Time again for Tim O’Reilly’s State of the Computer Book Market Q 3, and it looks like the early gains this year have leveled off. Perhaps worse than that, Tim says —
We suspect that the combination of increasingly sophisticated online information, easier to use Web 2.0 applications, and customer fatigue with new features of overly complex applications, combined with the consolidation of the retail book market, mean that the market will never return to its pre-2000 highs, despite new enthusiasm for Web 2.0 and the technology market in general. In addition, new distribution channels (including downloadable PDFs) are growing up as retailers allocate less space to computer books.
“Will never return?” Pre-2000 numbers were huge compared to today’s market, so I’m sure he’s right, which of course leaves me in a pickle since about half of my business is related to tech titles.
The bottom line for agents as well as authors is that you’ve gotta do more than books, or do more than books in one niche.
As for me, I’m still repping plenty of tech titles but I’m also working on more non-book projects, including documentation deals, white papers, programming gigs, DVDs and more.
I’m also signing a steady stream of general non-fiction. I’m not looking for the long tail but I’m looking for the long score, books that will sell consistently for five or ten years, and books that need to be revised less often.
There are still bestsellers to be had in this tech market, but they’re fewer and farther between.
What will publishers do? Beyond scrabbling for the shelf space that remains, tech publishers are moving online with some alacrity and we’ll see more ebooks from them as well as perhaps more initiatives around online education (note that Hungry Minds pre Wiley acquisition failed at this spectacularly but Thomson picked up Ed2Go.com and that’s a successful business today).
I also expect that publishers will move sideways and try to extend successful tech brands into other niches, ala the “for Dummies” and the “Complete Idiots” series.
Education, anyone? Test prep? Personal finance? Business? How about health and wellness? There’s a lot of room out there for a motivated publisher.