Language Dimensions/Dementia

by Mike Hendrickson

Recently there was a thread on the O'Reilly Radar started by Tim O'Reilly posting a chart that I put together from our book sales data. The chart showed comparative market share for most of the relevant programming languages. I have updated this in the chart below and have included 2005 data as well.

A litte insight to the numbers behind this graph. The percent shows that a lanugage like Java represents ~23% of all book sales when looking at the language dimension. That means, I compared all the languages and which books have 'XYZ using Java', or 'Embedded FOO on Java', etc. So it does not have to be a strict Java Programming book, but rather a book that is Java-centric or the examples contain mostly Java code. I compared aggregated sales units during Jan-Feb for 2005, 2006 and 2007.


This is not an exhaustive study as I threw out Languages that did not have a representative sample in one of the years. In other words, if a language area show up with 15 units in 2005, but not in 2006 [or 2007] it was dropped. These are the bottomfeeders. So if you use one of those languages, Squeak, you will not find the results in my chart.


Some observations:

During the previous two years and this year, during January and February, the biggest declines were seen with Java ~5.5% down, C/C++ ~4.5% down, Visual Basic ~2% down and Perl ~1.5% down. The reason I point these out, is that is is market share for books, the unit sales numbers, which I will not supply, are a bit more alarming if you are on the declining list.

During the previous two years and this year, during January and February, the winners seem to be: Javascript ~5.5% [almost exactly what Java lost], Ruby ~5.25%, .Net Languages ~3% and C# ~2.75.

So when you look at the top for both lists, the totals are a bit different. There is a 3% difference on the winners side. What is says to me, is that most of the growth was seen in the four top languages, while the decline was spread a bit wider.

Your observations?

Do you really care about languages and what books sales tell us about trends? Don't think for a moment, as past posters have said, that some languages have better market share because one language has 'sucky' books. I did a quick analysis of GPA ratings on Amazon by language, and there are not any really significant wins for one language over another. One thing that does factor tough, is early to market. On average, when a language or technology topic is in its infancy stages, the market is more forgiving on the reviews. About .5 for the first books to show up in a category. You could say the the first are usually the best, but that does not hold up either.

Do you think maturity of a market shows in this data? Javascript/Ajax, Ruby/Rails are top two and are fairly nascent. Java and C++ are mature technologies with presumably less newbies clamoring to learn them. So what do you think?

If there is enough interest, I will follow up with some efficiency and average title metrics.


Anthony Towry
2007-03-28 18:07:09
Not only are there more "newbies clamoring to learn" these new technologies, but there are fewer resources in general. When developing against newer technologies there are fewer quality articles that turn up from Google and there are fewer community experts. I think books fill an initial gap left by weak community knowledge.

Solutions become common knowledge and the need for text resources drops.

Aaron 'Teejay' Trevena
2007-03-30 11:48:24
Definately the case - I haven't been using Perl less (in fact, I've been using it more), but the number of books I've bought has decreased hugely as most of what I need to find out is too specialist and out-of-scope to be profitable in books.

What I'd really like is a decent advanced comp sci magazine focussed on LAMP - the ONLAMP articles are good but not very advanced, Dr Dobbs was good until it started fixating purely on Java and .Net - that would be well worth paying decent money for.

2007-03-30 18:32:58
Hi. I find forum about work and travel. Where can I to see it?
Best Regards, Michael.
James Jordan
2007-03-31 11:06:26
Nice Chart. A couple observations:

1. Too many languages displayed. You cannot really uset it to compare the most useful languages because you have lines for languages that are no longer running like delphi and windows script. (Cobol is definitely in the running however)

2. Part and parcel with the first is that the lines are too small, not bright enough, whatever....I am not a graphic design guy, but the chart can't be used to impart important information. (Downside to the visual information paradigm...humans love visuals...but if it's not done right it is %100 useless..whereas writing is harder..but always contains SOME pertinent information.

Ian Warford
2007-04-10 14:03:32
Three years isn't enough to say much.... there are quite a few ways this could be interpreted.

I'd be interested in seeing more data, but I don't think there's a long enough time span here to say anything (i.e. Perl hasn't changed in any meaningful way since 5.8, which was before that chart goes back to).

2007-04-11 10:49:25
You don't sell lisp books. So how can you display statistics about it?
2007-04-11 11:07:37
@gg, the sales numbers come from Bookscan, which tracks books from multiple publishers, some of whom do sell Lisp books.
for: John "Z-Bo" Zabroski
2007-04-15 09:28:25
Great insight. I wanted to reply to your blog, but for some reasons the O'Reilly site informed me I was not allowed to post.

I must own over 50 O'Reilly books, either those published with the O'Reilly name on it or an O'Reilly partner like Pragmatic Programmers or Developer's Library, etc. Generally, I try and read books about disruptive technology.

One thing you did not directly mention is the impact disruptive technology has on book sales. For instance, O'Reilly has published three editions of Java Threads. Suppose that is one of the biggest sellers in the Java domain of book sales for O'Reilly. A massive change to the threading logic in Java could rush Java programmers to buy a new copy of the book. However, each year there is only small changes, there would likely be fewer units of that book sold. The more stable Java becomes, the less book sales there will be for it. The areas that will likely be steady are the textbooks: Professors that love Java as a teaching tool will continue to use Java as a teaching tool, and they will be inclined to use textbooks with the phrase "java concepts" in the title.

Does this bear out? Do second and third editions &c have diminishing profit returns (but perhaps higher return on investment due to most of the groundwork already being laid out)?

Additionally, what all this probably suggests is if O'Reilly wants to grow or at least maintain its revenues, then its seeds of investment are best laid in books about disruptive technology or potentially disruptive technology. One potentially disruptive technology O'Reilly doesn't have any books on is Groovy. APress and Manning both have books on it, as does Morgan Kaufman.

John "Z-Bo" Zabroski