Kindle Reads You Journal Articles

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.

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7 thoughts on “Kindle Reads You Journal Articles

  1. Kory!

    When I read this post of yours I was intrigued at the possibilities of this (especially now that I’m pulling an hour commute three days a week), but I was highly skeptical that I could get past the robot voice. I gave it a shot lost week and was quite impressed! In fact, I found myself retaining more of the information in the article that I listened to than I felt like I would have if I had just read it normally. This made me think of this article
    that claims that fonts that are difficult to read lead to increased recall. Maybe there is a correlation between robot audio and retention as well, eh?

    Thanks again for the tip!

    Reply
  2. I don’t know how recently you posted this (it’s 7/2012 right now) but the app EZPDFreader for Android will read to you from the phone (or, I assume, a tablet too). I store all my pdf’s on Dropbox (which I have linked to EndNote – rock on!) and can access any article via Dropbox on my phone and then listen to it on EZPDFreader. I don’t love the female-smoker-sounding voice much (prefer the Kindle male reader), but it’s ok and much easier than planning ahead and mounting my Kindle via usb.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Adrienne. Do you need to reformat the PDFs at all, or can you use them as is? (I assume you’re talking about journal articles.)

      BTW, I think of the Kindle male voice as an amalgam of NPR inflections, which I find soothing (and amusing, when it mispronounces words).

      Reply
      • “Kindle man” has definitely grown on me; I kind of have a crush on him.

        I haven’t had to do anything to the PDF’s (yes, journal articles). It kind of struggles when they’re in a two-column format – sometimes it winds up spelling a lot of words (??weird??) but you can tell it to skip sections, which is helpful with the tables. I am trying the Kindle “convert” thing today, though.

  3. Pingback: Convert Journal Articles to Audio Files on the Mac | scrivel

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