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Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

State of the Computer Book Market, Q406, Part 2: Category Winners and Losers

Yesterday, I talked about the overall state of the computer book market. In this installment: category visualizations and trends showing which technologies are winning and which are losing in the book market. Here's a treemap view of the quarter on quarter differences between Q4 of 2006 and the same period last year:

Category Treemap Q4 2006 YoY

As I've previously described in Book Sales as a Technology Trend Indicator, in a Treemap visualization, the size of a square indicates the relative size of the category, and its color indicates the rate of change. A category that is bright green is up significantly. One that is bright red is heading strongly in the other direction. Colors that are more muted show smaller rates of change. For this image, I've also dragged a slider to show the enclosing category hierarchy, so only the top level categories are proportionally sized.

As you can see from the controls at the top of the display, we're showing quarter on quarter unit sales compared to the same period in the previous year. (Note: quarters are 13 week periods as closely aligned to calendar quarters as possible. Because Neilsen reports data weekly, and weeks don't match up exactly with quarters, we do a best fit.)

The entire market was down 4% in unit sales versus the same period a year ago, but a quick glance at the treemap shows where the biggest problem is: Consumer Operating Systems and Devices, down 18%, Business Applications, down 8%. As I wrote last week, we're assuming that the market is waiting for books on Vista, Office 7, and Mac OS X Leopard. However, much of the Professional Programming and Systems Administration super category is also down, albeit at a smaller 4%, and even Digital Media applications are showing an anemic 1% growth, despite the huge growth in the sales of books on the iPod. (But for that, even the digital media category would be down.) But once again, the market is awaiting new releases of Adobe products some time next year. Web Design and Development, up 7%, is the only top level category showing continued growth.

Let's now take a closer look at each of these top level categories.

Professional Programming and Systems Administration

Q406 YoY Professional Programming Treemap

As you can see, there is more red than green, by a long shot. Bright spots in the market include SQL Server and to a lesser extent MySQL, as well as data warehousing and data analysis; open source programming languages Python and Ruby; "Linux Other" (which really these days means Ubuntu); and software engineering topics like project management, agile programming, object oriented programming, and user interface design; Cisco; and .Net programming.

Notable books leading individual categories include Microsoft Press's MCTS SQL Server 2005 Self Paced Training Kit and Inside Microsoft SQL Server 2005: T-SQL Querying; Sams' MySQL Crash Course and O'Reilly's MySQL Cookbook; Wiley's The Data Warehouse Toolkit; Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence, SAS' The Little SAS Book and O'Reilly's Information Dashboard Design; the Pragmatic Programmers' Programming Ruby and O'Reilly's Ruby Cookbook; O'Reilly's Learning Python; O'Reilly's Ubuntu Hacks; Rita Mulcahy's self-published PMP Exam Prep (which was the single biggest revenue generating title in the industry for all of last year!); O'Reilly's Head First Design Patterns and Head First Object Oriented Analysis and Design; Cisco Press' CCNA Offical Exam Certification Library; and Microsoft's MCTS Self Paced Training Kit. (Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to match up those titles with the categories they are from, as given in the paragraph that precedes this one :-)

A Closer Look at Computer Languages

As explained in previous postings, our data warehouse looks at books along several dimensions. For computer languages, the pure category view doesn't give the most accurate results, because the language is not necessarily the right primary categorization for a given book. For example, Manning's hot new book Java Persistence With Hibernate is categorized as a database book, not as a Java book. But in the programming language dimension, it will be counted for Java.

For the most accurate view of how computer languages are stacking up against each other in the book market, take a gander at the following treemap, which shows the language dimension:

Q406 Programming Language Treemap

At this scale, all the percentages are readable, so I won't belabor the obvious, other than to note that Ruby is now ahead of both Python and Perl. And it's worth noting that Actionscript is really just a variant of JavaScript, and that books labeled .Net Languages are books that include both C# and VB.Net, so they should be counted with C#. The net-net is that C# has definitely passed Java in the book market.

Web Design and Development

Here's the Q4 year-on-year treemap for Web Design and Development. It's self-explanatory:

Q406 YoY Web Development Treemap

Digital Media

Here's the Q4 year-on-year treemap for Digital Media:

Q406 YoY Digital Media Treemap

Probably the most remarkable single title in this category is Scott Kelby's The IPod Book, which has surpassed

Business Applications

Here's the Q4 year-on-year change in the business applications category:

Q406 YoY Business Applications Treemap

Consumer Operating Systems and Devices

Here's the Q4 treemap for consumer operating systems and devices, compared to the same period last year:

Q406 YoY Consumer Operating Systems Treemap

Again, this is mostly self-explanatory, except perhaps the category "Mac Guides", which includes books on the Mac as a whole (rather than the operating system), such as Macs for Dummies. The growth in this category suggests to us the further adoption of the Mac by beginning users and switchers (as does the continued bestseller status of our own Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, which along with Mac OS X: The Missing Manual remains a category leader in the Mac OS X category. But perhaps more significantly, the Tiger edition of Switching to the Mac, originally published in October 2005, has surged in the second half, and in fact has seen the strongest sales of its life in the fourth quarter of 2006, peaking in December, suggesting very strong holiday sales of new Macs:


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Tim O'Reilly has posted the second part of the Q406 computer books sales report , comparing Q4 2006 Read More

Comments: 6

Lino Ramirez   [01.17.07 11:32 AM]

Hi Tim,

A very interesting post indeed! A lot of information in such a concise format is really impressive. After looking at the category maps, I have a couple of questions:

From the notable cases in the Data Analysis category (Beautiful Evidence, The Little SAS Book, and Information Dashboard Design), two of them (Beautiful Evidence and Information Dashboard Design) are related to "Data/Information Visualization".

Would that suggest that the growth in the category of Data Analysis is driven by books related to Data and Information Visualization?

This also seems to be related to the fact that the Business Reporting category showed some increase (5% in Q4). Do you have any insight on that?

Thank you,


Tim O'Reilly   [01.17.07 05:47 PM]

Yes, information visualization is a big part of the future. There is so much more data, and it's hard to get your hands around it. We think that visualization literacy is one of the important new frontiers, about to break out from a limited specialty to something of widespread importance.

Amit   [01.17.07 07:26 PM]



This article in the feed on Google Reader had the amazon associate in the title instead of the link, probably a feedburner issue.


Oz   [01.18.07 09:47 AM]

Clarification: it is stated that, "...And it's worth noting that Actionscript is really just a variant of JavaScript, ..."

That isn't true. Both JS and AS are based on the ECMA-262 specification. Both languages are essentially the same but obviously apply to vastly different DOMs.

Janette Toral   [01.25.07 04:21 PM]

Perhaps the reason also for the Web Design category experiencing growth is the number of SMEs globally embracing the Internet and e-commerce. Once they realize that they need it, they may likely buy a non-intimidating website development book that usually catches their interest first.

Glenn Bisignani   [01.28.07 10:58 AM]

Tim, As always, thanks for sharing your data and insights.

As you know, the digital photography BookScan data shows up in both the BookScan Computer report and the BookScan Photography report. Looking at these reports in isolation yields a different picture of the market than if they’re combined. Combined, the digital photography market is up 17% in units and 4% in revenue.

Analyzing digital photography in the BookScan Photography report shows significant growth in hardware specific books, up 52% and less growth in general photography technique (18%). But, of course, variations in how you segment the data will show different results. For example, is a book on digital photography and Photoshop a digital photography book, a Photoshop book, or both? Being able to look across these combinations and data slices will show different views of how the market is evolving.

Thanks again for the great post.

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