November 15, 2006

The computer book market

Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Books had a two part post a couple of weeks ago on the state of the computer book market.

In Part One, he takes a look at the overall trends in the market:

There's little to say about this picture that will cheer up computer book publishers or authors. The market continues to bump around at about the same level as it has for the past three years. Some publishers express hope that the release of Microsoft Vista and the next release of Office will boost results going into next year, but so far, no new technology release has been able to move the needle for long. We suspect that the combination of increasingly sophisticated online information, easier to use Web 2.0 applications, and customer fatigue with new features of overly complex applications, combined with the consolidation of the retail book market, mean that the market will never return to its pre-2000 highs, despite new enthusiasm for Web 2.0 and the technology market in general. In addition, new distribution channels (including downloadable PDFs) are growing up as retailers allocate less space to computer books.

In Part Two, he looks at how individual technologies are doing in the book market.

His broad comments on the overall trends:
  • Web Design and Development has been the most substantial bright spot in the market, with 22% year-on-year growth in this category. This might well be expected in a period in which Web 2.0 is the buzzword du-jour. In addition to breaking topics like Ruby on Rails, AJAX, Javascript, and ASP.Net, there's been nice growth in books on web design and web page creation. Books on blogging and podcasting have also finally caught on, after several prior false starts.
  • Microsoft's server release earlier in the year is still driving strong sales of books on C#, Visual Basic, and SQL Server. However, other database topics are also up modestly.
  • The growth in books on digital photography has slowed considerably. If not for the inclusion of the iPod category, the Digital Media supercategory would be flat.
  • The hardest-hit part of the market was books on consumer operating systems, down 17% from the same period a year ago.
  • The professional development and administration segment was down 2%, but might have been worse but for the strong performance of Microsoft languages, Python, Ruby, software project management, and database topics.

I'll briefly summarize for each technology he covers:

  • Computer Languages -- Java is down, while web programming languages like Ruby, PHP and Javascript are up, sometimes way up.
  • Databases -- Oracle down, SQL Server, MySQL are up
  • Operating Systems -- Linux, especially Ubuntu, is up a bit, but not a fast moving category.
  • Systems and Programming -- Art of Project Management by Scott Berkun and Jennifer Tidwell's Designing Interfaces are really driving this category. Data Warehousing, Data Analysis and Agile Development are also hot topics.
  • Web Design and Development -- Books on Ruby, AJAX and ASP are hot as are Blogging and Podcasting.
  • Digital Media Applications -- Photoshop is cold, digital photography is hot.
Lots of interesting stuff here, a good view into what the general public wants to read. Similarly, this should give us an idea of what kind of books our students will be wanting to read. If the jobs are in AJAX and Ruby, those are the books they're going to want as they prepare for the job search.

As a point of interest, O'Reilly does this kind of review every quarter or so.

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