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"How many XML geeks does it take to sit on the head of a pin?" This is
basically why XML books are not selling. The average IT and technical
writing staff person doesn't care about books on ebXML, XML and Web
Services, etc. They are concerned with how are they going to accomplish
the tasks they have been assigned. They will buy books that will instruct
them on accomplishing their tasks.
I think back as a consumer (and I am sure I am not unique) - when
do I buy a book? I buy a book when my back is against the wall and I need
to accomplish a task and I don't have the immediate skills to do so. No
normal person buys a technical book to read for pleasure. I needed Perl
for a project many years ago and didn't know Perl so I bought "Programming
Perl". That book was over my head so I bought (though it pains me to
admit it) "Perl for Dummies" (it actually helped alot) and then I bought
"Perl and CGI". With the help of these books I accomplished my task.
I think that you probably have this same leverage with
introductory XML, XSLT and XML Schema books but no one really needs
XQuery books right now to accomplish what they need to do in their
jobs right now and get a good performance rating and a good raise.
I have a bookshelf full of XML books (maybe I am one of the XML
geeks on the head of a pin) but honestly, the only books I really ever
reference is the XSLT books and only when I run into a problem that I
can't immediately find on a Google search. I even wrote a chapter in the
WROX ebXML Professionals book and the only time I take it off the shelf is
to impress my mother (shes the only one who is impressed by it)!
I think technical publishers are in a difficult position, at the
current time because of the state of the internet. There is so much 'free
information' available - some of it good and some of it not so good. It is
difficult for the consumer to distinquish between good and not so good.
Technical publishers are in a unique position and need to think 'out of
the box' and anticipate the needs of their clients. As an example, today
I received the yellow pages (big yellow book with business names,
telephone numbers, etc.). I started to throw it away, like I did last
year because I now have access to all the telephone information I need
from Internet. Then I remembered Hurricane Isabel and no power, no
internet for 3 days and trying to get information and trying to buy a
generator! I needed the YELLOW BOOK! I put the "Yellow Book" on my
bookshelf in anticipation of the next hurricane!
One area that is still going strong in XML and it not addressed in
most XML books is XML and publishing. There is only 1 XML-FO book that I
am aware of, which is Ken Holman's "Definitive XSL-FO" book. Recently I
organized a one day XML Authoring/Editing Forum in Washington, D.C. When I
initially started organizing this forum, I naively thought we would have
60 people attend and may 5 possibly 6 vendors. We cut off registration at
200 people and 20 vendors (I turned at least 6 vendors away because we
didn't have space for them and have been contacted by numerous others
requesting space if we ever do this again). This is an area where the XML
books (except in the early days) have totally ignored. The are people
who attended this forum are using XML to accomplish their tasks.
On Mon, 13 Oct 2003, Simon St.Laurent wrote:
> As I think many of the people on this list know, my day job is working
> as an editor at O'Reilly & Associates. For the past two plus years,
> I've focused on building an XML book list, with some significant
> attention to Web Services and occasional work on Web books.
> Lately, however, I'm spending less and less time on XML and Web Services
> books and more time on books in other computing fields. Given how much
> easier it is for me to edit material in fields I know well, this is a
> serious change on my part. It's necessary, though, because as Tim Bray
> summarized my employer:
> "Oh, and by the way, that XML book you were thinking of writing?
> Forget it." 
> XML book sales have dropped substantially, even relative to the overall
> decline in technology books. A few books dominate the broad (typically
> though not necessarily beginner) end of the market, while more focused
> books struggle to achieve the numbers needed to justify their
> It's not merely a matter of the pie being divided into too many
> overpublished pieces, but rather a matter of the space itself shrinking.
> There aren't a lot of publishers still enthusiastic about publishing
> into the XML space as a result. (A few, including O'Reilly, are
> continuing to publish, though at a slower pace.)
> There are a lot of things going on here, but it's interesting because
> the shrinkage is more complex than the predictable collapse of a hype
> wave. There's been very little sign - in my hindsight anyway - that
> developers ever moved from beginner books on XML to more detailed books
> focusing on more advanced technologies. XSLT appears to be the furthest
> frontier most readers reach, and many stay within a range of books
> covering XML and their particular (Java, .NET, Perl) programming
> environment. A few XML Schema books have done adequately, but a lot
> have disappeared. Web Services books have fared especially badly. Even
> books on hiding XML behind other technologies, like O'Reilly's _Java &
> XML Data Binding_, haven't really caught on.
> My current guesses as to why this decline is happening include:
> The hype wave, of course -
> I don't think XML was ever quite what it was promised to be
> to programmers, and there's a good deal of annoyance from that.
> (Publishing folks of various kinds still seem to be expanding their
> use of XML, however, maybe even getting happier with it.)
> Standards confusion -
> I think W3C XML Schema convinced a lot of people that true
> understanding of XML and vocabulary creation was way beyond their
> skills. The cost/benefit ratio is way out of whack at the
> beginning. The pile-on of additional specs and the lack of a clear
> processing model for combining them didn't help either - too many
> optional parts. The amount of XML most programmers need is in the
> intro books, maybe supplemented with something environment-specific
> like Java & XML. (Web Services has massive general standards
> confusion, an even tougher problem, not to mention even more "WS"
> specs than there are "XML" specs.)
> Big books for small problems -
> While some of us do have complex problems we need to solve with XML,
> it seems like 80% of the XML out there is produced by people who
> know about elements and attributes and maybe the built-in entities.
> XML is ubiquitous, but in forms which don't require enormous study.
> These folks don't really need multiple books - they can find what
> they need online easily enough.
> Now that the hype wave has retreated, the world seems full of people who
> are getting by with a remarkably smaller set of pieces than the XML
> community - and its supporting publishers - have been selling. In some
> ways, I think Common XML  is triumphing. At the same time, I worry
> that "XML" in the broader sense may have armed itself for
> inter-continental thermonuclear combat when a broom for cleaning things
> up was all many people wanted, and pretty close to the proposition of
> the original project.
> I'm not entirely sure what I'm hoping to accomplish with this message in
> this forum. I suspect that I'd like the standards makers to know that
> their publications are generating less excitement - sales are down,
> difficulty of producing books is up. Perhaps more important, I'd like
> people who use just a relatively small subset of all of these XML
> technologies to know that they're definitely not alone.
>  - http://tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/10/11/FooNotes - Tim
> O'Reilly and Mike Hendrickson presented on trends in publishing using
> both Bookscan data and Amazon rank data. Sadly, that information is not
> itself public (Bookscan doesn't want its participating stores to
> see the data from other stores, etc.), but does include multiple
> publishers. I'm not just discussing O'Reilly results here, and as my
> employer has discussed this much in public, I don't think I'm treading
> on dangerous confidentiality grounds.
>  - http://www.simonstl.com/articles/cxmlspec.txt
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- xml, books
- From: "Simon St.Laurent" <firstname.lastname@example.org>