O’Reilly Radar: State of the Computer Book Market, Part 4 – The Languages

March 7, 2008

This oddly fascinating report has room – if not need – for lots more analysis. It’s interesting that the top levels in every category are dominated by established titles which have been selling well for a few years. This in spite of the fact that the presence of new titles has some role in the growth (or loss) reported here:

You’ll notice in the Mid-Major languages that Ruby and Actionscript are the two languages that are showing growth when you compare 2006 and 2007. Both ActionScript and Ruby achieved their growth by adding more titles to the list. Remember that does not mean that more titles were published, but that more made it into our Top 3000 report from Bookscan.

Hot trends in web and software development seem to lead to a glut of new books roughly a year after they hit the blogosphere and IRC. This usually seems to coincide with the second round of adoption. And yet it seems to be the first round of (early – perhaps even now out of date) books which benefit from the second burst of interest. Obviously I’m extrapolating from Ruby/Rails here, but it seems to be there in the other case. Also, notice that JavaScript lost 10% of its market share in spite of a burst of nearly identical us-too Ajax titles over the past year. While a lot of these books (in Ruby, Ajax, php, Python, etc.) are noticeably less useful than the free documentation available on the web, most of them have benefited substantially from the collective wisdom and shared experience of the early adopters. But they seem to have a hard time attracting interest. Is that just on the strength of in person or online recommendations and reviews grandfathered from a time when there was only one place to learn something? And why do publishing companies bother? Surely they must get some inkling when everyone of the six other people doing their job in the country is signing people for three or four new books on the latest thing?


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