Parenting and writing don’t often share the same skill set. You can’t really give your stories a “time out” or teach your characters to make better choices (because hey–the interesting parts of stories are about what happens when your characters don’t make good choices, amirite?). But occasionally, there’s call to use parent-fu in the ol’ writing career, and I had call to do so recently, when trying to explain to a friend why an iPad versus Amazon’s Kindle Fire versus Barnes & Noble’s NookTablet was not the three-way deathmatch it seemed to be.

Celebrity Deathmatch?

Neither the Kindle Fire nor the Nook Tablet are contenders to compete with the iPad any more than B&N’s brick and mortar store competes with an Apple storefront. They’re two different classes of Tablet computing. You’re not getting a $500 device for $200. Compare instead the iPad to a half-decent discount laptop or netbook instead and leave it out of this race.

The Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire are close competitors, and there are hundreds of sites out there that have already reviewed the devices in terms of performance, usability, tech specs, and all that. I’ve attempted here to identify the less-tangible value-adds offered with each device and to make you understand that these things come with unique ecosystems that may influence your decision.

The Price of Ubiquitous

It’s a Household Name

Amazon’s overall goal isn’t short-term profits off device sales, but rather something less tangible–long-term ubiquity. Ask anyone in business, and they’ll tell you there are a lot of excellent, sound reasons to sell stock at a loss. Wal-Mart specializes in “loss leaders” – items sold at or even below cost because they draw shoppers into the store where they’ll buy the loss leader, along with several other hundred items that may or may not be marked down, discounted, or even the cheapest cost in town (seriously, do price comparisons on actual items someday at your local Wal-Mart versus another local supermarket and you’ll see how few items are really the lowest price). As a result of people looking for dirt-cheap cat food, Wal-Mart is now ubiquitous to the American experience. Wal-Mart’s loss leaders returned first adoption–meaning the practice of using what they were offering at a loss–and then ubiquity.

It’s Not Sticker Price, It’s a Down Payment

At $199, the Kindle device is more than likely selling for less than it costs to make one. The Kindle–the tool used to read digital editions of books, newspapers, magazines–isn’t just a device, it’s a portal to the shopping experience on Amazon. The thing is–I don’t believe most Kindle Fire buyers are only paying $199 for the Kindle experience. They’re paying a loss-leading entry fee towards the adoption of a new habit, and Amazon is delivering an inexpensive gateway and both sweetening the deal and making a slight return on investment by offering value-added service in the form of Amazon Prime.

The First Hit’s Free

When you buy a Kindle Fire, you’re given a free month of Amazon Prime, its video streaming service, free two-day shipping, and associated shopping perks. But once your month is up, you’re invited to purchase a year’s worth of Prime, and anecdotally, most people do, because they’ve gotten into the habit of enjoying those Prime videos on the Fire, or all those buys on the Amazon site eligible for free shipping through Prime. Kindle buyers receive a value-added service, but for an additional subscription price. The Kindle buyer may have purchased the device at a loss, but the extra content is a revenue stream that has the potential to continue to pull in much more than that initial absence of profit.

Value From A Different Direction

Membership Has Its Privileges

Kindle’s big competitor, the Barnes & Noble Nook (NookColor or NookTablet) also has value-add built in, but it’s delivered in a different way. The NookTablet (the more robust version with better under-the-hood specs than either Tablet or Fire) runs $249. The price starts higher, but comes down with benefits from already-existing customer loyalty rewards, or existing customer habits. Most bookstore buyers have their B&N card, which entitles you to a discount of $25 off the NookTablet–that brings you down to $229. B&N has also worked out deals for the e-ink Nooks, the NookColor, and the NookTablet that discount you up to $100 off the device with a yearly subscription to a periodical–the New York Times is one offer, People Magazine is another.

More Alike Than Different

Barnes and Noble has a brick-and-mortar, physical retail presence that it is attempting to leverage. Nooks will connect with the in-store Wi-Fi and allow you to browse and purchase Nook editions of the books and periodicals you see on the shelves (if they’re available–and that’s up to the publisher of said reading item, not B&N). B&N also allows you to digitize that bookstore experience we all know and love–that of picking up a book off the shelves, finding a quiet corner with one of their stuffed comfy chairs–or slouching in the corner by the choo-choo train table with a busy toddler–and reading something (anything! just not “Goodnight Moon” again, for the love of–), compliments of the bookstore. You can read free on your Nook for up to an hour’s worth of time in the store. Here, your value-add comes from the commonalities your existing habits have with the new digital experience.

The Human Element

Nook users of any stripe have access to free, in-store support for their devices. By a real human being, employed by the company that makes them. That you can look in the face. Most of us are well-versed in tech support delivered from a long distance, over a phone or internet chat, and exactly how ineffective that can be when you don’t have someone right there in front of you and the gadget on which you’re trying to perform an exorcism. Most of the B&Ns around me offer monthly “Get to know your Nook” classes. You can walk into a store and try one out, feel the actual heft (or not) of the device, look at the screen and figure out how simple it is to operate. You can ask questions from a human standing in front of you, and get a human answer.

Welcome To Your Jungle

When it comes down to it, reading on one device isn’t that much different from another. People move back and forth from newssheet to paperback to hardback to back of cereal box without that much difficulty. It’s the ecosystem surrounding each tablet option that will make or break your enjoyment and use of the device. Get to know the terrain, and happy reading!

Shameless plug: when you do get to know the terrain, please feel free to get your feet wet with one of my stories, like my short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material available on Nook, Kindle, and the way you want to read. I promise I won’t give you jungle rot! 😉

NEW! All Romance Ebooks

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

Amazon (US, UK, DE, and FR).

She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…

He’s absolutely sure she’s right…

But he’s still going to prove her wrong.

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