Strong opinions, weakly held

The Ruby book market

Joe Gregorio prompted me to take a second look at O’Reilly’s “state of the market” report for books on programming languages. Of particular interest to me is what they report on Ruby:

We reported last year that Ruby had grown nicely, had passed Perl and Python, and was knocking on the door for Visual Basic’s spot. However, Ruby had the largest decrease in unit sales in 2008.

Let’s go to the numbers, 95,731 Ruby books were sold in 2007, and 61,171 Ruby books were sold in 2008. That’s a big drop. In terms of absolute size, in 2007, the Ruby book market was about 40% of the size of the Java and C# markets. In 2008, Ruby’s market was about 28% of the size of the Java market, and 22% of the size of the C# market. (Python has almost caught up with Ruby.)

Some thoughts on possible reasons why Ruby fell off so sharply:

  • Deployment problems. The Rails deployment picture did not improve quickly enough to enable people who were dabbling with Ruby to make the transition to deploy real applications. That could be lowering interest in Ruby. I think 2009 will be the year of Ruby deployment — Phusion Passenger changes everything.
  • Lack of new bestsellers. Speaking for myself, I bought several Ruby and Rails related books in 2007, and none in 2008. There just weren’t any titles that really caught my attention.
  • Fragmentation. It seems like 2008 was the year in which there was a lot of splintering in the Rails community, and for good or ill, Ruby and Rails are still tightly coupled. People were trying new test frameworks, alternative persistence frameworks, and alternative Web frameworks. This hurts the book business.
  • Declining interest in Ruby in general. There are any number of reasons why interest in Ruby (and more specifically, Ruby on Rails) may be declining. For one thing, no platform can be the “new hotness” forever. For another, there are plenty of things not to like about Rails, the rate of change not being least among them. My feeling is that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with what’s going on in Rails unless you make a full time job of it. Fatigue sets in.

There may be other reasons as well. I would also caution people a bit against assuming too tight a correlation between book sales and the overall health of a programming language. It’s a piece of the picture but not the whole picture.

The other thing I take away from this is that it’s hard to see beyond your cocoon. From where I sit, the large growth in C# book sales is surprising. I don’t really know anybody who uses it. I’m not surprised by the Python growth, and I am shocked by the decline in the market for JavaScript books. This is one of the reasons why I’m looking to expand the portfolio of software development blogs and news sources I’m following.

1 Comment

  1. I would guess that book sales in this case are indicative of the newbie uptake of the language/RoR framework. So perhaps there was a decline in newbies picking up the language and more experienced users had no reason to purchase books. Or, maybe everyone was watching RailsCasts 😛

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