Scrabble is a Kindle bestseller. Is the e-reader getting game-y?

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Are the days of knowing the Kindle as a dedicated e-reader over? On Sept. 24, Scrabble for Kindle launched. On Wednesday, the $4.99 Kindle Scrabble -- created by Electronic Arts for Hasbro Inc. -- was the No. 2 bestseller in Kindle books, after having reached No. 1 earlier in the week.

This is, of course, something of a misnomer -- Scrabble isn’t a book, it’s a game. And this addresses the larger issue: Is Kindle an e-reader? Or does it want to be something more?

Amazon opened up a path to Kindle diversity in January when it announced the Kindle Developer Kit, allowing programmers to create Kindle-based apps. About a month ago, Amazon debuted two word games of its own, but neither has the name recognition -- nor, apparently, the popularity -- of Scrabble.

When Amazon debuted its Kindle e-reader in 2007, it swiftly took e-readers from curiosity into the mainstream. E-book consumption has been on the rise ever since. In the second quarter of this year, Amazon announced that for every 100 hard-covers it sold, it sold 143 e-books. The publishing industry has been scrambling to address the new issues raised by e-books, which include everything from pricing schemes to digital formats.


Although there are other e-readers -- Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony Reader, Borders’ Kobo -- Amazon’s Kindle has been the engine at the head of the e-reader train. But with Scrabble, an electronic game, it seems to be exploring another track.

The big rival here is Apple’s iPad, and the other tablets -- such as the just-revealed model from Research in Motion -- that can serve as e-readers and a whole lot more. An iPad owner can read an e-book, check e-mail, surf the Web, watch video and, if he’s artist David Hockney, create a New Yorker cover. Along the way, an iPad owner can play games -- lots and lots of games. Among the more than 5,000 apps available for the iPad, there are hundreds of games.

If each of us can carry only so many electronic devices at the same time, it’s no wonder the Kindle is beginning to branch out. And the popularity of Scrabble shows that people who are carrying the Kindle, in addition to reading, want to play.

But there are a few drawbacks. Multi-player Scrabble on the Kindle can only be conducted in person, by passing the Kindle back and forth -- it’s more like the analog, wood-tiled version of the game than its Internet counterpart.

Kindle owners excited about Scrabble on their device may have to be satisfied with just that. As the website Mashable notes, that there have only been three Kindle apps released is ‘somewhat disheartening,’ and ‘given the Kindle’s lack of a touchscreen, ability to play animations, and myriad other capabilities that allow for highly interactive apps,’ a robust app selection ‘doesn’t seem likely.’

And if Kindle does release more apps, and, like Scrabble, they make the ‘bestsellers in Kindle books’ list, will Amazon have to give its list a new name?

-- Carolyn Kellogg