Reading Science Papers on Your Kindle

A photo of my Kindle Paperwhite displaying a reformatted version of the below referenced paper by Green et al.

It’s a pain to print things out and backlit screens can be unpleasant to look at (and may even disturb your sleep). In service to my eyeballs, the environment, and you, my readers, I set out to read scientific papers on my Kindle Paperwhite.

The Kindle can load pdfs, but each page appears small on the screen. Zooming in is slow, clumsy and distracts from the reading experience. Amazon provides a conversion service where you can email a pdf to them with the subject line ‘convert’ and it will sync a Kindle version to your device. However, many papers include equations and two dimensional layouts. Often figures are disassociated from their captions, there are many spacing errors, and equations are illegible.

I have found that it is possible to manually linearize a paper and submit it to Amazon for conversion and this gives a good (though not perfect) result. Additionally, and obviously given the device’s capabilities, color figures can sometimes be difficult or impossible to interpret. However, about half the time shades of gray are sufficient.

My method is:

  1. Copy each column of the paper in sequence at 12pt font to an A5 sized document and fix all the spelling and spacing errors.
  2. Change the margins of the document to exclude headers and footers and set the margins to 0.2in.
  3. Find equations in the original paper and copy them in as screen captured images. (On MacOS you can use Command+Shift+4 to activate a draggable capture tool.)
  4. Find appropriate places for figures and copy in the charts and diagrams as screen capture images.
  5. Copy the figure caption below it as 10pt font and signal the end with an emdash (—).
  6. Download a copy of Bookerly and convert all font to it.
  7. Save the document as a pdf.
  8. Email the pdf to Amazon with the subject line “convert”
  9. Wait a minute and then sync your Kindle to download the paper.

Enjoy your new Kindle readable paper!

Below is an example of the output of steps 1–7. My lab put out an open access article on retinal neuroscience. I took the liberty of putting it in Kindle-friendly form as a demonstration.

There’s also a tool called k2pdfopt that I played with on the command line. The tool gave pretty good text results with only setting the margin to 0.2in. However, it didn’t do so well with most of the figures. I attached my best result below.

Download: Original Manual k2pdfopt

Greene et al., Analogous Convergence of Sustained and Transient Inputs in Parallel On and Off Pathways for Retinal Motion Computation, Cell Reports (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2016.02.001

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