How to load e-books on your iPad with Dropbox

I’ve always been a fan of using Dropbox to load PDF files on my iPad for reading them on the go (and without paper), but until recently getting ePub formatted books into iBooks required syncing the book through iTunes on my computer–and it wasn’t even possible to get Mobi books that I got somewhere besides Amazon loaded on my iPad. Recently, though, Apple and Amazon have remedied this, and now getting these books on your iPad or iPhone is incredibly easy.

Before we get started, you might ask why you’d ever need to do this. Well, if you buy all of your books through Amazon or Apple’s iBookstore, you may not need to. Transferring books from these marketplaces is built into the apps. However, if you buy your e-books directly from a publisher (this is very common with technical publishers) or have downloaded free e-books directly from the likes of Project Gutenberg, your computer may need to serve as a conduit. Dropbox lets you get the files copied to where you want them without plugging your iPad into your computer.


  • A Dropbox account, with Dropbox installed on your computer (free)
  • The Dropbox, iBooks, and Kindle apps installed on your iPad or iPhone (all are free through the App Store. I recommend loading them directly on your iPad, but you can also buy them through iTunes and sync your iPad if necessary.)
  • An e-book in either ePub (iBooks) or Mobi (Kindle) format. You can also use this technique to transfer PDF files in iBooks or GoodReader on an iPad or iPhone.

Note: Although the screen shots below are from my iPad, this same process works great with an iPhone or iPod touch, provided all of the same software requirements above are met. I’m using a Mac for this process but these steps will work the same with Windows.

1. Move the e-books into your Dropbox folder.

I’ve created a folder called Books in which I keep the books I want to install on my iPad or iPhone. It makes it easier to find them on my iPad in the next step. After you’ve copied or moved the folders, give Dropbox a few seconds to re-sync the folder–you can tell when this process is finished by the green checkbox on the files’ icons or on the Dropbox icon in your menu bar (Mac) or status tray (Windows).


2. Open the e-books in Dropbox on your iPad

Fire up the Dropbox app on your iPad and navigate to your Books folder (or wherever in Dropbox you copied the e-book files in step 1). Tap the book’s filename to begin opening it.


If you’re opening an ePub or Mobi book, you’ll get an error message from Dropbox letting you know that the the file could not be viewed in Dropbox (PDF files can be read in Dropbox). Not to worry, we’re getting there!


3. Load the e-book in your e-reader app

Finally, to move the file into your e-reader software (in our case, either iBooks or Kindle), tap the transfer icon in the upper-right corner of Dropbox and select the app to copy the book to. Here’s what it looks like with iBooks (I’ve got another app called Elements that could read the book, but I’m sticking with iBooks):


And here’s what it looks like with Kindle:


That’s it! Your book will be loaded into your e-reader, ready to peruse.

Shortcut: Download e-books directly from the web

If you’re downloading your e-books from a website like Project Gutenberg or directly from a publisher, you might save a few steps by loading that page directly in Safari on your iPad. Just click the link for the format of your choice to automatically download the book into your e-reader.


Related posts:

  1. 5 tips for reading books in iBooks on the iPad
  2. iBooks 1.2 is out! Organize your e-books and print or e-mail book notes from your iPad
  3. 5 uses for Dropbox
  4. iPad impressions: Book reading options (iBooks vs. Kindle)
  5. Extend Dropbox with Dropbox apps

Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.
  • iPodissues

    I have a first generation iPod Touch upgraded to the iOS 3.1.3 software. I have tried this but the “Open In” icon is nowhere to be found. :/

  • Aaron Sumner

    iBooks’ requirements say it needs 3.2 or later; that may be the hangup.