State of the Computer Book Market 2008, 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 2007 with Q4 2008 and the whole year of 2007 with 2008.

As a refresher, here is a new treemap of the Category Families with their sub areas for Q4 2008 compared to Q4 2007. In this view, we’ve changed the thickness of the borders to highlight the category hierarchy.

Treemap Computer Book Market Q4 2008 Thick Lines

This view of the treemap shows a sea of red. There is very little green representing growth. If we compare the whole of 2008 with 2007, not just quarters, at the end of June, five out of the six category families were ahead of the prior year. Then, the bottom fell out and only the medium-sized Consumer Operating Systems showed a small year-over-year increase. As mentioned in the last post, the growth of consumer operating systems was fueled by Mac OS X.

When we drill into the category families a bit, we see that 7 of our 10 top categories [super-categories] sold fewer units in 2008 than in 2007. In other words, our bigger and typically more stable areas were selling fewer units in 2008. In the first half of 2008, there were 19 super category areas that were ahead in the sales over the first half of 2007, yet they ended up losing enough ground to show a year-over-year decrease in units. In alpha order, those super-categories are CAD, cisco, data topics, database programming, desktop publishing, digital design topics, digital video and animation, document processing, graphics applications, mathematics, media players other, network administration, not technical, repair upgrade, rich web interface, Ruby, security topics, software techniques, and word processing. The biggest area with the largest drop in units was Rich Web Interfaces (RWI). At the end of June 2008, RWI was ~10k units ahead of the same period in 2007, yet by the end of the year it was a negative ~38k units compared to the prior year. CS2 books [not CS3] proved to be a major factor in the area’s drop off. There were 32 CS2 books that sold 46k fewer units compared to 2007. CS2 went from +55k units to -46k units in a year. CS3 shows 57 new titles producing 91k units so the net is only ~44k units for the category [the CS* market net was -11k]. We suspect that the RWI space will soon change due to a few new titles being published in early 2009.

The table immediately below shows the 4th Quarter of 2007 and 2008 compared [Qtr Growth], Year 2007 and 2008 compared [YoY Growth], 2007 and 2008 Ranking [07Rank/08Rank] and 200 and 2008 percent of market share [07Share/08Share].

Category Families Qtr Growth YoY Growth 07Rank 08Rank 07Share 08Share
Business Applications -14.04%

-2.16% 2 2 20.73% 21.23%
Computer Topics / Other 11.19% -11.35% 6 6 2.48% 2.93%
Consumer Operating Systems -20.11% 2.00% 4 -4 13.85% 14.78%
Digital Media -28.59% -5.10% 5 -5 11.11% 11.06%
Systems and Programming -66.42% -9.23% 1 1 34.38% 32.93%
Web Design and Development -22.02% -7.00% 3 3 17.45% 17.06%

Before we look at the categories, let’s take a look at the words that make up all the computer titles for 2008. It’s an interesting view of the words that the publishing industry puts on the front of books, online searches, and anywhere there is metadata about content. A couple of notes when looking at this data. One is that Microsoft comes out big because it is used to describe products as well as books. Also, we threw away the stop-words like “the”, “and,” “it,” “with,” etc. Here is the word view of the market.

Wordle of Computer Book Titles published in 2008

Now let’s look at the categories that comprise each category family. Below are some individual trend charts from our dashboard showing the 24-month period from January 2007 to December 31, 2008 for the major categories. By looking at a 24-month pattern, you 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. It is important to look at scale on these charts because it visually shows you the relative market size. Another way to think about it is if the trend line is high in the individual box, the category is big, and if it is low, it is a smaller category. What is interesting to note is that Consumer Operating Systems, Digital Media, and Business Applications and Devices all have a January spike, which is likely due to individuals buying “how to” books for their new computers, devices, and operating systems. This is a consistent seasonal pattern.

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 any new developments in the Tech world to sustain lots of books selling large quantities. Immediately below is the copyright year trend for how many titles made it into the Bookscan dataset with the copyright year listed on the chart. It appears on the surface that the computer book industry has published fewer titles and 2008 was the lowest output in 6 years. Remember this data is the top 3000 titles, so the pool size is essentially the same, just fewer titles made it into the top 3000 because existing titles remained strong enough to keep them out of the top sellers list. What is impressive is that some titles with copyright of 2000 are still healthy enough to make the list. That is what we call an evergreen title. More on evergreen titles in the next post on “The Publishers.” For now, here is the chart showing how many titles with a copyright year between 2000 and 2008 made it into our dataset.

Title Count by Copyright Year Making 2008 Bookscan Top 3000

So it could be said that we’ve been in a bit of a tech innovation slump. Will Windows 7, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and presumably a new release of Office fix any perceived slump, or just replace existing units with marginal increases? I think it is the latter. Something big needs to come along to drive a large increase in the market. I’m not convinced it is cloud computing, mobile or social networks even though those areas seem poised for future growth. The convergence of sensor nets and AI could be interesting- as are big data, privacy, identity… What do you think will be the big growth areas of the next five years? Are Functional Languages going to take over?

The Categories (24-month rolling, Janaury 2007 – December 2008)

At each category heading below, if you click on the title you will get a two year view of the category.

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.


This category is a medium-sized area and was the only cat_family to show growth year-over-year. This category’s growth is driven by Mac OS X and Mobile Phone. Mobile Phone is dominated by iPhone books where 6 of the 18 titles were new in 2008. And again, David Pogue’s Mac OS X Leopard: The Missing Manaual leads the pack by nearly triple the sales of other titles.

Last year we reported that Mac OS was no longer a one-book market dominated by David Pogue; well that has changed again as it clearly is a market dominated by Pogue’s aforementioned Missing Manaual. Another interesting observation is that in 2008, entry-level books about Mac OS X continue to perform well and are 20% ahead of where they were in 2007. Our Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Leopard Edition leads the pack for these types of books. Again, maybe those ‘PC Guy and Mac Guy’ commercials are really making a difference and inspiring more people to buy Macs — or is it simply because Macs are better hardware running a better operating system?

Category_Family: Business/Office Applications

When comparing the Business Apps area for 2007 and 2008 there were 13 super_cats [one level below cat_family] that performed ahead of the prior year and there were 15 that underperformed the prior year. Unfortunately the 15 underperforming super_cats lost 35k more units than the 13 positive areas.

Office Suites and Search were the two healthiest categories, while Spreadsheets and Ecommerce were the two biggest laggards. The net of these top four and bottom categories is 26% fewer units than the prior year. Another healthy area in this categeory is Collaboration, which is up 4.75% and fuelled by SharePoint titles.

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

Computer Book Sales for Business and Applications 2007-2008

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 continued their growth and have gone from from 191,675 units in 2007 to 220,980 units in 2008, or a 13% growth. This is a category dominated by Dummies, books that is. In 2007 31% of the units sold were Dummies, and in 2008 that number climbed to 32%. In a market that was down, that translated to Dummies only selling 841 more units in this category during 2008 than in 2007.

Category_Family: Web Design and Development

Web Design and Development is down 7% from 2007 to 2008. There were a few bright spots, though, namely Dreamweaver and Microsoft Expression Web titles. Our Dreamweaver: The Missing Manual led the category in unit sales. Expression Web has quietly entered this space as a player and saw an increase of 5% in units and 40% growth in number of titles. Expression Web’s modest results are healthy compared to Dreamweaver, which was down 4.5% year over year. As far as market share goes, however, Dreamweaver’s position atop the category is not threatened yet. Dreamweaver grew from 68.42% to 76.51% of the market, and Expression Web grew from 11.79% to 14.49% of the market.

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

Computer Book Sales for Web Design and Development 2007-2008

Obviously the big sub-category here is Web Site, which is driven this year by titles on Joomla, Drupal and Analytics. The top non-Web Site titles in the “Other” category, and are on the Semantic Web and Mashups. The “Application Server” category is led by a resurgent Tomcat: The Definitive Guide. 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 category families. 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 57 super_cat sub categories in this area. 40 of the areas were negative year over year. Only 17 areas had growth, and when you add the negative areas and the positive ones, there were -233k fewer units sold in these areas during 2008. The top performing categories were C#, Mac Programming, and Virtualization. The categories with the worst performance were Software Project Management, Windows Administration, and Software Design. In the top performing area of C#, O’Reilly had the largest year over year gain, mainly due to our Head First C# title.

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

Computer Book Sales for Systems and Programming 2007-2008

Again, note the scale of the overall category. Programming languages have consistently been the largest category group; the category “databases” caught up and passed languages for a couple of weeks in 2007, but did not sustain enough momentum in 2008 to get to the same level. As indicated above, Software Project Management was one of the biggest losers of 2008, yet it was also the largest super_category in Systems and Programming, followed by Enterprise Database and Personal Database. All three of these large areas sold considerably fewer units in 2008 than in 2007. It should be noted, however, that ASP.NET titles are doing very well and helping this category have some signs of health.

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

Computer Book Sales for Systems and Programming 2007-2008

When comparing the whole year of 2008 to 2007, the Programming group is represented by both .NET 3.5 programming and WPF titles. The Networks category is dominated by Windows Server titles and a few stray Cisco titles and the System Administration area is dominated by MCTS training kits.

The third set of trend lines were driven by Ubuntu, Forensics and Data Analysis titles.

Computer Book Sales for Systems and Programming 2007-2008

Next Up, The Publishers