Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sales Data for EMC++: Print Books, Digital Books, and Online Access

O'Reilly President Laura Baldwin's recent blog post explaining O'Reilly's decision to discontinue selling individual books and videos through their web site (while continuing to publish books and videos for sale through other channels) inspired me to take a look at the sales data I have for Effective Modern C++. I wrote that book with both print and electronic publication in mind, assuming that by the time it came out, demand for digital formats would be at least as strong as demand for print products.

That has not proven to be the case. I have data for the first 35 months of the book's existence (through May 2017), and since initial publication, sales of digital editions make up only about 41% of the over 50,000 units (i.e., copies of the book) sold. Here's a chart of print sales versus ebook sales by month:
Because it takes more time to print books than to make them available on the Internet, the digital versions were downloadable four months before the print books came out. That's apparent at the left side of the chart. Since then, print sales have beaten ebook sales almost every month. Most of the time, it hasn't been much of a contest.

These data exclude sales of foreign language translations of the book. My royalty statements don't break down sales of translations into print and digital formats.

It's clear that buyers of EMC++ have a pretty strong preference for the paper version. This is consistent with sales data for my other books (Effective C++, Effective STL, More Effective C++), but those books were initially published before digital books took off, and they were never designed for digital consumption. The fact that print sales dominates for them is not a surprise.

O'Reilly is getting out of the retail book and video sales business in order to focus on its online subscription service, Safari. Baldwin states that that side of the business has the most customers and is growing the fastest. I don't doubt her. But what does that mean for me?

Here's the royalty source data for Effective Modern C++, broken down into "Online" sources (which includes Safari) and "Other." Included in "Other" is all sales of complete books, regardless of format. Ebook sales are thus "Other", not "Online".
As you can see, the online component of my royalties (including Safari) is generally under 10% each month. Summed over the course of the book's existence, the online contribution to my total royalties is only 5.7%.  There appears to be a slight upward trend over time, but it's hardly something that sets an author's heart aflutter. From a royalty point of view, sales of complete books is at least ten times as important to me as online access.

What do the data for Effective Modern C++ have to say about the trends in publishing Baldwin describes in her post?  Very little. A key observation in her post is that "digital enabled new learning modalities such as video and interactive content," and my book is an example of neither. She refers to how O'Reilly has long recognized that they aren't really in the book-publishing business, they're in the knowledge-spreading business. Books are one way to spread knowledge, but they aren't the only way, and from the perspective of a publisher, they are a way that's less and less important.

The charts above demonstrate that regardless of the general movement in the information-dissemination business towards digital, non-book-like, subscription-based models, complete books--especially print books--are, at least in the case of my readership, very much alive and kicking.

Friday, June 30, 2017

O'Reilly's Decision and its DRM Implication

On Wednesday, I got mail from Laura Baldwin, President of O'Reilly, announcing that "as of today, we are discontinuing fulfillment of individual book and video purchases on Books (both ebook and print) will still be available for sale via other digital and bricks-and-mortar retail channels...[and] of course, we will continue to publish books and videos..." So O'Reilly's not getting out of the book and video publishing business, it's just getting out of the business of selling them at retail. For details, check out Laura's blog entrythis story at Publishers Weekly or these discussions at Slashdot or Hacker News.

To me, the most interesting implication of this announcement is that O'Reilly's no-DRM policy apparently resonated little with the market. Other technical publishers I'm familiar with (e.g., Addison-Wesley, the Pragmatic Programmer, Artima) attempt to discourage illegal dissemination of copyrighted material (e.g., books in digital form) by at least stamping the buyer's name on each page. O'Reilly went the other way, trusting people who bought its goods not to give them to their friends or colleagues or to make them available on the Internet.

I don't know what motivated that policy. Perhaps it was a belief that trusting buyers was the right thing to do. But I can't help but think they took into account the effect it would likely have on sales. After all, publishing is a business.

Piracy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means you receive no compensation for the benefit readers get from the work you put in. On the other hand, pirated books act as implicit marketing, expanding awareness of you and your book(s). They can also reach buyers who want to see the full product before making a purchasing decision or who wouldn't become aware of your book through conventional marketing efforts.

My feeling is that most people who choose pirated books are unlikely to pay for them, even if that's the only way to get them. As such, I'm inclined to think the marketing effect of illegal copies exceeds the lost revenue. I have no data to back me up. Maybe it's just a rationalization to help me live with the knowledge that no matter what you do, there's no way you can prevent bootleg copies of your books from showing up on the Net.

My guess is that a component of O'Reilly's no-DRM policy was a hope that it would distinguish O'Reilly from other publishers and would attract buyers who felt strongly about DRM. Whether it did that, I don't know, but O'Reilly's decision to stop selling individual products at its web site suggests that DRM (or the lack thereof) is not an important differentiator for most buyers of technical books and videos.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Interview with Me (in Hungarian)

Last month, I was invited to give a presentation at NNG in Budapest. During my visit to NNG, I was asked to talk with some people from HWSW, and the resulting interview has now been published. If you're comfortable with Hungarian (or with the results of a translation from Hungarian into whatever language you prefer), I encourage you to take a look.

In reading the interview, it may be helpful to know that the talk I gave at NNG was a shorter version of the presentation I gave at DConf earlier this month, "Things that Matter."



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Keynote at DConf in Berlin on May 5

The folks behind the annual conference for the D programming language offered me a soapbox for my most fundamental beliefs about software and software development, so on Friday, 5 May, I'll be speaking in Berlin at DConf about

Things That Matter

In the 45+ years since Scott Meyers wrote his first program, he’s played many roles: programmer, user, educator, researcher, consultant. Different roles beget different perspectives on software development, and so many perspectives over so much time have led Scott to strong views about the things that really matter. In this presentation, he’ll share what he believes is especially important in software and software development, and he’ll try to convince you to embrace the same ideas he does.
Because this isn't a C++ talk, I sent the DConf organizers a more general bio than I usually use. It may include some things about me you don't know, so perhaps you'll find it interesting:
Scott Meyers started programming in 1971, and he started teaching programming in 1972. He’s best known for his Effective C++ books, but he’s also worked on constraint expression for programming languages, program representations in development environments, software simulations of bacteriophage lambda, general principles for improving software quality, and the effective presentation of technical information. In 2009, he received the Dr. Dobb’s Excellence in Programming Award, and in 2014, an online poll likened his hair style to that of the cartoon character, He-Man.
If you're working with or interested in D, I encourage you to consider attending the conference. If so, be sure to stop by and say hello after my talk!


Friday, February 3, 2017

By the Numbers: The Great Foreign Edition Book Giveaway

A couple of months ago, I offered to give away foreign editions of my books, asking recipients only that they reimburse me for the postage. Here are some numbers associated with the giveaway.
  • 112: Books I had to give away.
  • 70: Books I gave away. (There were no requests for the others.)
  • 65: People who requested books.
  • 37: People I sent books to. (It wasn't possible to satisfy all requests.)
  • 13: People whose requests overlooked the requirement to include a mailing address. (Such requests were moved to the bottom of the priority list. Some still got satisfied, because they were for books for which no higher-priority requests came through. In those cases, I pinged the requesters for mailing addresses.)
  • 21: Countries to which I was asked to send books.
  • 13: Countries to which I sent books. (It still wasn't possible to satisfy all requests.)
  • 26: Requests for Effective Modern C++ in Russian (the most frequently requested book).
  • 1: Copies of Effective Modern C++ in Russian I had to give away.
  • 5: Maximum number of books sent to any single requester. (These books were in Japanese, but the mailing address was in Sweden, and the request came from someone with an email provider in Italy, so it appears that an Italian in Sweden requested books in Japanese :-}.)
  • 905.65: Total cost of postage for books I sent (in US dollars).
  • 75.4: Percent of this cost I've so far been reimbursed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Updated Versions of EC++/3E and EMC++

New printings of Effective C++, Third Edition and Effective Modern C++ have recently been published by Addison-Wesley and O'Reilly, respectively. Both printings include fixes for all the errata that had been reported through December, though a couple of bug reports for EMC++ have since trickled in, sigh. For EC++/3E, the new printing is number 17. For EMC++, it's 10.

If you purchased digital copies of these books from the publisher, you should be able to log in to your account and download the latest versions. (O'Reilly customers should have received a notification to this effect. AW doesn't seem to tell people when new printings are available for download.)

If you purchase print copies of these books, I encourage you to make sure you're getting the latest versions. I have copies of the latest printings, so I know they exist in print form.

I hope you enjoy the latest revisions of these books. They should be the best versions yet.