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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Wed, 07 Feb 2018

Pragmatic Programmers, No Starch Press, Manning Books, Packt and Apress fill void left by O'Reilly Media

It wasn't a total surprise in mid-2017 that O'Reilly Media was retreating from tech-book publishing, especially when it comes to offering digital books. It's been more than a while since the company announced that it would no longer sell books -- digital or print -- directly and would instead offer all of its books through the Safari online service and in print via Amazon.

Here are two articles from O'Reilly Media on their decision:

If you look at it, this decision by O'Reilly to exit the direct-sales market didn't just happen out of the blue in June 2010. It was a slow decline over years. O'Reilly (and most other publishers, really) used to offer a whole lot of books on Linux and Unix, and even more on individual programming languages.

O'Reilly really slowed down what it did for Linux (pretty much stopping that category) and put out programming books with longer and longer gaps in between.

Announcing that they would no longer sell directly to readers was just the end of what had already been in motion for a long time. I don't begrudge O'Reilly its sizable conference business, which I'm sure "carried" the book publishing part of the company for years. I also can't fault them for pulling back. It's a business decision. Sure, they are killing their brand, but they don't see it that way. Maybe a brand isn't so valuable if you can't make money with it.

Luckily we have a few tech-book publishers who are doing a great job filling the sizable gap (and, if I'm right, sizable market) left by O'Reilly.

In no particular order, my favorite tech publishers are Pragmatic Programmers, No Starch Press and Manning Books.

On the second tier are Packt and Apress.

I'd also like to mention Leanpub, which is more of an author "platform," but has a lot of content I like.

And then there's the rest of the self-published tech-book world, which you can tap into via Amazon and all over the Web. In particular, a lot of academics are publishing extremely valuable books for free via PDF, sometimes also publishing in print. I've even heard some authors for the "real" publishers say their books sell better when they're also available for free in electronic form. Maybe you get such a big audience for a free book that the percentage who might want a paper copy is bigger than the number who are willing to take a chance on a book that they can't yet read.

What O'Reilly Media used to "bring" was a guaranteed level of quality. I think that PragProg, Manning and No Starch are continuing that tradition. They're "gatekeepers" in the sense that you know it's going to be a good book that really offers value. I don't always get that sense with Packt books. Apress seems to bring a good level of quality, but it's not at PragProg/Manning level.

I'm sad that O'Reilly went all in with their digital subscription model, but they were fading from relevance for years before they made that move. That makes me happy to support the current publishers who are keeping quality high and selling direct to their readers.