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State of the Computer Book Market, Part 2: The Technologies

In this second installment (the first post is found here), we look at computer book sales in specific technology categories. Remember that we’ve organized the data into six “Category Families” — Systems and Programming, Web Design and Development, Business Applications, Digital Media Applications, Consumer Operating Systems and Devices, and Other. Within each Family are category group, super-category, category, and atomic category, in a five-level hierarchy. For example, Systems and Programming includes programming languages, databases, software engineering, general programming, security, and so on. In the rest of this post, we will contrast Q4 2006 with Q4 2007 and the whole year of 2006 with 2007.

As a refresher, here is a new view of the Category Families with their sub areas for Q4 2007 compared to Q4 2006. In this view, we’ve changed the thickness of the borders to highlight the category hierarchy.

Qtr Py Units Cat Thick

Recapping the big picture from the last post, what you didn’t see is that the fast growth of Windows Vista was aided by the addition of 63 new titles [title count] that made the Bookscan data-set in 2007. (The data set consists of the top 10,000 computer books. So more titles in a given category typically means that new titles in that category have pushed titles from other categories off the bottom of the list. Shrinkage in the title count in a category doesn’t necessarily mean that titles are unavailable, just that they are no longer selling enough copies to make the list.)

There were 15 Vista titles in the 2006 data and on 12/31/07 there were 78 or an 420% increase in count, while XP declined at a slower rate going from 125 titles in 2006 to 97 in 2007 for a -22.4% decrease in count. Combined, that netted 35 more titles in 2007 than in 2006 for XP and Vista. This is a distinct (isbn) count as well, so if a title makes it in the top 10,000 report for more than one week, it is counted only once. We wanted to see how many titles made up the category, not how often a title makes the report. But there is more to this category than is visibly apparent and we will cover that in more detail later in this post.

In the table immediately below, you can see how the cat_family groupings have performed (total units) both by quarter and yearly results. The only noticeable change is that the Consumer Operating Systems has swapped positions with Digital Media at the number 4 & 5 ranks.

Cat_Family Qtr Growth YoY Growth 06Rank 07Rank 06Share 07Share
business applications 11.78% 4.79% 2 2 15.85% 16.63%
computer topics / other -3.09% -2.74% 6 6 1.94% 1.99%
consumer operating systems 39.43% 25.47% 5 4 8.32% 11.15%
digital media -13.79% -19.35% 4 5 10.72% 8.97%
systems and programming -6.76% -5.48% 1 1 29.03% 27.48%
web design and development -3.33% -2.34% 3 3 14.38% 14.04%

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Now let’s look at the categories that comprise each cat_family. Below are some individual trend-charts from our dashboard showing a 24-month period from April 2005 to April 2007 for the major categories. By looking at a 24-month pattern, you’ll get more insight into whether or not a particular area seems to be hit by seasonal factors, and if there is a steady decline/increase for the category.

Cat Family Overall Graphs

Notice how in Systems and Programming, our largest area, the trend lines are near the top of the scale in their chart. What is difficult to see at this level is the linear trendline for the category. This category is where most of our core animal books are categorized and it is on a steady decline.

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.

You will notice that the Consumer Operating Systems and Devices chart shows the most upswing in Q4 ’07. In fact, this category is at its highest point in 24 months. For the category, this ascent is like a perfect storm: a slow starting Vista is now producing, Mac OS X Leopard has been released, and books on the iPhone are flying off the shelves. The result is strong and sustained growth.

Digital Media shows up as our fifth largest category in units, and its our fourth largest revenue-producer (books are more expensive), yet the relative market growth during Q407 was slower than anticipated. And the reasons for slow growth are a bit tangled. On the surface, CS3 titles have not climbed up to the level that CS2 occupied in Q4 ’06 and there are 73 fewer distinct titles making it into our data set. I do expect this category to be one of the top performing areas in 2008 as CS3 continues to climb back to the levels of CS2.

But here is where the tangled mess comes in. Publishers use codes called BISAC to identify where a book should be categorized. And there are two main BISAC codes for Digital Photography: PHOxxxx and COMxxxx. Both are perfectly valid as categories, but they do not ship in the same dataset from Bookscan. So if a publisher puts their titles in PHO then those buying data on the COM categories (like us) will not get the PHO books. While our treemap view shows trends in most computer-related digital photography books, by adding sales data from the photography topics we get a more complete picture of interest in digital photography trends. We did an old fashioned review at the source of these categories, PHO and COM, as it relates to Digital media. Factoring the books from PHO, the Digital Media category family is up about 6-7% in 2007 from 2006.

The Business Applications area, our second largest cat_family, has finally been aided by the Excel 2007 release and 51 distinct new titles coming into the category. I say finally because it took Office 2007 even longer than Vista to get rolling up the charts. It has finally surpassed the level that Office 2003 enjoyed. With an additional 7 titles added to the category, Office Suites grew 39.52% in units from Q4 ’06 to Q4 ’07 and 36.02% in units for the whole year of 2006 compared to 2007.

The Categories (24-month rolling, December 2005 – December 2007)

Category_Family: Consumer Operating Systems and Devices

Here are the trend lines for the three main categories (‘cat_family’) that make up Consumer Operating Systems and Devices.

Con Ops 01

This category has re-emerged as a powerhouse, and at a quick glance it looks like it’s mostly driven by Vista’s sustained growth. In 2007 Windows Desktop was up 35.28% from its 2006 level. However, Vista is about 20,000 units short of where XP was in 2006. The big winner is Mac OS which picked up the slack and outperformed its 2006 levels by 44,791 units or a 20.08% growth rate year over year. What is even more interesting is that Mac OS had 7 fewer titles making the Top 3000 in Q407 than in Q406 or 8% fewer titles. Windows Desktop had 8 more titles making the Top 3000 in in Q407 than in Q406 or a 5% increase in titles making the report. I can just see Mac Guy and PC Guy having a discussion on efficiency.

What is equally interesting is that MacOS is no longer a one-book market. Although David Pogue’s Mac OS X Leopard: The Missing Manual is still far and away the category leader ( in December 2007, it outsold all books in the computer category by nearly 2x), there are now more bestselling Mac books than last year. In 2006, three Mac OS X books sold more than 10k units in Bookscan-reporting stores (about half the market, by our estimates) — in 2007 there were six.

Another interesting observation is that in 2007, entry level books about Mac OS X are 6% ahead of where they were in 2006. Our Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Tiger Edition leads the pack for these types of books. All kidding aside, maybe those ‘PC Guy and Mac Guy’ commercials are really making a difference and inspiring more people to buy Macs.

Category_Family: Business/Office Applications

When comparing 2006 to 2007 in this area, the main drivers of growth are Office (up 39%), followed by Sharepoint (up 56%) and then Quickbooks (up 15%). Combined, these three areas netted 154,041 more units for a combined 38% increase year over year. The main losers in this area are Ebay (down 64%), Powerpoint (down 6%) and Google (down 24%.) Combined, these three were 30% below their 2006 performance. From a title perspective, 6 out of the top 10 titles are Office, 3 out of 10 are Quickbooks and one is Sharepoint. What is hidden here is that Sharepoint does not have all the top sellers, but there are 28 more Sharepoint titles in 2007 than 2006 for 55% growth year over year. QuickBooks had 15% growth with 15,626 more units in 2007.

Here are the trend lines for the three main categories that make up Business/Office Applications.

Biz Apps 01

Notice how much bigger of a category “Office” is than the other two (“Gen Bus App” & “Design”.) The news in this category is that Office titles have grown from 115,169 units in 2006 to 189,975 in 2007 or 39% growth. Office 2003 has finally slowed down and sold -25,159 fewer units in 2007 than it did in 2006, but Office 2007 sold 78,004 more units in 2007 than in 2006 so the ‘Office’ titles netted 74,806 more units in 2007. Excel 2003 finally saw its sunset by netting -61,737 fewer units in 2007 than in 2006 and Excel 2007 saw 115,414 more units sold in 2007 than 2006 for an Excel net of 53,677 more units in 2007.

Category_Family: Web Design and Development

Web Design and Development is relatively flat with a 1% growth from 2006 to 2007. Leading the way in this category is Dreamweaver, which netted 29,741 more units for a 20% growth. Our Dreamweaver: The Missing Manual lead the category in unit sales. This category is being fueled by RIA type of categories: Flex, Rails, ActionScript, ASP.NET Ajax. These topics are collectively up 54,360 units or 44%.

Here are the trend lines for the three main categories that make up Web Design and Development.

Web Dev 01

Obviously the big sub-category here is Web Site, which is driven this year by hot titles like our ActionScript Cookbook, JavaScript: The Definitive Guide and Ajax on Rails. The top non-Web Site titles in the “Other” category, and are Blogging for Dummies followed by Podcasting for Dummies and WordPress 2. The “Application Server” category is led by Microsoft IIS 6.0 Administrator’s Pocket Consultant. Both of these categories are small and fairly irrelevant compared with Web Site.

Category_Family: Systems and Programming

This is the largest of our top-level categories. It is the place where most of the programming language, database, and software development titles reside. The normal trend here is that the category gets off to a good start early in the year and then has another peak around September (college students back in school). There are six category groups that are relevant to look at in this category.

Here are the trend lines for first set of three out of the six main categories that make up Systems and Programming.

Sys Prog 01

Again, note the scale of the overall category. Programming languages have consistently been the largest category group, but the category ‘databases’ caught up and passed languages during a couple of weeks during 2007, but seem to have stalled just below the languages. The sub/super-category that experience the most growth in units is “microsoft programming” which led by MCTS titles along with WPF and WCF topics.

The second set of three trend line charts are healthy when compared to the rest of the category groups from other Category Families.

Sys Prog 02

When comparing the whole year of 2007 to 2006, the Opssys Usage group is represented by 7 Ubuntu titles in the top 20 and 4 Fedora titles. The Network category is an interesting one because it is dominated by certification titles by Cisco Press and the first non-certification book is our Network Warrior.

Sys Prog 03

These three categories are driven by MCSE, Microsoft Exchange Server and Vista Admin titles. Our Programming Collective Intelligence leads the way in the Data group.

Next Up, The Publishers

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  • Alex Tolley

    It would be more interesting if you could highlight the new, emerging trends topics, rather than the big trends, as befits the overall concept of this blog.

    For example, O’Reilly is supposed to be keeping an eye on the emerging trends of concurrency, cloud computing, etc. There are a few new books on Erlang and Haskell. How well have those titles done compared to earlier hot topics, like Rails? Are there any new books on “functional programming” and its application to multi-core platforms and cloud computing? As a user of GWT, I’d be interested to know how the handful of books on this topic are doing in the RIA space.

    BTW, there is a crying need for a good book on actually using Amazon’s EC2, S3 and SimpleDB. Amazon’s documentation is very poor compared to Google’s for comparable services, and there is as yet, very little online material.

  • Mike Hendrickson


    Excellent comment. We are working on books and other content to address the trends you mention.

    Unfortunately the newer trends like clouding computing and S3, EC2, etc. are too new in many cases to have books already published so this analysis will not surface them. This analysis definitely has a bit of a rear-view mirror nature to it.

    I will let you know we do have content coming soon on the topics you mentioned in this post. Here is the url to see what is coming in the next three months. http://www.oreilly.com/store/upcoming.csp

    The topics you mentioned are a little further off and are planned for 2nd-to-3rd quarter of this year.

    In part four, Erlang and Haskell will get plenty of comparison with the other languages.

  • Paul M.

    Be careful with your statistics. For example, where you say “There were 15 Vista titles in the 2006 data and on 12/31/07 there were 78 or an 80.77% increase in count”, that’s not an 80.77% increase at all. It’s actually an increase of 420%.

    Later in that same sentence you state “while XP declined at a slower rate going from 125 titles in 2006 to 97 in 2007 for a -28.87% decrease in count”, but that’s bad math as well. Going from 125 down to 97 is a 22.4% decrease, not 28.87%.

    I certainly appreciate the analysis, but errors like this make me wonder whether other calculations you’ve made and noted are correct.

  • Michael R. Bernstein

    The ‘linear trend line’ link is pointing to a local file. Can you fix the link?

  • http://www.peakseekers.in Ajeet Khurana

    As a published author with publishing major (McGraw-Hill), I have noticed that specialist computer books publishers seem to have captured the pulse of the reader. On the other hand, general book publishers have a superficial understanding of the market and seem to be shooting in the dark.

  • Michael R. Bernstein

    Thanks for fixing the link.

  • http://www.alexanderevent.com/wedding_events.html Weedding Fort Lauderdale

    Interesting numbers, eventhough the calculation is a little bit off( we’re all humans). Quick Query for You: how do I implement Flash to work in Dreamweaver? Maybe a little bit off topic, but I subscribed and will check back in.
    Thanks in advance