Understanding the Technical Book Market

Mike Hendrickson from O'Reilly has published a survey of the technical book market. As when viewing the TIOBE site, I think it is wrong to extrapolate any broad conclusions about the development languages market from the data you see here. For instance, lots of developers are still writing batch files, it just so happens that the book-market for that syntax is small. Changes in the C/C++ market are slow, which means that developers stick with tried and true books for those very popular languages rather than rushing out to buy new texts. Nevertheless, it is instructive to at least view this data, especially if you happen to be interested in technical books or trends in the broader developer landscape.

It should come as no surprise that C# and Java are the biggest sellers with a respective 13 and 14 percent of the publishing market. Note, however, that over the last year Java books have decreased in sales by about 13%, while C# has increased by the same amount. JavaScript, PHP and C/C++ are the next largest sellers, with about 10% of the market each. All three of these latter languages have been losing their share of the publishing market over the last year. JavaScript is down 10%, while PHP and C/C++ are down 5%.

Well known languages that have been growing quickly include ActionScript, which is up 53%, Python, up 31%, and PowerShell which has come out of nowhere to claim 1% of the market. Some well known languages that have been losing market share are Visual Basic, which is off by 34%, vbscript, which is off by 30%, and perl, which is off by 23%. Ruby has 5% of the market, and has grown at a rate of 10%. SQL is up by 5%, VBA is off by 11%. Some of these numbers may simply reflect fluctuations due to release cycles, but others may represent trends in the publishing market.

There are some interesting details in the figures found in this article. My old favorite language, Delphi, sold a grand total of 126 units in 2007. F# sold 698 units, but I bet we will see that number grow quite a bit in 2008. The overall market is dominated by languages that run on some kind of virtual machine, with C/C++ being the only native language that is still selling broadly in the book market. Oh yes, I should also add that sales in the technical book market as a whole are off by about 1%. The web is a huge, and very hungry, machine.

Mike Hendrickson says that the information in his article is drawn "from Bookscan's weekly top 3,000 titles sold. Bookscan measures actual cash register sales in bookstores. In other words, if you buy a book it gets recorded in this data."

Remember, you should not draw too many conclusions based on this data. For book authors and publishers, this information has obvious value. For the rest of us, it is just a tantalizing peak into a market that is very difficult to understand. Only one thing is certain: the actual usage numbers for these languages is probably quite different from what you see in this article.

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Comments (5)

  1. You’ve been kicked (a good thing) – Trackback from DotNetKicks.com

  2. Marco Cantù says:

    "My old favorite language, Delphi, sold a grand total of 126 units in 2007."

    Which is hardly accurate, as I sold many times that number of copies myself alone. My last self-published book on Delphi 2007 certainly is not captured by bookscan, but from my point of view sales are rising…

  3. ccalvert says:


    That is great to hear. I probably could have done more to point out the irony in the fact that publishing figures don’t necessarily reflect how much interest there is in reading about or researching a particular topic. At TIOBE, one can see that there is a still a great deal of interest in Delphi among denizens of the web. And everyone lives on the web these days, so those numbers are not at all trivial. Self-publishing is an option that makes lots of sense for many subjects.

    Hope all is well in Italy! If you are ever in the area, let me know!

    – Charlie

  4. Welcome to the forty-second issue of Community Convergence. The last few weeks have been a busy time

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