State of the Computer Book Market, Part 1: The Market

As described in the post Computer Book Sales as a Technology Trend Indicator, and our other posts on the State of the Computer Book Market we have an updated series of posts that show the whole market’s final 2007 numbers. Remember this data is from Bookscan‘s weekly top 3,000 titles sold. Bookscan measures actual cash register sales in bookstores. In other words, if you buy a book it gets recorded in this data. Retailers such as Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon make up the lion’s share of these sales.

Book Market Performance

Here’s the year-on-year trend for the entire computer book market since 2003, when we first obtained the data from Bookscan. Please remember the data is for all publishers and NOT just O’Reilly. The slightly-thicker red line represents the 2007 data.

Click on the image to get a larger view.

Market Overall 5Yr

As you can see, the clear seasonal pattern we’ve pointed out before still exists. The trend line for each year closely mirrors the year before, with remarkably consistent weekly ups and downs. (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 data going back to 2003.)

So what’s was news in 2007? The year got off to slow start and by mid-year it looked like results were going end below the prior years. But around the middle of July, which is typically a slow time in computer books, the market climbed above the most recent years. Not only did the market climb above of the prior years, but it did not dip below any of the prior years until the third week in December [Christmas week]. That being said, the market ended up at 1%, or 4,089 units above 2006 – on a base of over 7.4 million units. That is truly a small increase but mostly realized in the second half of the year.

Another way to look at the market is with our Treemap visualization tool. This tool helps us pick up on trends quickly, even when looking at thousands of books. It works like this.

The size of a square shows the market share and relative-size of a category, while the color shows the rate of change. Red is down, and green is up, with the intensity of the color representing the magnitude of the change. The following screenshot of our treemap shows gains and losses by category, comparing the fourth quarter of 2007 with the fourth quarter of 2006.

Qtr Py Units Cat

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In the fourth quarter of 2006, new interest in web development associated with Web 2.0 and strong performance of books on digital media applications like Photoshop helped to drive the market. In the fourth quarter of 2007, Microsoft’s Vista was finally driving the market. Vista has been a slow-roll upwards and has finally reached a point to where it has almost matched Windows XP’s size as the market leader. Expectedly, Windows XP has declined quickly, but not as fast as Vista has increased. I’ll compare the two Operating Systems in a later post.

I find it very interesting that the digital media apps had more of a market effect in Q4 2006 than in Q4 2007. This decline was mostly due to photography related books that one might argue don’t really belong in the “computer” book market analysis. But most of the post-click things you do to a photograph need a computer of some kind. So we’ll leave it in the data set. Another area on the decline is our Systems and Programming section. This is “core Animal” territory and it is on a downward trend. Programming languages led the decline in this area followed by Databases and Operating Systems [not consumer OPS like Vista and Mac OS]. And that’s the high-level view. But let’s drill in a bit more and look into what is driving and deflating the categories a bit more.

Here is the same image with the thin borders selected. Click the image to get a larger view.

Treemap Category Ly

So what are all the boxes and colors telling us? There is a lot of green, black and red — which means the market is fairly balanced with ups and downs. Hence the modest .1% growth for the year. The big winners of the larger-sized categories are Vista, Mac OS and Photoshop. The big losers of the larger-sized categories are Web Page Creation [HTML titles], Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL Server, and Java. The one bright spot in Systems and Programming is our “Programming Languages Other” which is up 43% although it is a medium-to-small category. What is fueling that growth will be covered in a later post called Part 4: The Languages.

I find it useful to organize the trends into classifications that are High Growth Categories [Bright Green], Moderate Growth Categories [Dark Green to Black], Categories to Watch [all colors], and Down Categories [Red to Bright Red]. Most of these descriptions are self-explanatory except perhaps the Categories to Watch. Categories to Watch contains titles that are typically not susceptible to seasonal swings. Subjects that fit into our Computer and Society segment are included here as well as other subjects that are not typically related to a release cycle. Categories to Watch also include stalwarts like Excel [even though it is susceptible to revisions] that sell, and sell and sell. Photoshop is also in this category as we are watching the effect of the new release and what is happening to the existing books in the category. To me, the watch list is a bit subjective and more of an intuitive view than a dogmatic and analytical view.

The table below highlights and explains some of the data from the chart above. The Share column shows the total market share of that category, and the ROC column shows the Rate of Change. So, for example, you can see that Windows Desktop OS books represent 6.52% of the entire computer book market, and were up 66.60%.

Category Share ROC Notes
High Growth – Hot Topics
Windows Desktop 6.52% 66.60% Vista need a rolling start to climb up to market expectations. It is just now climbing into the top spot.
Collaboration 1.38% 212.03% Microsoft SharePoint is dominating this category and is occupying a larger region of the Treemap each quarter.
Office Suites 2.15% 65.25% Office 2007 is starting to pick up steam and seems to be riding Vista;s coattails. Excel is the prime mover.
Cisco 1.87% 51.16% Cisco technologies continue to make the Internet work more efficiently.
Web Site Topics 1.1% 18% Joomla, Drupal, Analytics and Performance topics are driving this category.
Moderate Growth
Microsoft Programming 0.59% 9.63% ALW — Acronyms are Leading the Way for MSFT: WPF, WCF and MCPD.
Rich Web Interface 1.6% 6% ActionScript is sizzling and Flash is a candidate for best supporting topic of the year. A nice one-two combo in this category.
Categories to Watch
Word Processing 6.3% (21%) The Word 2007 titles are srarting to make a bigger impact as more folks migrate to Office 2007. But the category is not quite up to Office 2003 levels yet.
Software Project Management 0.7% (4.20%) A category not prone to software releases. PMP still the driver here with Head First PMP leading the pack.
Linux 1.61% (23.43%) New Linux book revisions have not replace revenues of old books. In a smaller market, this makes a difference..
Down Categories – Not Hot Topics
Web Page Creation 4.81% (6.53%) HTML, CSS and other web design and tools are sliding a bit.
Digital Photography 6.69% (21.26%) This was hard to figure out. Photoshop CS2 books that were selling in ’06, seem to have driven down the ’07 numbers as the market moved to CS3. It will take a quarter or two to get back to the CS2 levels.
Web Programming 3.93% (21.33%) I attribute this to bad publishing. New editions being published that do not perform at the level of their predecessor.

Part two of this series will give a closer look at the technologies within the categories. Part three will be about the Publishers, winners and losers. And part four will be some more analysis of Programming Languages.

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