Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Technical Publishing Market — a whole 'nother look at things

Gary Cornell, Jim Minatel and Tim O'Reilly have been trading statistics, insights and barbs over the technical publishing market recently. I've been reading them with a great deal of interest because what they have to say strongly affects me as both a producer and a consumer of technical materials. I think each of them is looking at the whole somewhat myopically though (bold words for someone without nearly as much time or effort invested as any of them). Here's my take.

The technical publishing market is about more than just books. In fact it's more than just a market — it's a community, and the publishers who misunderstand that do so at their peril. It's about more than the "big three" (Apress, O'Reilly, and Wrox) — there are a lot of "little guys" too (the Pragmatic Programmers, Manning, No Starch Press, etc.), some of these have distribution or other agreements with the "big three" but they're still out there. Let me touch on each of these ideas briefly.

It's about more than just books. O'Reilly seems to grok this. They produce on-line content, a magazine, and conferences — this helps make them a destination (and, I'm sure, bolsters book sales). Apress seems to be making steps in this direction (with this blog, for example), but could make some changes and really make up some ground here. I don't follow Wrox as closely, but it seems like they would benefit from moving beyond books too.

It's a comunity, not a market. In some ways, this ties to the last point. It's important to be involved in the general tech community and the specific communities around the fields you want to publish around. If you want to hit a home run in the Ruby space, get on the mailing lists, contribute code, and get the best and brightest to write for you. This is where doing more than books will help. Apress has a lot of Java and ASP titles but this blog doesn't even feature a specific Java or ASP page. There is no reason there couldn't be an page with its own Apress Java branding, some featured content and cross links to and from Apress Java titles. This would draw eyes and make Apress a bigger part of the Java community — just doesn't cut it.

It's more than just the "big three". Smaller publishers like the Pragmatic Programmers are revolutionizing the technical publishing market. The Pragmatic 'Beta Book' program showed everyone what beta books done right can be. Smaller publishers can also maintain a higher quality image, making new books by some publishers a must have sight unseen. Recognizing the value these publishers bring to the community and gleaning the best they have to offer can only help the market as a whole.

This post is part of a collection of articles about Publishing, Growing Markets, and Books.

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