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February 27, 2015

Computer Book Publishing, Part II

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

After the slaughter of 1982, no big New York publishers would touch computer books. That job was left up to independent publishing houses. They thrived, of course. After all, the computer hobbyist of the day still wanted good information.

Gradually, computer book publishing returned. The industry served a growing market and the manuals continued their fine tradition of being completely useless.

It was during this upswing that I joined the industry. I was hired at CompuSoft Publishing in 1985 or so and worked until 1987 or so. Other publishing houses existed at the same time, including Sybex, MacMillan, QUE, Peachpit, and O’Reilly.

One of the oldies that survived was TAB books. I purchased many of their titles, and even belonged to their book club. That was really cool, the only book club I ever subscribed to. In a few years, I would be writing books for TAB. That was super.

Microsoft Press started up in the mid-1980s. They visited CompuSoft Publishing while I was working there, to get a feel for what computer book publishing was all about. I had a chance to join them, but at the time I didn’t want to move to Seattle.

The computer book publishing industry continued to gain ground, parallelling the growth of the computer industry. Being a computer book author back then even carried with it a modicum of respect. For example, I would phone up a software developer, explain that I was writing a book, and I’d be instantly given a press kit. (That doesn’t happen any more. In fact, Google has expressed the notion several times that computer books are irrelevant. They’re not alone.)

The next big event in computer book publishing happened in 1992. I had a bit to do with the event, which was the phenomena caused by DOS For Dummies.

The For Dummies series escalated an already growing industry. Computer sales were skyrocketing, but the non-hobbyist crowd disliked computer books with the same passion they loathed the manual. To be honest, as a member of the industry, I thought that computer books back then sucked. The public did, however, like For Dummies. My book set the entire industry on its ear.

Good times persisted through the 1990s. Then came the Internet. Also, software developers stopped including printed manuals. It was a cost-saving move, but once that paradigm was gone, people has little motivation to get a “better manual.” Book sales began to drop.

As the Internet became more and more useful, people turned to it for instant answers and as a reference. The computer book industry slumped even more.

Since the early 2000s, the computer book industry has been going steady. It’s not dying, but it’s not thriving. Some titles continue to sell well, but the publishers are understandably reluctant to explore new ground. Many of them still don’t understand eBook publishing. Yet, the public appreciates good, well-written documentation, information, and advice that can be found in a computer book. Those books continue to sell well.

Is this an industry I would recommend to a young person? No, because it’s not growing and thriving. But it still exists, still provides a valued service, and I’m happy to be where I am and to have contributed what I did.

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