We finally experienced new growth in the tech book market in 2005, driven in large part by emerging markets (Ruby, Ajax, Digital Lifestyles), strong series (Dummies, Head First, and Missing Manual) and the consolidation and focus of a few publishing programs (Sybex seems to have settled in very well as a strong Wiley imprint).
And many thanks go to Apple for continuing to push new products out the door (now hopefully Steve Jobs will get over iCon).
I think that 2006 will shape up to be even better. After a year where we saw few big software releases (outside of open source betas at least), we’re going to see a year driven again by Microsoft updates of Office and, hopefully, Vista too, not to mention a probable Adobe CS release later this year.
This should mean we’ll see a bigger title count, so it’s a great time to hit up your editors for wish lists. That’s what I’m doing.
It’s also a good time to review what’s working in the market — books that people can use to improve their lives, lifestyle, or bank account.
Security remains interesting and I’m curious to see what will happen with the Vista release.
Vista will be big and publishers are still keen to hear new ideas for Vista titles.
I was slow to understand the draw for web services titles, but if you look at the bestseller list you can see that select Google and eBay titles are still selling very well. The problem is that every market we attack becomes crowded at some point, so you need to look for unique entry points into any bestselling category.
Tech publishers also continue to expand their programs — look at what O’Reilly has done with titles like Mind Hacks, or how the tech “for Dummies” folks are starting to publish non-Dummies branded books (see Before and After for instance).
I think this is great news for everyone and helps to breathe new life and initiative into these programs. Tech publishers have a great infrastructure to build upon, so I expect to continue to see them taking advantage of their editorial and marketing resources to push the envelope outside of their core imprints and roots.
Tech publishers are acting more like trade publishers in other ways too these days, they’re focused more and more on finding authors with the right platform, which can create a challenge for those authors who consider themselves generalists. I suggest that if you’re going to focus on more than a few technologies or topics, try to keep your focus very tight and keep in mind that each category you tackle may require its own marketing angle and maybe its own author web-site and/or blog.
Here’s what’s on my wish list for the tech market this year:
Let’s get better at selling books to new bookstore buyers: for online commerce and eBay titles, let’s work to get those books onto the business shelves; for digital photography techniques titles, let’s get more titles on the photography and art shelves; for digital music titles, let’s get on the music shelves and make sure we’re represented in the right book clubs. Some of these categories themselves are mature markets.
Cross-shelving is a chore and doesn’t really work, but with the right books we might find more dedicated category shelving and with enough books and publishers knocking on the door we might stretch these categories some. Let’s face it, the computer book section is often a mish-mash and sometimes just a plain mess.
Let’s get better at marketing our books to the general consumer; we need more reviews in the Sunday papers, more reviews in lifestyle magazines, and some sense of how to exploit serial rights like most trade publishers do. When there’s tech news, let’s make sure our experts and our authors are the ones being interviewed.