O'Reilly publishes a periodic update on the state of the computer book market on their Radar blog. It used to be done by Tim O'Reilly himself, but now it's done by Mike Hendrickson.
This time around it's in five parts. Let's take a look at some of the hightlights. As usual, if you're interested in computer books, the posts are well worth your detailed attention. The comments are also very interesting to track.
Part 1: The Market
As you can see, the computer market is only 1% of total unit sales in bookstores and online retailers. The Computer category was the only category down [-8%] year-over-year...
What you won't see on this chart is that the computer book market cratered in 2001, shrinking twenty percent a year for three years until it stabilized in 2004 at about half the size that it was in 2000. (We only have reliable data going back to 2004.) We are hoping that the cratering we experienced in the second half of 2008 will not be as pronounced or long as 2001 because the current economic conditions are not squarely for computer books centered around Tech. That being said, 2008 was the worst performing year since we've been collecting the Bookscan data. The chart immediately below shows total units by year for the Computer book category. As you can see, 2008 was the worst year for unit sale in the computer book market.
Really worth looking at is the chart of hot to not-so-hot topics. Hottest are: Mac programming, vitualization, mobile phone, computers and society and social web. Least hot include: web authoring, windows, Linux, MS programming, ipod & itunes.
Part 2: The Technologies
In response to previous State of the Computer Book market posts, there have been reader comments indicating that part of the decline in the market is due to a lack of anything that new in the Tech world to sustain lots of books selling lots of copies. It begs the question -- will we ever see another Java-like phenomena similar to what we experienced 12 years ago? (And yes, we understand it was much more than just a Java event, but Java skyrocketed more than all others - it was truly astronomical...) However, we believe that one reason why programming and administration topics are suffering more than consumer topics is that sophisticated users are the first to show the preference shift from books to online content consumption.
Part 3: The Publishers
The most notable factor is that Wiley continues to hold the leading spot as the largest publisher, with 30% market share of units sold, while Pearson lost 2% market share and O'Reilly gains 1%. (We’ll look at revenue share later in the analysis.)...
So what is notable from this data? First that these top 8 publishers are down - 375,820k units from 2007 to 2008. Only O’Reilly and Reed Elsevier saw modest gains in 2008. Seven out of the eight top publishers had more titles making the top 3000 list in 2008. Wiley, O’Reilly, and Reed Elsevier saw their efficiency improve in 2008 while the other large publishers saw their efficiency decrease.
Part 4 -- The Languages
Overall the market for programming languages was down 5.9% in 2008 when compared with 2007. There were 1,849,974 units sold in 2007 versus 1,740,808 units sold in 2008, which is a decrease of 109,166 units. So the unhealthy 8% loss in the Overall Computer Book Market was not completely fueled by programming-oriented books....
If you look at the five-year trend for the languages shown below, you can see that C# has been steadily growing year after year while Java has been going in the opposite direction during the same period. PHP, ActionScript and Python are the other languages going in a positive direction. Ruby, Java, and C++ had the biggest declines in unit sales during 2008, and Ruby dropped out of the top 10 languages....
Lastly, the following languages sold fewer than 1,000 units in 2008. Here is the list in alpha order: abap, ada, awd, blitzmax, cl, cobol, cs2, d, delphi, directx, dsl, e, eiffel, fortran, haxe, idl, javafx, jcl, kml, labview, lingo, lisp, m, maxscript, ml, mumps, mysql spl, natural, ocaml, octave, oopic, opl, pascal, pda languages, peoplecode, phrogram, pl/1, qbasic, realbasic, rexx, rpg, s, scratch, smalltalk, spark, sql server, squeak, unknown, unrealscript, windows script, and x++.
Part 5 -- eBooks and Summary
The market got off to a fast start in 2008 but during July took a nose-dive downward and never recovered. 2008 ended up 8% behind 2007, and there were very few bright spots. There were significantly fewer new titles making it into the Top 3000 reports, which means that more titles that were published before 2008 continued to make the list. Titles that were published in 2008 performed worse than those published in the prior 6 years and only outperformed titles from 2001 and earlier. Apple and its software and hardware [iPhone, iPod, and Mac OS X] had the biggest impact on computer book sales in 2008. Social media development, virtualization and mobile also performed better than in 2007. From a publisher perspective, O'Reilly showed the best gain while Pearson, Wiley, and Microsoft Press lost the most ground. The two Imprints of O'Reilly and Dummies have the most diverse publishing programs due to their strong performance in our six categories. The number one title for 2008 was O'Reilly's Mac OS X Leopard: The Missing Manual. The number one programming language was C#, with Objective-C and ActionScript showing strong growth in 2008. That's the quick view....
As you can clearly see, the decline in print has been slowly happening while Safari has maintained a very healthy double-digit growth rate. Do you believe we are at or near a tipping point for the computer book industry? Do developers want content online or a combination of online and print? Or is there a chance that new technological innovation will re-ignite a somewhat stale computer book market?