Holiday expectations

Passive Voice put out the question, how are your holiday sales doing? And there's a lot of angst out there, because we writers all know that people get e-readers for Christmas and then at 12:01 a.m. December 26 they all go online and buy gazillions and gazillions of e-books, so if your sales aren't skyrocketing by December 27 or December 28 at the very latest, you should just go take a nap on the railroad tracks because it's all over for you, baby.

Except, you know, how do we know this? Kris Rusch addressed this question of unrealistic post-holiday sales expectations this very day last year, noting that despite all the sales and specials, the main beneficiaries of a post-holiday sales bump were authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, Charlotte Bronte, and Mark Twain. You know, because people who get a shiny new e-reader under the tree at Christmastime go online and immediately go for what is familiar--what they already know they like.

Which makes total sense to me. I used to walk into the Strand Bookstore in New York City ("18 Miles of Books!"), and my brain would just short out. I'd have a list of books in my head, but I'd walk in there and there would be 18 miles of books and that list would be GONE. It was like my brain turned to static. 18 FREAKING MILES of books. Holy Christ. How the hell are you supposed to deal with that?

And Amazon's, like, a billion times worse. You're frazzled already from all the holiday crap (the shopping, the wrapping, the crazy relatives, the logistics, the pageants, the parties, the cooking, the decorating, the drinking, the junk food, the travel, the uncooperative weather throwing a wrench into everything all the time) you've been having to do for the past month or two, you open up a shiny new e-reader, you go online, and--JESUS WEPT! 18,000,000 MILES OF BOOKS!!! Your head is going to explode! So you just grab The Wizard of Oz (which you plan to read curled up in a corner as you suck your thumb) and figure that you'll deal with the rest later. You don't want to be making lots of tough decisions and taking risks on new things--you've been doing that since Halloween! You need a break!

And of course, increasingly, people aren't opening up shiny new e-readers--they're opening up shiny new tablets. People who buy e-readers want them for one thing: To read books. People who buy tablets might not even think of them initially as e-book reading devices--they are, and people will gradually figure that out, but the average tablet buyer isn't immediately going to jump online and buy a bunch of e-books. That's going to take some time.

One thing to keep firmly in mind is that this is a new industry. And it's a changing one! Writers on the cusp of the year 2013 shouldn't hang themselves because they aren't meeting expectations created in 2011.

The early e-book adopters clearly were big readers--you have HarperCollins saying that more than half its U.S. fiction revenues come from e-books, but only 23% of Americans read e-books, so these people buy a lot of books. Later e-book adopters may well buy less, especially on the day after Christmas. I am optimistic that this industry will continue to grow, and I'm hopeful that e-books will result in more people becoming readers, as tablet (and phone) owners slowly but surely figure out that there's this really convenient, inexpensive way to tap into the wonderful world of books.

But I don't expect all that to happen by the end of business today.