Intro to Adobe Digital Editions

Adobe Digital Editions program icon

If you own a Nook, Sony, Kobo, or other non-Amazon e-ink (black and white) eBook reader listed here and you’ve checked out eBooks from CRRL, chances are you’ve had the misfortune of dealing with Adobe Digital Editions, the gateway between most copy-protected eBooks and reading devices.  If you’re planning on giving or receiving one of these toys this holiday season, you’ll want to read on.  Adobe Digital Editions is poorly designed, non-intuitive and relies far, far too heavily on keyboard shortcuts and buried menus.  Even with its recent, underwhelming 2.0 update, be you tech “dummy” or “genius," it’s a pain. Sadly, it’s what we’re all required to use in order to get our eBooks from the Internet to our devices.  Read on to learn its secrets.  

Before you do anything else, you’ll need to sign up for a free Adobe ID.  Go to and click the link that reads “Don’t have an Adobe ID?”  Fill out the form, deselect the “Keep me informed” check box to keep from getting Adobe-spammed, and you’ve got yourself an Adobe ID.  Keep track of the email address and password you used.  You’ll need them later!

To get Adobe Digital Editions, go to and download the installer for either Windows or Mac.  Sadly, there is no version for Linux users.  Run the installer and follow the directions on the screen:

When the installation is complete, Adobe Digital Editions will run:

Before you can start downloading eBooks, you’ll want to authenticate the program with your Adobe ID.  Why?  Because the vast majority of the eBooks you’ll check out from CRRL (or anywhere else for that matter) are under strict copyright, publishers utilize technology supplied by Adobe that controls how long a checked-out book may be read before going inactive.  Library customers will typically have between one and two weeks to read an eBook before it is automatically “returned” and can no longer be read without being checked out again.  This technology, called Digital Rights Management, or DRM for short, also controls how many people can read an eBook at once.  See, despite the fact that a digital book could be read by an infinite number of people at once, there’s no profit in that for the publishers, so libraries have to purchase individual “copies” of eBooks, just the way they would printed books, except eBooks are disgustingly, significantly more expensive than printed books.  For more on this practice, you may want to read an earlier blog posting of mine, the eBook Reality Check.  

Anyway, you’ll need to authenticate before you can start downloading.  Go to the Help menu and select Authorize Computer:  

In the pop-up window, type in the email address and password you used to create your Adobe ID and click the Authorize button:

Now you’re finally ready to get some library eBooks!  You’ve got a choice between either OverDrive, which is primarily new and popular titles, and EBSCOhost, which is primarily non-fiction of an academic and obscure nature.  You can access these databases by visiting  When downloading from OverDrive, all you’ll need is your library card number and PIN, which is typically the last four digits of the phone number you supplied when signing up for the card.  EBSCOhost will also require a separate account which you can get for free on their site.  EBSCOhost must be accessed by clicking the "Create account or sign in" link on oureBooks page.  

When downloading from OverDrive you’ll have a choice of eBook formats.  If you’re reading this and you’re a Kindle owner, stop, because none of this has applied or will apply to you.  Never go for the Kindle format, as it won’t work on anything but Kindles.  ePub is by far the preferable choice as it will reformat itself based on the size of the screen.  If PDF is your only option, be forewarned—these may not look as nice on smaller smartphone screens since PDF content is generally static.  


One of the biggest roadblocks I’ve encountered over the past year of dealing with OverDrive is what people do when it comes time to download.  The process can vary slightly depending on your browser.  In a surprising show of superiority, Internet Explorer versions 8, 9 and 10 will give you the option of either opening the file or saving it:

However Google Chrome will not offer to open the file, merely to save it, so after the file has been downloaded and saved, you must open it manually, most easily by clicking on it from the download bar at the bottom-left corner of the browser window:

The process will depend on which browser you’re using, and there are a lot of them out there besides Internet Explorer and Chrome: Firefox, Opera, Safari to name just a few, so pay attention to whether your browser only saves the file and where it saves it to so you can open it yourself.  

Opening the file triggers Adobe Digital Editions to run and download the full eBook:

When the download is complete, the eBook will open to the very first page or cover:

If you want to, you can read the eBook on your computer.  Navigating through the eBook is easy.  You can use the right or down arrow keys to move forward and the left or up keys to move backward.  You can also use your mouse wheel, or the dial at the bottom of the window, though this last option doesn’t supply great control for exact pages.  The eBook’s table of contents is actually made up of  hyperlinks so you can skip ahead to certain chapters just by clicking on them:

You can also do word searches within the eBook by using the search bar in the upper-right corner of the window, however in keeping with Digital Edition’s overall poor design, you are not shown a comprehensive list of every instance of the word.  Rather, you must toggle through them in order, one-at-a-time:

Font sizes for ePub eBooks can be adjusted by click the AA button to the left of the search box:


If you’re reading a PDF eBook, you will not be able to change the size of the text so that it reformats within the confines of the window.  You can, however, zoom in on the page which will then require you to use the scroll bars at the right and bottom of the window to move the page around:


Though Digital Editions will remember your last read page and go to it automatically the next time you open the eBook, you may want to place bookmarks, which can be done by clicking the bookmark icon just under the Help menu.  You can access your bookmarked pages by clicking on the Show/Hide Navigation Pane icon directly to the right of the bookmark bar and then clicking on Bookmarks:


Reading the eBook on your computer will save you the cost of an eBook reader, like a Nook or Sony, but is not nearly so enjoyable an experience as reading on one of these handheld devices.  So, how to get an eBook from Digital Editions to your eBook reader?  (Almost) simple!  First, you’ll need to back out to the Library, so click the large Library button in the upper-left corner if you’re not already there.  Next, plug your device into the computer with its USB cable and make sure the device is powered on.  After a moment, it should show up in the Devices section of the left-hand pane, as shown here with a Nook Color:


You’ll need to authorize your device with the same Adobe ID that Digital Editions is authorized with.  To do this, click the device, then click the gear icon above and select Authorize Device:


When the Device Authorization window pops up, click the Authorize button in the lower-right corner:


If all goes well, you should see the window below and can click the OK button:


Finally, to transfer the eBook, select All Items  from the left-hand pane.  Right-click on the cover of the eBook you want to transfer, select Copy to Computer/Device and then choose your device.  


The transfer should be almost instantaneous.  Then you have the matter of finding the eBook on your device.  On Sony Readers, the eBook should be with all the others.  On Nooks, eBooks transferred from Digital Editions are not shown with eBooks purchased from Barnes & Noble.  Instead, they are stored in the My Files section in a folder labeled Digital Editions.  

EBooks in Adobe Digital Editions will automatically expire after one or two weeks.  Each eBook cover has a small orange banner running diagonally along the top-right corner showing exactly how long a book has before it expires. Once the eBook has expired, the file will remain on your computer until you delete it by clicking on the eBook cover and tapping the delete button on your keyboard.  Outside of checking the eBook out and downloading it again, there is no way to “renew” eBooks the way customers can with print books.  To return an eBook early, right-click the cover and choose the option that reads Return Borrowed Item.  

In some cases, you might find that you cannot transfer your eBooks to an eReader because of conflicting Adobe IDs. For instance, Adobe Digital Editions might be authorized on your PC using one Adobe ID, but the eReader you purchased used from your friend is authorized using their Adobe ID.  Then when you got transfer eBooks from your PC to the used eReader, you find that you can’t.  To fix this, simply follow the steps above to authorize the device, but instead choose the option to Erase Device Authorization, then follow the steps properly to authorize it using your Adobe ID.  

Adobe Digital Editions is indicative of the pitiful state of eBooks, but once you’ve gotten it set up and become used to it, it's not horrible.  Rather in the same way you can get used to caffeine-withdrawal headaches or kids kicking the back of your chair on an airplane—it’s not what you'd call ideal, but it’s not the worst thing in your life, either.