Let me give you the perspective from your target audience–a voracious reader, with eclectic tastes, from the baby-boomer demographic, some of the most prolific readers out there. I’m not published, so I’m coming at you from the perspective of a pure reader.
I didn’t get an e-reader this Christmas. The kindle I bought two years ago died six months later. It was replaced with an iPod Touch, which is the only e-reading device I use now, although what few purchases I do make are from Amazon.
I don’t know what your situation is, but for folks like me, the last 4 years have been disastrous. I lost my job. You can’t take a six figure income out of a household budget without consequences. A great percentage of those either unemployed or under-employed are in my age group–too old to be attractive to employers, too young for social security. I don’t have health insurance, and even though I COULD get it under “Obamacare”, the cost would still be greater than Hubs’s entire social security check (he’s older than I, and that’s what we live on). We are the folks who used to purchase and read multiple books in a month (sometimes multiple in a week!). Nowadays, we go to the library, re-read what we already have, buy used, or download free.
Normally a country settles into a mood of acceptance after a presidential election, either toning down the celebration of a win, or resigning themselves to a loss. I’m not seeing that this time. The mood of the country is still divisive, dark, and the vitriol from both sides still at a high pitch. We see a government spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave, count our pennies, and think twice about every purchase.
It’s been exacerbated by a series of natural and man-tragedies, from Hurricane Sandy to the shootings at Sandy Hook, from the remaining questions over Benghazi to the looming fiscal clliff. Milk subsidies are set to expire soon, doubling the price of all dairy products. Given the choice between buying a book, no matter how charming and distracting it might be, or saving my meager income for a block of cheese, heat, medications, and mortgage payments, which do you think I’ll choose?
I may download a few free books, but I’m sorry, I’ve never yet read a free book that was worth my time, and never read one that led me to buy others from the same author. Maybe I’m too picky, but I pick up stray jobs as an editor, and every single free book I’ve read looks like an editor never got near it. I’m mistrustful of the 99 cent books as well unless they are a sale from an author I already know and trust. I know there are folks here who’ve written fine books. Again, maybe I’m just being too picky.
I did get a few books for Christmas–they were of the dead tree variety, and every single one was purchased used. And I bought books–also of the dead tree variety–as Christmas presents for the children in my life. They are two young (and thanks to unemployed parents, too poor) to have e-readers. Perhaps you might do better if you made sure you also offered print versions of your work. I won’t buy it new, especially given the costs of trade paperbacks, but there’s a good chance I might pick it up used. I know that doesn’t help your bottom line, since you don’t get royalties on used books, but that’s MY reality.
This Christmas was not good for ANY retailer, with reports of sales down all over the place, in every market segment, not just books. There are signs of recovery in the housing and durable goods areas, but in general, people are not spending money on “luxury” items. This includes books. People spent less this Christmas. I think there are just too many uncertainties and folks are reluctant to incur debt the way they moght have been in the past.
A young woman I did an editing job for is slated to officially launch her debut in 10 days, although her publisher actually did a soft release this month. I know she made at least 200 Kindle sales already. But when we chose the release date months ago, I deliberately told her to wait until January to release, to avoid getting caught in the churn of the free-download frenzy (plus the book is a political thriller about a presidential assassination and the first female president, so there are logical tie-ins to the inauguration).
I suspect folks will see an uptick in sales once some of the politics settle, the fiscal cliff issues are resolved one way or another, and folks settle into the long dark moths of winter and are looking for distractions.
Passive Guy would note that the monster growth in both ebooks and self-pubbed authors has occurred during a very poor economy in the US and many other nations around the world.
This economy has pushed some traditionally-published authors into indieworld as advances have become smaller and publishers have substantially trimmed their mid-list releases. Ditto for first-time authors who have walked away from offers with a small advance and chosen to self-pub instead.
The economy also plays a role in the success that some indie authors have found by pricing their works, particularly ebooks, significantly lower than books from traditional publishers.