Using DEVONthink (To Go) as a Kindle/Books replacement?


First of all, I am a new Discourse user so I apologize if I am doing something incorrectly on this platform.

For a while now I have been trying to find a system to annotate books to stop forgetting about what I read.

Does anyone use DEVONthink or DEVONthink as a Kindle or Apple Books replacement?

I was thinking about creating a Books database in which I’d drop my books. Then read them in DEVONthink To Go, do my highlights there and manage them on the Mac.

There are apparently 7 highlighting colors which is more than what Preview offers.

What is everyone doing when it comes to delving? (I’d like to link some resources from Luc Beaudoin here but I can’t.)

Thanks for the help!


Welcome @other.note2267

Many people read (and annotate) PDFs in DEVONthink To Go. However, formats like EPUB and MOBI aren’t supported at this time.


Thanks, @BLUEFROG!

I might try that, then.

I have two additional questions:

  1. Is it possible to sync individual files within a database? (Syncing all my books would probably require a lot of space in iCloud after a while.)

  2. Do the highlight’s colors and names sync across devices?

You’re welcome.

  1. No, you can’t sync part of a database or individual files unless those files are in an already synced database.
  2. Yes, if the Labels and colors is set in the sync location of DEVONthink To Go or Synchronize label names & colors in the sync setup in DEVONthink.

In addition to @bluefrog’s sage advice, assuming your devices are also available on the same local network, you can use Bonjour to sync your books across devices. This method consumes no space on third-party sync servers, and is probably more reliable and quicker.


Thank you, @BLUEFROG and @rmschne!

FYI, while I keep all my “books” (those in *.epub and *.pdf formats) in DEVONthink (imported) the main reason is to not lose them. I still use Apple Books to read the *.epub books, and usually Apple Preview to read the *.pdf books. DEVONthink can preview/show them, but I prefer these other apps.


I notice that Apple Books has the same highlighting colours as Preview. If you highlight in Books and then export the book as a pdf on the Mac, are the highlights kept? :thinking: If so, that would be nice because I could imported the annotated books into DEVONthink.

Don’t know. Never tried this. Perhaps you could try and report here (although off topic for DEVONthink).

For ebooks, even if stored in DEVONthink, I use Apple Books exclusively. KISS.

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Highlights transfer between Apple mobile and macOS in Books. However, I don’t see where you can export a PDF of the book.

Right, sorry. It seems you can’t export a book as a PDF. What you can do is simply export PDFs that you’ve previously imported into Apple Books.

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After doing some testing with an imported PDF… the answer is “yes”. :slightly_smiling_face:


Welcome! This is a great question.

Prepare for a long answer because I love this topic :joy:

Obviously DT isn’t built as a book reading app, so other apps that are dedicated to this are in some ways shinier (smoother page turning interface, scalable fonts, etc.). But, DT is fine for book reading and actually I do a lot of my reading in DTTG nowadays, just because it’s easier to have my notes where I want them and life is hard enough without having to remember where you’ve put things and which app does what :grimacing:

As others have noted here, DT can’t handle dedicated book formats (also, you should be aware at the outset that Kindle’s format is proprietary and does not play nicely with other systems). However, with a bit of sneakiness you can convert most books to pdf, which is what I do. I do this for lots of reasons, but a key one is because pdf is highly compatible with other systems and I never have to worry about losing access to books I’ve paid for.

This forum isn’t the place to talk about how to circumvent pointless copyright laws that penalise readers, but if you want a set up like mine I recommend you have a look at an app called Calibre and do some reading about the optional plugins for getting Kindle books converted to pdf :wink: Calibre’s actually a great little app for managing digital books and I’ll touch on it more in a second (top tip passed on to me from someone online which I will now share with you: don’t download the latest Calibre update as soon as you notice it - always check that someone has tested the plugins you use and update once you’re certain everything still works).

Once you’re set up, it takes maybe 5 mins to buy a kindle book (or other digital book), convert it to pdf and move it into your database, and you’re good to go.

I don’t put my entire digital library into DEVONThink. I did try it (even though we are warned not to use DT as a junk drawer), but it will mess up your searches and you’re just making life harder for yourself when you’re trying to find something specific.

I keep my books in Calibre’s “library”, and I’ve put my Calibre library on iCloud. Calibre just uses Apple’s native file system to store all your books, inside one folder. It’s dead easy to navigate and if you stick it in cloud it is accessible from any device. When I want to read a book, I copy it to DevonThink.

I read and highlight in DT, and when I’m done I summarise my highlights as markdown using DT’s nifty function. I then go through this file and tidy it up and add any comments, then I file it in the relevant place in my database. I then move the highlighted pdf back to my Calibre folder (outside DT). This means my Calibre library has two copies of a book: the unmarked “pristine” pdf and the pdf with my mark up. (It actually has 3 versions of a book because I keep the original unopenable kindle file too but that’s neither here nor there!).

When this is done, I have in my possession a clean pdf of the book, a pdf with my annotations, and a markdown file with all my highlights and comments that’s in my DT database and searchable at any time. Life is good :sunglasses:

[As an aside, if you read just in Kindle, you can export your highlights as markdown using the Bookcision extension, which is worth doing if you’ve got book highlights trapped in Kindle that you want to get out. You could just read in Kindle and always do this. I don’t because the problem with this is the highlighted book is trapped in Amazon’s ecosystem. In my setup, if I want to find a thing I read in a book and it seems I didn’t highlight it, I can just pull the book back into DT and run a search.]

Please ask if you have any questions. My current set up was a result of me asking lots of questions of Mac users who kindly shared their processes with me, so it’s nice to “pay it forwards”!


Why would putting your whole book library into DT “mess up your searches”? You mean just slow it down? If you use books mostly for research, that would seem to be quite useful.

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It doesn’t slow it down, that I noticed, but it brings up a lot of “noise” that I didn’t need in my search results. This slowed me down in finding what I actually needed, and reduced the utility of the search function for me. I’ve already read the book (hopefully!), I don’t need the whole thing coming up in results, only the bits I’ve pulled out as relevant to me. That’s what my markdown file of highlights is for.

If you use literature in your research that’s different and you might want to search an entire text. OP didn’t ask about that. [But yes, I’m a scientist and I keep the entire science paper and full reports in my database. I still highlight and make notes in a separate markdown file, but I want DT to bring up a report if it mentions what I’m looking for, even if I didn’t make a note of it.]


Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to share all that, @MsLogica! :bowing_man:

I used Calibre 7-8 years ago when I was still a Windows user and had totally forgotten about its existence!

I have a few follow-up questions that aren’t directly related to DEVONthink so I’ll reach out in private.

Thanks again!

I feel like epub reader built into DTTG would be a perfect use for the mobile app. Especially given the lack of programs to get info out, I can imagine a “extract annotations/highlights” option similar to what devonthink pro has for pdf.

I know the dev’s constantly say that they only use standard format which will likely be the status quo reply. They also always say DTTG isn’t DTP, and I think epub support would be the perfect way to say yes DTTG is different and add features to it for the device optimized for. (Epub to pdf doesn’t work great if going from iOS to iPadOS, but epub can reflow text easier and this is perfect use case).


I use Kindle on iOS, macOS, and on a Kindle device and am quite happy with it. I would not want to pay extra to DEVONthink for them to fund development to replace that.

Kindle books aren’t portable at all, it goes in but doesn’t come out. Also I would prefer epub rather than their standard format.

Best to speak with Amazon about that.