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How do I recover my ebooks if my harddrive crashes?


I received an email from Sarah who had received an email from one of her readers wondering what to do when her harddrive crashed and she had to reformat. Because of DRM, moving away from your existing system because of a system failure or simply upgrading your computer can be fraught with problems. The following are some suggestions in preparing to move your books and how to address a harddrive failure.

Before an upgrade


Make a note of the location of your ebooks.  If you choose a default installation, your ebooks are stored in your My Documents folder (or Documents folder if you have a Mac).  Each ebook reading application uses a different folder name.  It is important to remember that the ACSM file is NOT the ebook file.  It is merely the license that allows you to download the epub or the pdf.


Location of ebooks in the My Documents/Documents folder

my documents folder

  • Sony:  My Books/Reader
  • Kobo:  If you have downloaded epub files then they would be in Digital Editions.  If you are using the desktop app, the files are stored in a sql database and are not able to be retrieved. You’ll need to download the “epub” version from the website and those will be found in the Digital Editions folder.
  • Nook:  My Barnes & Noble eBooks
  • Kindle:  My Kindle Content.  There are several files in the folder but the important ones are those that end with AZW  That is the ebook file.  The others are for the whispersync services.

Usernames, Passwords, and Credit Cards

Adobe Digital Editions license is dependent on a username and a password.  Don’t remember your Adobe username? Open Adobe Digital Editions and go to Library -> Authorize Computer. The popup screen will tell you what username the computer is authorized to.  Write this down.  Keep it somewhere so you can remember it.  You can even email yourself the username.
Adobe authorization username

Barnes and Noble Nook books depend on your username/password and a credit card.  Look into the Nook settings for what credit card is associated with your account.  If you change your credit card information, you may need to redownload your books.

nook book settings

Kobo, Kindle and Sony rely on a username/password authentication.

Making a backup

There are a number of ways to create a backup of your ebook files. For the companies that offer cloud storage such as all the major etailers, you may prefer to redownload new copies of your books direct from the source onto your newly formatted harddrive.  The folders to backup are the locations of the books you identified above. Other backup strategies include:

  • USB drive or SD card
  • Online cloud storage
  • Emailing copies to a different email address (which a) only works if the other email address stores your emails and b) is essentially another form of cloud storage).
  • Attached backup harddrive

After a harddrive crash

The good thing is that most of these companies allow you to redownload your books. The bad thing is that you often have to redownload them one by one.  Further, if you don’t remember where you bought your ebooks, you may not be able to recreate your digital library. Some smaller retailers won’t allow you to redownload your books.  You are given one opportunity or a 24 hour opportunity and that is it.  These smaller retailers, however, often are selling non DRM’ed books.  If that is the case, you may be able to recover your ebooks using a harddrive recovery software.

  1. Gather your emails, passwords, usernames, credit cards
  2. Redownload the retailer software
  3. Authorize your programs
  4. Redownload your files

If you can’t remember your passwords or usernames, try contacting the various retailers.  Ordinarily, you can get those companies to either email you your username or have it reset over the telephone after providing sufficient identifying information.  Check last week’s post for the customer service contacts for the major retailers.

If you have forgotten your Adobe ID you can fill out this form here so long as you remember the email address you used at the time of registration or use the customer support page.  More on the Adobe ID here.

If you can’t remember where you bought all your books, request a few months of your credit card or bank statements and review all the locations of your purchases. Another tip is to use only one credit card to buy your ebooks and then you need only look at that one statement.

Summary Tips

In sum, here are some tips to keep in mind as a new or experienced ebook reader.

  1. Keep track of your purchases.  One way is to dedicate one card for purchases of ebooks.
  2. Remember usernames and passwords.  A password program can help to remember these for you and still keep you secure.
  3. Backup using offline storage like USB or SD cards or cloud storage like Dropbox.  Back up your My Documents folder.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Dani Alexander
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 04:29:27

    My husband was able to recover most of the data from my hard drive crash of two days ago. My second novel was on that hard drive. I was in hysterics. Plus all my copies of my original novel and it’s conversions. Thank goodness I had at least submitted the novel to amazon, I could download it and convert that copy to other formats in the meantime. You never think it can happen to you! So, if you’re an author, be sure you have those types of e-books saved elsewhere too.

    Another thing I’d recommend that was so helpful for me: If you have a thumb drive (one that never, ever leaves your house btw), make a .txt file and store it there and then send a copy to a permanent email like gmail or yahoo.

  2. Danielle D
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 07:15:59

    After my computer crash a couple of months ago, my husband was able to bring “fix” it I immediately backed up my entire computer on a portable hard drive which helped because a week later I say bye to that computer forever. I have so many flash drives and memory cards which I have my books backed up on.

    Jane, do you know how many “devices” you can registered under your Adobe Digital Editions account? Or how I can remove my computers or eRreaders that I no longer have?

  3. Dabney
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 08:10:02

    I run a large external drive that backs everything up automatically. I runs no software on it, but every time I add a mile to my computer, it mirrors it there. It gives me peace of mind.

  4. DS
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:00:54

    If you have an Iomega external hard drive then you can use a piece of software called v-clone. It’s a free download from Iomega and creates a virtual image of your PC (running XP, Vista or 7) on the external HD. If you connect the HD with the virtual image to another computer running any of the three OS mentioned then it allows you to (slowly) run the clone on the second computer.. It syncs when you connect it back to the original so it is always up to date.

    I set this up for a friend and myself. It was once a lifesaver.

  5. Darlynne
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:41:54

    Any purchases I make are always via a web-based email address, which has the added benefit of keeping all the crap that inevitably follows out of my personal email inbox. I have a folder called “Receipts” where my ebook purchase emails are kept, primarily because I can’t remember where I bought them in the first place.

    Jane, my gratitude for your constant care and feeding of us is boundless. You help us buy, use, transport and now recover our books. I salute you.

  6. Keishon
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:56:41

    Jane, my gratitude for your constant care and feeding of us is boundless. You help us buy, use, transport and now recover our books. I salute you.


  7. Ridley
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 11:47:12

    I strip the DRM off everything then back them up in Dropbox, on a flash drive and through a remote backup service. This is, of course, in addition to keeping all my books on my reader as well.

    Things I pay for are MINE.

  8. Doug Knipe
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 12:10:45

    A helpful article for supporters of ebooks. I prefer paper copies. I just put them on the shelf. Ridley has the right of it, “Things I pay for are mine”. Used to be you only had to be able to read to use a book. Now you require an IT degree. How sad.

  9. Ridley
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 12:19:55

    @Doug Knipe: Funny, my history degree and I have no problem clicking “copy” on my Calibre library then “paste” on the destination folder. It’s actually a lot easier than shelving a physical book. I’d have to get up and walk across the room to do that.

  10. Sunita
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 12:22:51

    I use Calibre as my e-library. I remove the DRM and put the book in Calibre, which I keep in my Dropbox folders. That backs it up on all my computers.

    If you have a Mac, you should be using Time Machine, in which case you are automatically backing up your e-books. But a cloud or other backup destination is also a good idea.

    I’ve been buying ebooks for a long time, and they have gone in and out of various online sites and their libraries. If I weren’t backing everything up myself I’d have lost quite a few at this point. The recent WH Smith move to Kobo was a good reminder for me; I hadn’t backed up some of the books my husband had purchased (we share the account) and I had to download them in a hurry to my Calibre library because rights rules didn’t allow them to be transferred to Kobo.

    Three different family members are on the same Kindle account, and I go into the account regularly to make sure I’ve downloaded books that I wouldn’t necessarily read that someone else has bought. Just in case.

    Great column and reminder, Jane. Thanks!

  11. Brian
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 13:04:55

    It’s important to make sure you keep a backup copy off site (at work, a friends house, safety deposit, etc.). Having your only backup in the same place as your computer helps little in case of fire or break-in.

    I keep a copy on dropbox that syncs with two computers (one off site), a copy on a usb hard drive and two copies on usb flash drives.

    Also I only think of retailers as a bonus backup and never rely on them to always have a copy I can re-download.

  12. Brian
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 13:14:21

    @Danielle D: Adobe allows for six devices. You can deregister a device, but it does not free up a registration slot.

    Supposedly they slowly add registration/activations over time to take into account old computers/devices no longer in use. They also have a way through their website to request additional activations (I’d have posted a link if I wasn’t on my phone right now).

    Edit: here’s the Adobe support arra for ADE

  13. Ros
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 14:14:27

    As a paranoid PhD student, I take back up REALLY seriously. As many places and as many formats as possible. More than one hard drive is good, but no good if your house is burned down or burgled. A thumb drive is very easily corrupted – if you get a virus on your computer, it can easily affect your backed up files too. Emailing to a web-based account is a great idea – until your email gets hacked and you lose access. Paper copies are great except in case of floods. And so on.

    So, for my ebooks, I have cloud storage, Dropbox storage, Kindle and laptop copies. For my thesis, I have Dropbox, Mozy, hard drive, external harddrive, gmail copies, paper copies and copies of completed chapters with my supervisor. Dropbox is by far the easiest thing I use and is particularly excellent because I regularly work on both the netbook and the laptop and it keeps the files synched between the two, as well as acting as a storage space.

  14. Sophia (FV)
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 16:13:26

    Only one credit card to buy my ebooks? Then I would know exactly how much I spend on books each month. No, this can’t happen.

  15. Danielle D
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 18:48:16

    Thanks Brian!

  16. Christine M.
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 07:15:53

    @Doug Knipe: If my appartment burns or a nasty thief decides he’s into romance, all my paper copies are lost. My ebooks, however, are just a click away.

  17. Junne
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 05:27:20

    @Christine M.:
    A thief into romance? He’d make a great hero!

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