2010 State of the Computer Book Market, Post 2 – The Categories

In this second installment (the first post can be 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 Computer Topics.

Within each of these Families are category group, super-category, category, and atomic category, in a five-level hierarchy. For example, Systems and Programming includes the category groups programming languages, databases, software engineering, general programming, security, and so on.

In the rest of this post, we will contrast the final quarter of 2010 with 2009 as well as the whole year of 2009 with 2010.

As a refresher, here is a new treemap of the Category Families, with their sub-areas for the final quarters of 2010 compared to 2009.

This treemap shows a mix of red, green, and black, which basically reflects the fluctuating market. There is very little bright green (which represents fast growth). But again, remember that this is comparing the last quarter of 2010 with the last quarter of 2009. Two of the biggest and brightest green areas are Android Programming and Android Consumer both of which grew from tiny specks of boxes in 2008 to fairly sizeable areas in 2010.

In the next two images, you can see how our Category Families stack up. The image on the left shows the number of titles that made the top 3000 in a given year. Contrast that with the image on the right, which shows the number of units sold in each year. What you will notice is that the number of titles in Business Applications/Topics and Systems and Programming went up in 2010, yet the units sold for both Categories went down. Consumer Operating Systems and Devices was the only area that went slightly up in both the number of titles and units sold in 2010. Systems and Programming is the largest category, but its performance is more volatile, and is experiencing the largest overall decline. This category is the chief indicator for the health of the computer book market, and it’s in consistent decline — for print books. You’ll see some more positive indicators in my upcoming post on digital distribution.

Titles Units

The table below shows each Category Family’s compared growth between 2009 and 2010 (YoY Growth), 2009 and 2010 ranking (09Rank/10Rank) and 2009 and 2010 percent of market share (09Share/10Share).

Category Families YoY Growth 09Rank 10Rank 09Share 10Share
Business Applications -05.10% 2nd 2nd 20.60% 21.00%
Computer Topics / Other 04.09% 6th 6th 02.82% 03.15%
Consumer Operating Systems 04.22% 4th 3rd 15.44% 17.27%
Digital Media -18.32% 5th 5th 10.66% 09.65%
Systems and Programming -03.32% 1st 1st 33.39% 34.62%
Web Design and Development -28.01% 3rd 4th 17.10% 14.32%

Before we look into categories further, let’s first take a look at the words that make up all the computer titles for 2010. 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 note about this data: I threw away the stop-words like “the”, “and,” “it,” “with,” etc. I also disregarded “Microsoft,” since it is a descriptor used for various products and is redundant. Here is the ‘title’ view of the market.

When we drill into the category families a bit, we see that seven of our ten top categories (known as super-categories) sold fewer units in 2010 than in 2009, for a net loss of -244,936 units for just the top ten areas. In other words, our bigger and typically more stable areas were selling significantly fewer units in 2010. In the first half of 2010, there were 49 super category areas that were ahead in the sales over the first half of 2009, yet six of the 49 categories slowed down and ended up losing enough ground to show a year-over-year decrease in units. We ended up with 43 super-categories producing more units in 2010 than they did in 2009. The biggest winners in growth order are: Tablet, Mobile Programming, Windows Consumer, Security Topics, Hardware Topics, Social Web, Computers and Society, Cloud Computing, Information Technology, and Data Topics. The Tablet super-category went from roughly 15,000 units in the first half of 2010 to an additional 100,000 units in the second half of the year. An increase in titles fueled this growth — output tripled from 7 titles in the first half of 2010 to 22 titles by the year’s end. The areas with the largest drop in units were, in descending order: Web Page Creation, Digital Photography, Mac OS, Flash, Web Programming, Web Design Tools, Personal Computers, Linux, Software Project Management, and Personal Database. The category that surprises me the most is Web Programming. Sixteen fewer titles in Web Programming area made the list in 2010, and only 7% of the titles sold more than 1,000 units, as compared to 11% in 2009.

As the market keeps declining, the response of many publishers is to increase the number of titles published, in an attempt to gain market share. Immediately below are two bar graphs showing the trend for how many titles made it into the Bookscan dataset in a given year, and the average units sold is for all titles. So this is the non-obvious point here: There are not necessarily more titles being published, but more titles making it into the data set. This could be attributed to a lower threshold to get in. In other words, some weeks the threashold to make the top 3000 list can be as low as 6 units sold. It is a relative measure. The last couple of years have had lower thresholds, and thus more titles made the list but with worse average units. When the market is healthy, the threshold moves up and only the solid-performing titles make it into the top 3000. The lower threshold barrier is resulting in a significant decrease in the average units per titles for all publishers. Out of the 22 largest imprints, 18 increased the number of titles that made the list in 2010. Yet only 6 of these 18 imprints with title increases also saw increases in their average units per title. The point again, is that the market can see more titles making the top 3000 list, but if the threshold is lower, the average units and overall units will be too.

Number of Titles Average Units

The table below provides a view of the market’s erosion. The Average Min value represents the “low threshold” weekly average during a given year. The Average Max is the high-range weekly average for a given year. Number of Titles is self-explanatory. You will notice that the years with the highest min had fewer overall titles represented in the data. The bottom line is that as the market erodes, it appears as though we are seeing a watering-down — more titles producing poor results.

Year Average Min Average Max Number of Titles
2004 9.2 1,133 7,451
2005 9.6 1,099 7,123
2006 9.6 1,315 6,881
2007 9.4 1,348 7,092
2008 8.2 1,534 7,310
2009 7.3 1,057 7,557
2010 6.7 1,112 7,792

So it could be said that we’ve been in a bit of a tech innovation slump. Will any technology, platform, method, theory, or new-fangled invention stave off this market slump? Or will we continue the treadmill effect of more publishers chasing lost revenue with more titles, which merely replace existing units with marginal decreases? 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 platforms even though those areas seem poised for future growth. What do you think will be the big growth areas in the next five years? Is there anything poised to make a big impact on the tech world?

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 2009 to December 31, 2010 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.

Computer Topics&nbsp&nbsp Digital Media&nbsp&nbsp Web Development and Design&nbsp&nbsp
Consumer Operating Systems/Devices&nbsp&nbsp Business Applications&nbsp&nbsp Systems and Programming&nbsp&nbsp

The Categories (24-month rolling, Janaury 2009 — December 2010)

Clicking on the charts below will produce a larger view. When viewing the charts below, keep the reference charts above in mind. Viewing these jointly provides more context on the size of market and seasonal patterns.

Category_Family:&nbspConsumer Operating Systems and Devices

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



This category is a medium-sized area and was the one of two Category Families to show growth year-over-year. This category’s growth is driven by Windows 7 and Port Dev (Portable devices). Port Dev was dominated by Android in 2010 and iPhone in 2009. And remember from earlier that the Tablet area moved quickly up the charts in the second half of 2010. We see a new title and topic leading the way this year with Windows 7 For Dummies by Andy Rathbone. Two other Windows 7 titles are in second and third place. The perennial leaderMac OS X Snow Leopard: The Missing Manual fell to fourth, as Snow Leopard was not a huge OS release by Apple and the topic did not drive this category as it had in previous years.

This market has shown growth because of the explosive growth of Mac OS X, but if you compare with Windows books, the Windows books are the steady sellers and have the growth in the last two years. The chart below shows how these two are stacked up against each other. Are you a PC or a Mac? The chart below says more of you are PCs!

Category_Family:&nbspBusiness/Office Applications

When comparing the Business Apps area for 2009 and 2010, there were 8 super_cats (one level below cat_family) that performed ahead of the prior year and 23 that underperformed compared to the prior year. Unfortunately the 23 underperforming super_cats lost 67,000 more units than the 8 positive areas had gained, for an overall -5.10% growth rate.

The two healthiest super categories were Spreadsheets (Excel) at +2.42% growth, and Social Network (Facebook) at +11.49% growth, while Graphics Applications at -16.80% and Ecommerce at -47.00% were the two biggest laggards. What surprised me the most was that the Content Management Systems category did not grow, as I had thought it would. So I dug a bit, and discovered that most of the growth in CMS as a category occured between 2006 and 2009. During the past two years, the category has held its own and performed better than the overall market decline. For a view of CMS growth, click on the chart below.

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

Notice how much bigger of a category “office” is than the other two (“gen bus app” & “design”.) But the news in this category is that Office titles have taken a slight downturn, having gone from 196,722 units in 2009 to 187,968 units in 2010, a -4.66% growth. This growth/decline mirrors the overall market. The category has been dominated by dummies… Dummies books that is. In 2010, the top three titles were Dummies and seven of the top ten were Dummies. This does make sense when you think about it. Learning to use a tool like Excel is not rocket science, and the Dummies books appeal to a broad group of people, ranging from the technically literate to techno phobes. In this area, it seems like Dummies have a bit of a book dynasty, so to speak.

Category_Family:&nbspWeb Design and Development

Web Design and Development is down -28.01% from 2009 to 2010. More than 251,000 fewer units were sold in this category in 2010 than in 2009. And remember, 2009 was the worst year we’ve seen in awhile. There were only two sub areas that showed growth in this category — JavaScript and the Social Web. JavaScript showed a healthy 7.81% growth and the Social Web grew by 7.18%. Our Learning PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript led the category in unit sales. The area that suprised me the most, though, was Web Page Creation which saw ~70,000 fewer units sold in 2010 than in 2009 (and again, 2009 was a stinker of a year). Are people moving on from HTML and its like to PHP, JavaScript and CMSs? Or are more people interested in making mobile apps that access their web pages?

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


Obviously the big sub category here is “web site”. It is dominated by titles that talk about performance, scability, reliability, and tuning like what you can find at our Velocity Conference or in this bundle of references. Rich Web Interface moved to second among these categories, but is experiencing declines. In the RWI space, both Flash and Silverlight had fairly significant declines. Flash declined -84.43% while Sliverlight declined -8.29%. But the Flash subcategory is currently about four times as large as Silverlight. Could it be that HTML5 makes these two technologies seem kind of moot?

Category_Family:&nbsp 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 the category to get off to a good start early in the year, and then have another peak around September (when college students go back to school). There are now 67 super_cat subcategories in this area. In 2010, 44 of the areas were negative year-over-year and only 23 areas had growth — when you add the negative and the positive areas, there were -72,024 fewer units sold in these areas during 2010. This is only a -3.32% decline, so this large family of titles actually did better than the overall market. The top five performing categories, in order, were Mobile Programming, Security Topics, Cloud Computing, Information Technology, and Data Topics. The categories with the worst performance, in order, were Linux, Software Project Management, Personal Database, Visual Basic, and SQL Server. In the top performing area of Mobile Programming, iPhone Programming led the way for growth in 2009, while Android led in 2010. Remember this is not the consumer market of books about how to use an iPhone or Droid, but the programming market — iOS was nine times as large as Android in 2009, and roughly 2.5 times as large of a category in 2010.

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

Note the scale of the overall category. Programming languages have consistently been the largest category group; the category “prog” has come from a distant third to the number two super_cat in this area. Databases have been consistently declining for about three years now. As mentioned earlier, Software Project Management was one of the biggest losers of 2010, yet it was also the third-largest super_cat in Systems and Programming, preceded by Mobile Programming and Security Topics. However, these latter two showed positive growth, compared to SPM’s decline. Another area that came from nowhere and is now a healthy super-category is Data Topics. Many of these titles are similar to the talks, sessions, and writings found at our Strata Conference and Data Science resources.

The second set of three trend line charts are healthy and show less volatility when compared to category groups from other Category Families. Their trend is flat, yet consistent with the seasonal swings of the market.

When comparing the whole year of 2009 to 2010, the Software Engineering group is the largest of the second set of three. It is led by a classic title in The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition and a new classic in Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming. The Network category is dominated by CompTIA titles and holds five out of the top ten spots in the category, including the top two spots.

The third set of trend lines were driven by CISSP, Intrusion topics, and CompTIA Security.

Next up, Post 3 will be about the publishers, winners and losers. Post 4 will contain more analysis of programming languages. And Post 5will look at digital sales.

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