reveal the China Daily publication.  This is an English language newspaper published in China.  If one expands the main English node (with the [291] bracket next to it), all English language sources will be displayed.  Nearly all well known publications are available including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and hundreds of others.

On the right side of the dialog, we can see that the system provides scheduling options.  In this case, we have specified that China Daily should download every day at 3:00 am.  Clicking the “Download Now” button at the bottom of the dialog will result in a one-time download rather than a recurring schedule.  The Save button at the bottom right of the dialog should be clicked to dismiss the dialog after all selections are made for the publication.

Review Subscription Selections

Clicking on the “Fetch News” button at a later time will bring up the dialog box again and we will now see a node at the very top of the list named “Scheduled”.  The screen shot below shows eight publications that we set up as an initial test of Calibre.  Clicking on any of the individual subscriptions will permit changes to the download time or will allow you to cancel the subscription entirely.

We can see that the subscriptions include well known American publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and U.K. based The Economist.  The New York Times download requires a user name and password which matches the online registration for the New York Times website which, at this time, is still free of charge.  The Wall Street Journal and The Economist subscriptions requires valid subscriber credentials.  While this restricts access to paying customers of the print editions, at least a separate charge is not required to get the paper on the Kindle.  We have also selected free sources such as the Washington Post, Times of India, Jerusalem Post, and China Daily.  Of course, each reader may select a customized list of news feeds based on their own interests (be prepared to spend hours looking through the dizzying array of choices).

As we alluded to earlier, Calibre can be resource intensive when the program is downloading and formatting the publications.  It can take ten minutes or longer to download and process a complicated publication like The New York Times.  Sending the email to the Kindle can also require some time since the typical large newspaper file may be six or seven megabytes.  The processing time will depend on the speed of your computer and your internet connection.  However, once all the schedules are set up, they can run automatically and processing time is not a major factor.  Note  that scheduled jobs can only run if the Calibre software is constantly left open on your computer.

Publications Viewed on Kindle

Once the publications are delivered to the Kindle, either through clicking on the “Download Now” button or through a schedule, the publication will appear on the Kindle with the familiar “new” indicator next to it.  In all of our testing, the publications appear properly formatted to adhere to the normal navigation features of paid Kindle periodicals.  For example, the screen shot below shows the main navigation screen on the Kindle 3 for The Washington Post:

This is exactly the same navigation screen that one gets when purchasing The Washington Post Kindle edition via Amazon.com except using Calibre does not require the $11.99 monthly charge.  From reading several articles in this publication and several others, it does not appear that any errors occurred in the Calibre process.

Bonus Feature:  Custom News Sources

Alert readers may have noticed that one of the eight publications in the “Scheduled” screen shot above has a title of “Finance and Econ Blogs”.  This is a custom publication that was created by selecting the “Add a custom news source” menu under “Fetch News”.  A screen shot of the “Add custom news source” dialog box appears below (click on the image for a larger view):

While we will not go through all of the steps required to set up a custom news source, the information in the dialog is mostly self explanatory and involved adding one or more feeds to a “recipe” that defines the news source.  In the example displayed above, we have added six blogs to our “Finance and Econ Blogs” news source.  Once this news source was created, it appears in the “Custom” area of the “Schedule news download” dialog and we can subscribe to it just like any other news source.  The result when displayed on the Kindle appears below:

Essentially, this capability provides the ability to generate a “custom” newspaper, delivered on a specified schedule, for any number of blogs or other sources that have RSS Feeds.  The major limitation is that some blogs do not provide full articles through the RSS Feed and instead provide only summary information.  This reduces the utility of the Kindle content, although the rudimentary web browser on the Kindle can theoretically be used to access the full version of the articles.

Summary

The Kindle provides an outstanding reading experience but many readers have found the Amazon.com subscription cost of periodicals to be steep when compared to print versions of the same publications.  While the process described in this article may not be for everyone, it provides a viable alternative that can turn the Kindle into a powerful source of news and information delivered automatically at low or no cost.

Kindle and Calibre Presents a Powerful Solution for Newshounds
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