Free to Choose ebook deal reveals the programmer zeitgeist

Allen Noren, who runs, including all our online e-commerce, sent around a list of the top titles resulting from our Free to Choose Cyber-Monday promotion. I was so struck by the titles on the list that I thought I’d like to share it more widely. While it’s clearly a self-selected list — the people who order directly from O’Reilly are more likely to be our core audience of cutting edge “alpha geeks,” while people who buy in stores are more likely to buy consumer titles like the Missing Manuals — it still gives a fascinating view of what’s on the minds of that audience today.

Here’s the list:

Here are a few of the things that jump out at me:

  • Python and JavaScript have become the foundational languages for developers. We have been watching these languages for some time. HTML5 and node.js make Javascript even more important for web developers, while Python has a large following in data science. It’s particularly interesting, and important, that using Python to collect data from sensors (“Real World Instrumentation with Python“) made it onto the list.
  • The “big data” themes we’ve been sounding in conferences like Strata are resonating in our publishing business, as six of the top titles focus on data science. The rise of data science, coupled with the rise in data entrepreneurship, may well be the most important trend in computing.
  • HTML5 matters. HTML5, coupled with JavaScript, turns the browser into a full-fledged application platform that spans everything from phones to tablets to desktops. It is the big web story for the next few years. The only question is whether some sort of “embrace and extend” strategy will harm portability and lead us back into browser-dependency hell.
  • Microsoft and Adobe aren’t going away any time soon. It’s easy to write both companies off: Microsoft for losing ground to Apple in the consumer audio, phone, and laptop markets, and Adobe for being banned from Apple’s mobile devices. But they’ve both proven extremely adaptable. Microsoft’s Kinect shows they can still produce a winner, and their quick turnabout on hacking Kinect demonstrates an agility that is rare even in much smaller companies. Adobe quickly made alliances with Google, and is developing tools to generate HTML5 from Flash.

It’s no surprise that these themes are related: HTML5 drives the importance of JavaScript, big data drives the importance of Python, and both are driving the changes to which Microsoft and Adobe are reacting.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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  • The 1st 2 – Data Analysis and Python were my first 2 choices to buy as well. One for me and the other for my 12 year old son. Some surprises – Lisp @23 and no Perl books!

  • The first 2 are my favourites so also learning python. 97 things … is an awesome one.
    All these were bought with my first salary and i store them as my treasure and do read them regularly with a look of devotion rather than anything else.
    But i couldnt find strangely many reputed books like using drupal.

  • It also speaks to some of the strengths in the O’Reilly catalog. E.g. If I want Ruby or Clojure books, I head straight to the pragmatic programmers. For Python, Javascript, etc, it’s still O’Reilly.

  • Looks like there is also a lot of overlap with the topics we focus on at the Strange Loop conference, which is good to see.

  • Trending Topic

    Ruby is dead. All it had was hype and that’s now gone.

  • Fred O'Heney

    Not really Alex, I had all ruby ebooks. Cyber Monday was the chance to get books of somewhat more expensive and less priority. Looking at those titles, who want those that has nothing to do with day to day task someone is doing.

    Unless the data is churned from first time buyer on then it might reveal some other interesting facts.

  • Some of the books on this list are awesome – I loved Head First Python. Are there any other must read ones you guys recommend?

  • I can recommend you to read the “Learning Python” book.

  • I was disappointed by how few really good books you have. I always thought of O’Reily as a publisher for the more in depth titles but was disappointed to find mainly JavaScript/HTML/Obscure Dynamic Language titles. (I kindly ignored the consumer titles like “25 best iPad apps”.)

    You have far too few titles on interesting topics like C++, Assembly, low level stuff (like the IDA Pro book or micro processor).

    I guess I won’t be browsing your shop too often, Tim.

  • bt

    I haven’t seen any compelling Ruby books out of OReilly in a while. Pragmatic Programmers owns the ruby world right now.

  • Jeff


    “I was disappointed by how few really good books you have.”

    What you mean to say is, “I haven’t read any of your books, so can’t say if any are good, but your catalog doesn’t match my interests.”

    So say that.

    PS: C++ is interesting?

  • Ian

    Easy to write Microsoft off? Are you serious? They have over 90% market share, and that’s only going up worldwide. They are the superpower of the tech industry, whether you like it or not.

    Sure, their image may not be the best anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can “write them off”. And you mention the Kinect as a recent winner; why not mention Windows 7? Best selling OS of all time.

    Microsoft isn’t a company you “write off”.

  • Ian –

    Sorry, but a lot of people do write Microsoft off. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon are the “hot” companies in terms of public perception.

    I totally agree with you that the companies that matter don’t always match the hype cycle. In the corporate world, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle are still the big gorillas.

  • Guy


    It’s all about where the puck is going. True, the puck is at Microsoft’s feet right now because of their huge installed base, etc. 5-10 years from now? No one knows for sure.

    However, the people that are actively honing their skills and are burning the midnight oil to get an edge in this world are reading the stuff in the list posted above.

    Microsoft is dead. Long live Microsoft…

  • SDC

    …seriously, if you’re after C++ and Assembly books, you probably need to go somewhere else to begin with.

    Not saying those are bad topics, or more specifically not saying Assembly is a bad topic, but it’s never really been the O’Reilly thing. It’s like you went looking for an XBOX in the Apple Store. Or maybe an oscilloscope in an Apple Store. You know what I’m getting at.

    As a Data Analyst type of guy who loves Python, this list makes me all happy inside.

  • Sam

    I wonder what the pairings would show – who bought what with what.

    Plus, there’s a selection bias in effect here, since what people are buying are books they don’t have yet. Promise of the future, rather than necessarily delivery.

  • Eric

    People’s selection of titles may have been influenced by the *Free to Choose* Deal/Day e-mail sent by O’Reilly the morning of the 29th.

    That e-mail contained links to 11 of the titles in your top 25 list.

    I’m just sayin…

  • toivo

    -some other statistics would be nice. what are the most clicked titles for this day? what is the buy click ratio?

  • I’m glad to see so many python books in this list! Good work o’reilly!

  • Tula

    I, too, was surprised not to see any Perl books. The javascript/HTML/data analysis stuff matches what I see in terms of job listings (I’m a freelancer, so I scan job listings daily), but I see very few with Python. The hot areas I’m seeing are Ajax, Java, web services, Perl, database (apps and analysis), C++ (oddly resurgent in the past few years), and Flex/Flash/Silverlight development. There’s also lots of interest in mobile development and Linux OS work.

    I certainly wouldn’t call Python “foundational.” Sure, it’s interesting, but it’s still a very small niche player

  • Drew

    What books did you offer for this deal in the first place? More than a few people have mentioned noteworthy exceptions, so I’m just wondering which titles people could choose from. Only the pool of titles offered will dictate what the most popular titles are for this selective list of best-of’s.

  • People could buy any books from our catalog.

  • Drew

    What books did you offer for this deal in the first place? More than a few people have mentioned noteworthy exceptions, so I’m just wondering which titles people could choose from. Only the pool of titles offered will dictate what the most popular titles are for this selective list of best-of’s. I’m thinking it’s not an exhaustive list of titles to begin with.

  • Can we please, please stop using the term “data science”? It signals a deep ignorance of overall trajectory data analysis in the past 30 years, and it’s detrimental to its future development, by hyping it and misclassifying it. I don’t care about the former — O’Reilly is not my daddy — but I suffer a lot about the latter.

  • gappy, can you say more about why you think that this term is detrimental?

    I should note that it is not a term that was coined by O’Reilly – we just noticed the meme. Companies like LinkedIn, and others all have positions of “Chief Data Scientist.”

    Sometimes a term takes off even if it isn’t perfect – hey, I know one of those (“Web 2.0”) and you just have to live with it.

    But in any event, you refer to “deep ignorance.” With a claim like that, you should do more than make an assertion. Please educate us!

  • I think that it actually shows two trends:

    1. The whole BI/DA/DM shebang is reaching critical mass. You can see that from the sucess of companies like Pentaho. BI and AI data analysis is moving downwards and SMEs want it badly, and get it as soon as they can afford it (both money-wyse as well as usability-wyse).

    2. Devs want something as accessible as PHP and as powerful as Java.. hence Python. Hardware is cheap, processing is (once again) moving off desktop, Linux is getting more and more relevant, people want programming platforms that deliver, and deliver quickly, with as little struggle as possible.. hence Python.