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!

  13 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 —

    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

  4. July 24, 2014 at 9:34 am

    When the screen pops up, move your cursor to the Delete This Sample option and select it.
    One can also bookmark or highlight the novel page for further reference.
    I was particularly frightened in regards to the battery life.

  5. Iain
    December 6, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Thanks for posting on a topic that’s surprisingly hard to find information about.

    Yes, I’m very late to this, but I only just figured out these updates were happening. I do have automatic backup of highlights turned on for all of my devices, and it seems like **usually** the highlights are preserved, but I’ve noticed for one book in particular – Deborah Fallows’s “Dreaming in Chinese” – my highlights have disappeared from every device. Meanwhile, for the George Martin “Song of Ice and Fire” Vol 1-4 collection, the highlights have disappeared off my iPad, but not from my desktop Kindle application. So while the highlights are probably preserved, they may indeed disappear. This isn’t exactly reassuring; it’s not a big deal for casual reading, but for academic material, I’ve got a lot of important highlights and annotations.

  6. Kayla
    January 22, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Do you by chance how if there’s a way to tell what book has been updated?

  7. Will DeLamater
    January 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Hi Kayla, Amazon’s policy is to notify you if there is a major update to any book you bought from them. Minor changes can be made via the Manage my Content and Devices page. On that page, click on Settings and scroll down to view Automatic Updates, read the advisory text there, and enable or disable automatic updates. Simple!

  8. Kayla
    January 28, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Okay. Thanks. An author told me he had updated his book. I’m a book blogger an had reviewed his book and gave some feedback about inconsistencies and some spelling. I guess I was just hoping for an easier way to know if he indeed made the changes.

  9. Will DeLamater
    January 28, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Agreed! Were the changes indicated on the Manage Content Page? 😉

  10. Kayla
    January 28, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Yes, Thank you. I am thinking to disable it. I know before I had it enabled it used to show me a notice, “an update to this book is available”.

  11. JMD
    May 7, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Googled a related topic and got this thread/article as a result… my question is whether automatic update affects Amazon’s ability to DELETE a book you own. I remember a few years back there was an issue relating to copyright on some older (but still in copyright?) work that a 3rd party sold allegedly w/o authorization. Some well known work like Lord of the Flies or something that a lot of folks bought for a college project. When Amazon heard about the copyright authorization issue they reached into everyone’s Kindle who had bought a copy and deleted it, apparently also no refunds, not warning. Somewhat related, I’ve seen some books I own disappear for months at a time from the store. So I’m skittish about giving Amazon more permission to reach into my device and muck about. In an ideal world, yea, who wouldn’t want an automatically updating book? In practice though I’m still worried about where we are on the line between “owning” these books vs “renting” them.

  12. Steve Hollasch
    June 2, 2015 at 12:34 am

    Note that annotation backup is only possible for books purchased directly from Amazon. I purchase most of my technical books from O’, and have them delivered to my Kindle. They are good about putting out updated editions, but there are two problems with that. First, I’ve been able to find a way to distinguish between editions on my Kindle — they all look the same. Second, annotations to one version are local to my device, and local to that version. If I get a new version, I haven’t been able to find any way to copy or move or merge my old notes, bookmarks and highlights over to the new version. Everything is copied to “My Clippings.txt”, but that file is for my benefit only — modifying it has no effect. Put another way, as far as the Kindle is concerned, “My Clippings.txt” is a write-only file, and it merely appends new information to the end of it for my later optional use.

  13. Will DeLamater
    June 7, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Amen! I am not sure that anything other than a code of conduct affects Amazon’s ability to make changes to your library, and even the books stored on your device. Downloading a copy to your computer is the only way to ensure access, and even there Amazon has some options, however drastic, for preventing you from viewing them on your Kindle reader. Thanks for the great comment!

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