New Kindle Games Block Book Publishers From Number One Bestsellers

Jonathan Franzen's buzzworthy, Oprah co-signed book Freedom is being blocked from the number one Amazon (AMZN) Kindle spot -- by a video game. Electronics Arts (ETRS) Scrabble has been dominating the Kindle sales chart since its release last Thursday, but the lumping together of apps and books could anger publishers, authors, agents and readers in short order.

First, just as a pure customer service, other platforms make a clear distinction between books and apps. The most prominent example, Apple (APPL), has separate best-seller list for iTunes, iBooks and apps. It simply makes it clearer for customers who are interested in only one of those product types.

Second, book contracts are negotiated not only based on the sales of an author's previous books, but on the rankings on the best-seller list. For instance, an author with a number one best-seller will command a higher price for his or her follow-up than an author who reached only number two. (Authors also can get bonuses, called "escalators", if their book hits a landmark like number one on a particular list.) The Kindle Sales list is not the New York Times best-seller list yet, but it is quickly gaining prominence, especially as publishing disruptors like literary agent Andrew Wylie, who pushed for a direct-to-digital publishing model, and self-publishing guru J.A. Konrath, who negotiated an exclusive deal with Amazon, show how important digital will be in 2011. Authors and their agents are already fighting to get fair deals on the digital frontier, and book ranking being blocked by the latest video game does not help their cause.

Third, and most importantly, the mixed ranking system is an apple-and-oranges comparison. A book that sells more than 50,000 copies is considered a hit and, depending on the timing, could be on the best-seller list. In contrast, a number one game on the iTunes store, like the former top mobile game Angry Birds, would have to sell more than 50,000 copies daily. In short, Amazon can expect Scrabble to be in the number one spot for a while -- and, unless a new Twilight or Harry Potter suddenly gets unearthed, it will probably be dethroned only by another video game. Indeed, the Kindle free book best-seller list is currently dominated by Every Word and Shuffled Row, two free word games released months ago.

In a previous Gadget Watch post I praised Amazon on its smart, restrained video game initiative, but slapping the games in with the books is not a good foundation for sustained growth. What happens when more major developers release games on the Kindle? The top ten "book list" could just be variations of Boggle. Amazon took years to separate its paid Kindle content list from its free Kindle content list. However, when it comes to blending apps and books, publishers, authors, agents and readers won't let it wait that long to separate this time -- or there will be a seriously bumpy road ahead for Kindle.

Photo courtesy of Dan4th // CC 2.0