Beware Automatic Book Updates on Kindle

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It's automatic.

It’s automatic.

Related Content: Should You De-Synchronize Your Kindle?

If you have been reading this blog, you know I am an awestruck fan of the Amazon reading ecosystem and the many, many ways it improves the reading experience, even if you can’t easily find that free book you are looking for…

But you have to remember that there are a LOT of moving parts in this marvelous ecosystem that sometimes combine to produce unexpected and unwanted results. Take Automatic Book Update…please!

Here’s the deal: with e-books, authors can update their works and you can get those updates…automatically! Time was when you would go to the bookstore to see a book you had read with a new author’s introduction or updated ending and, to get the new material, you had to buy the whole book all over again! But no more. Now, if the sages at Amazon believe that a substantial improvement has been made to a book that you own, they can provide you with the update…automatically! All I can say is “sweet.”


Please realize that in some cases the improvements are the correction of misspellings, attributions, and so forth. Small stuff. Sometimes they may be more significant. In either case, if Automatic Book Update is turned on, you will get the update…automatically.

Therein lies the problem. “Automatically” suggests that it will happen whether you want it to or not. But why wouldn’t you? This is the equivalent of free improvement to a book you purchased, and you don’t have to lift a finger. Bring it on!

However, there is another little control in this ecosystem that bears on the outcome of an Automatic Book Update. That is the control that backs up your bookmarks, notes, and highlights–this control is called Annotation Back Up. You see, now Amazon keeps a perfectly current version of any book that you are reading in, you guessed it, the cloud. And since the Mother Ship in Seattle can ping your devices any time it wants, it can check in to see if all of the copies of that book you are reading are synchronized on all devices in terms of where you are in the book, what your bookmarks are, and what notes, if any, you have made or highlights created.

Here’s the rub. If Automatic Book Updates is ON and Annotation Back Up is OFF, the book update will wipe out your bookmarks, notes, and highlights when the update is installed on your device(s)…automatically. So, the wisdom of the helpdesk at Amazon is that when you turn on Automatic Book Updates,you should “ensure that all your Kindle devices and reading apps have the “Annotation Back Up” setting turned on.” Really, you must do this. Otherwise you stand to lose all of your annotations of any kind when the new file of the book replaces the old file of the book, the one with all you annotations attached.

Final kicker: while Automatic Book Updates is a global setting, Annotation Back Up is a local setting. This means that you have to switch in on for any and all devices where you read and annotate the book in question. You can’t just turn it on for all account devices in the “Manage Your Kindle” section at Amazon. For Kindle Fire owners, no worries–Annotation Back Up is always on for these devices. But for Kindle Reader apps and black and white Kindles, dig into the settings and make sure that it is switched on.

Synchronizing anything can lead to unexpected outcomes. Read more here.

Oh, yeah, there is a kind of postscript to this topic: if the book in question undergoes significant changes, all your annotations may be lost anyway, since they are keyed into positions in the book that might all change if the update is big enough.

What technology giveth, technology may very well take away!


  3 comments for “Beware Automatic Book Updates on Kindle

  1. Bob A
    December 29, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Though not a perfect solution, I move a copy of the notes file from my Kindle Touch to my computer every so often. That way, if something messes up — either user error or Amazon goof — I have a copy of my notes and highlights. Granted, if there is a major update to a book, location references might not match up, but I still have the notes and could, if desired, edit that file with new locations and load it back into my Kindle.

  2. Ferante
    January 7, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Has anyone had an actual experience with an Amazon Book update on a book that you had already highlighted? Did it delete your highlights?
    Bob A., what do you mean by “the notes file” – the “My Clippings” file? Is there an individual file that travels with the book itself and contains the Notes/Highlights, besides the “My Clippings” file, which is for all books collectively? I’ve been looking inside the Kindle content, when i connect it to my computer, but have not been able to locate where the highlights are being kept.
    I shop from small publishers directly sometimes (versus from Amazon) – eg, Delphi Classics, and if I highlight such a non-Amazon book, take it off my Kindle (store it on my computer), and then load it back on my Kindle, my highlights are lost!! This scares me. I need a comprehensive solution for highlights for different situations. Please post thoughts and links to more in-depth treatments of the topic.

  3. Bob A
    January 10, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Ferante: I use a Mac, but the process should be very similar for a Windows computer. I also have a Kindle Touch, so I don’t know if Kindle Fire works the same — Paperwhite, Kindle (eReader), and Kindle Keyboard should work the same as my Tough. Plug the Kindle into the USB port on your computer. The computer should recognize the Kindle as an external hard drive with a folder/file structure. Open the “documents” folder on the Kindle. Your notes and highlights are in a file in that folder called “My Clippings.txt”. Copy that file somewhere on your computer — I use a Dropbox folder that I’ve named Kindle Clippings.

    There is a very useful online utility that will take that text file, convert it to a comma-separated values (.csv) file, and send it back to your computer. That file can be opened in a spreadsheet programme and your notes can be sorted by book, by date, by location, etc. The site is — http://www.ebookworm.us/clippings/

    I have updated books on my Kindle without losing notes and highlights, even when Amazon warns me that those will be lost. I’ve moved Amazon books to the Kindle archive and the notes are retained. I don’t know if I’ve deleted a non-Amazon book from my Kindle and retained the notes

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