I’ve got a pretty long commute to my job—about 85 miles each way. For quite a while now, I’ve used the text-to-speech feature on my (2nd generation) Kindle to listen to books on my commute. The mechanized voice may not be as pleasing as audiobooks read by an actor, but I don’t find that it bothers me, and its mispronunciations can even be entertaining (it says “fass-uh-book” instead of “Facebook,” for example). Overall, it’s been a relatively cheap way to keep my mind occupied on a long commute.
But “occupied” is not always the same thing as “productive,” and I’ve long wished I had some way to get actual work done while I’m driving. Since I’m an academic, part of my job is keeping up with what other scholars and researchers are saying in my field, and much of that comes in the form of journal article PDFs. It wasn’t until recently that I found out that you can have Kindle’s text-to-speech read journal articles to you, though the process is a bit clunky.
You can’t just plop a PDF onto your Kindle (well, you can, but text-to-speech won’t work on it). Instead, you have to convert it into the Kindle’s native format (.azw), which removes extraneous formatting and renders it readable by the device. Here’s a description of the process from Amazon.com:
You can … send your personal documents via e-mail as attachments to [name]@free.kindle.com. To have a document converted to Kindle format (.azw), the subject line should be “convert.” Kindle Personal Documents Service will attempt to deliver your personal documents to the e-mail address associated with the Amazon account to which the device is registered. You can use the e-mail to download the file to your computer and transfer it to your Kindle device using a USB connection.
So, first thing you’ll need is your “Send-to-Kindle” email address, which is probably your username + @kindle.com. If you don’t know this, you can go to your Amazon.com “Your Account” page, click on “Manage Your Kindle,” then “Manage Your Devices.” You should see your “Send-to-Kindle Email Address” on that page.
Next, use that address as the recipient of an email message, and attach a PDF to it. Finally—and most important—be sure you type the word “convert” into the subject line. Click “Send.”
In a minute or two, you should receive an email from Amazon that your document is ready. Follow the links provided in that email, and download the document. It should be in the .azw format. Once the file is on your computer, hook up your Kindle using your USB cable. The Kindle should appear as a hard drive. Copy or move the file from your computer to the Kindle, and you’re done.
I can’t guarantee this will work with all journal article PDFs, but I’ve had a pretty good success rate with it so far. Articles with lots of charts and tables might be problematic, though—I’d be curious to hear other folks’ experiences with this. As always, your mileage may vary, but at least I know that my own mileage won’t feel as wasteful as it used to.