State of the Computer Book Market – Mid-Year 2009

If you have read previous State of the Computer Book Market posts, you know we typically publish between 3-5 posts that summarize the computer book market for a given year. SInce it’s mid-year, I thought I’d do a shorter, one-post summary of where things stand in 2009 thus far. The picture looks like our US economy: lots of bad news peppered with small glimmers of hope. So let’s look at the Market, Categories, Publishers, and Languages.

The market has been on a steady decline since mid-2008 and has continued downward right through the first half of 2009. And there are very few signs that the book-buying slump is going to turn around anytime soon. Overall, the market saw 595,821 fewer units sold in the first half of 2009 than were sold in the same period of 2008. Although we do not have data to show the trends between 2000 and 2003, the market performance this year is the worst we’ve seen since the fall of of 2001. You’ll notice in the chart below that the seasonal patterns have remained consistent, but sales are at a much lower volume than any previous year.

State of the Computer Book Market - Mid-Year 2009

No matter how we look at the data, it’s not great news. Of our top 121 established categories, only 8 of them showed an increase in units sold for the first half of 2009. In descending order those categories are:

  1. Mac Programming
  2. Objective C
  3. Online Video
  4. Global Positioning Device
  5. Computerized Home
  6. Mobile Programming
  7. Coordinated Systems
  8. Open Source Topics.

The eight categories showing the biggest decrease in unit sales for the first half of 2009, in descending order are:

  1. Office Suites
  2. Web Programming
  3. Mac OS
  4. Web Page Creation
  5. Spreadsheets
  6. Rich Web Interface
  7. Digital Photography
  8. Windows Consumer

In other words, Windows Consumer was the biggest loser year-over-year. Unfortunately, none of the categories that showed growth were large enough to make the top 20 (of the 121 categories) from a units sold perspective. I do find it interesting that Open Source seems to be doing better during this time of economic uncertainty The chart below shows our top 20 categories for the first half of 2008 and 2009.

State of the Computer Book Market - Categories

From a publisher/imprint perspective, John Wiley, the non-Dummies part, was the only imprint that demonstrated growth for the first half of 2009 compared to the first half of 2008. The other 19 imprints sold fewer units in 2009, and the imprints with the largest declines were the ones that had the best performances in 2008 — namely O’Reilly, Dummies, and Peachpit. Unfortunately for us, O’Reilly experienced the largest drop-off in units for the first half of 2009 compared to the first-half of 2008, where we had a tremendously strong start. The chart below shows the imprint performance for the first half of 2008 and 2009.

State of the Computer Book Market - Mid-Year 2009

The big success story among programming languages is Objective-C, which has grown from a small (low unit sales) language into a large (high units sales) language. iPhone and Mac development is fueling this growth. After Objective C, PHP and Actionscript are the only languages with more units sales in 2009 than in 2008. C# continues to be the largest language for unit sales, followed by Java, PHP and Objective C. C# also experienced the largest decline in units sold sold during the first half of 2009 and was followed on its decline by Ruby, SQL and Javascript.

State of the Computer Book Market - Languages

I almost forgot about the glimmers of hope I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Mac Programming, Objective C, and Open source are doing well, but I do believe there are other events happening this year that will give the market a boost. A highly anticipated release of Windows 7 should give a large segment of the market a significant boost. Two other Microsoft technologies will also help the market: Sharepoint and Visual Studio releasing new versions later this year. And of course, there is Mac OS X Snow Leopard coming “soonish.” That will also be a nice boost for computer book sales. HTML 5 is getting lots of attention, and I would imagine that books will be showing up soon. Finally both Adobe and Apple keep bringing out new releases of their products, so there is always a bump upwards in our industry. What we hope for is that new books on new releases sell more units than books that are returned due to obsolescence. In other words, will there be more Windows Vista books being returned from retailers to publishers than Windows 7 books are being sold to consumers? We’ll see in about six months.

A little disclaimer material: This information comes from Nielsen Bookscan and is the US Retail Point-of-Sale data. In other words, a “sold unit” is recognized when you walk into a bookstore like Barnes & Noble or Borders or order online at Amazon. This is NOT data that is used to calculate royalties or report on the financial health of any particular publisher. Many publishers report that more than 50% of their revenue is achieved as direct sales, and those numbers do not get reported into Bookscan. Sales at traditional college bookstores are typically not reported into Bookscan as well. Again this is US Retail Sales data recorded at the point of sale to a consumer.

Thank you for reading. If there is something that you are itching to see (understand more clearly), please let me know and I will try to help. I plan to excerpt updated pieces of these posts on twitter throughout the year. They’ll come from @mikehatora and will likely get RT’ed by @oreillymedia.

tags: , , ,