Mike Hendrickson has been busy updating O'Reilly's analysis of the state of the computer book market by programming language. That means it is time for us to reiterate how authors of decent books can earn far more for their work by cutting out the middlemen including trade publishers like O'Reilly.
Traditional book publishers are a dying breed. Aside from e-books, they have been driven out by an increasing number of so-called "self-published" books. In the context of software development, this is particularly common around non-mainstream subjects and includes titles such as OCaml for Scientists and Programming in Scala. O'Reilly's analysis excluded all such books even though they are far more profitable for authors.
In order to make a case for self-publishing it is necessary to present some information about a variety of existing books:
- OCaml for Scientists was written and self-published in 2005 and is sold for £85 through the publisher's website.
- F# for Scientists was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2008 and sells for £45 through the publisher's website and many resellers including Amazon.
- Real World Haskell was published by O'Reilly in 2008 and sells for £25 through many resellers including Amazon.
- IdTechEx self-publish many high-quality books such as Energy Harvesting and Storage for Electronic Devices 2009-2019 which costs only £1,495.
As the OCaml and F# markets are similar sizes and the contents of OCaml for Scientists and F# for Scientists are similar, it is interesting to note that OCaml for Scientists was 22× more profitable for its author in Q4 2008 even though F# for Scientists was a new book published through a major publisher and advertised and sold on Amazon. The reason is that John Wiley & Sons have done virtually nothing to market this F# book besides placing it on Amazon and, in fact, Wiley only managed to sell one copy direct outside the US! This really highlights just how little value a trade publisher and Amazon add.
Haskell is currently receiving far more press than any other functional programming language and, consequently, Haskell books are among the best sellers with 1,491 copies sold in 2008. However, with prices like that of Real World Haskell, they would need to be selling 20,000 copies a year to compete with OCaml for Scientists in terms of the profit made by the author.
Finally, companies like IdTechEx prove that self-publishing can be the foundation of a serious business on the scale of a major trade publisher like O'Reilly. This is a consequence of the characteristic V-curve of profit found in many markets where cheap and expensive luxury products give locally maximal profits. Self-publishing naturally lends itself to higher quality and higher value books.
The moral of this story is that self-publishing is the most rewarding way for good authors to reach their readers. If you are the author of a decent book, please consider publishing it yourself.