23 Programming Languages compared through their Amazon book sales

Please note that this article is intended as a fun way of looking at several programming languages from a different and unusual angle. I have adopted many oversimplifications which make the outcome’s possible insight very limited. Take it at face value for what it is: a fun post that yields a general idea of the programming languages’ respective popularities, but don’t consider it as a scientific/statistical analysis.

Technical books are a topic that interest me a lot. From book sale figures and trends we can attempt to better understand where developers are putting their money, not only their mouths. For this article I decided to perform a small experiment, by collecting some interesting data. I considered 23 fairly well known programming languages, and searched for the top selling book (according to Amazon) for each of them. The Amazon sales rank allows us to compare the success of books representative of each language, and indirectly compare the popularity of the languages themselves.

Below is the resulting table with all the data organized by sales rank:

Rank Language Amazon # Book Title Publisher
1 Javascript 1,227 JavaScript: The Definitive Guide O’Reilly Media
2 Java 1,799 Head First Java, 2nd Edition O’Reilly Media
3 Ruby 1,881 Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmers’ Guide, Second Edition Pragmatic Bookshelf
4 SQL 1,929 Sams Teach Yourself SQL in 10 Minutes, Third Edition Sams
5 C# 2,676 Programming C#: Building .NET Applications with C# O’Reilly Media
6 C++ 3,317 Effective C++: 55 Specific Ways to Improve Your Programs and Designs (3rd Edition) Addison-Wesley Professional
7 C 3,499 The C Programming Language (2nd Edition) Prentice Hall
8 Visual Basic 4,165 Microsoft Visual Basic 2005 Step by Step Microsoft Press
9 Python 5,537 Learning Python, Second Edition O’Reilly Media
10 PHP 5,936 Beginning PHP and MySQL 5: From Novice to Professional, 2nd Edition Apress
11 Perl 7,692 Learning Perl, Fourth Edition O’Reilly Media
12 Erlang 8,609 Programming Erlang: Software for a Concurrent World Pragmatic Bookshelf
13 Objective-C 10,476 Programming in Objective-C Sams
14 Groovy 13,613 Groovy in Action Manning Publications
15 F# 21,273 Foundations of F# Apress
16 Lua 23,052 Programming in Lua, Second Edition Lua.Org
17 Scheme 29,548 The Little Schemer – 4th Edition The MIT Press
18 Haskell 42,459 The Haskell Road To Logic, Maths And Programming King’s College Publications
19 Delphi 67,035 Mastering Delphi 7 Sybex
20 Lisp 86,188 ANSI Common LISP Prentice Hall
21 Forth 93,245 Forth Application Techniques FORTH, Inc
22 Smalltalk 279,312 Smalltalk, Objects, and Design iUniverse
23 Ocaml 290,618 Practical OCaml Apress

Despite the limitations of the methodology employed (see disclaimer for details), I think this table gives us a nice picture of the status of our industry. I’ll let the data speak for itself, and allow you to speculate in the comments, but I’d like to point out a few interesting aspects of the resulting data.

According to the table above, it is clear that the once widely adopted Delphi is now much less prominent (consider that there are more recent books on Delphi, and that they have even worst sales ranks). This of course, does not take into consideration the fact that Delphi may have great documentation online, but I doubt that this would end up penalizing Delphi books that are on the market to this extent. Java and .NET on the other hand are doing very well. No surprise there. Also it doesn’t come as a surprise that Javascript is, thanks to Ajax, so widely popular on Amazon. Notice how developers seem to be embracing the study of dynamically typed languages, even though statically typed ones are still predominating. C, despite its age, still keeps our industry going. What I found surprising was the sales rank of the Groovy book, I honestly thought Groovy was a much more limited phenomenon. Regarding the functional paradigm, functional languages are slowly becoming more adopted, but it’s clear to me that the paradigm is being accepted by most when incorporated within existing Objected Oriented languages rather than in its pure form as seen in languages like Haskell for example. Speaking of Haskell, I’m sure the data will change a lot when the new book Real World Haskell hits the shelves. And that’s what the Haskell world really needs, because Haskell is often presented in an academic way which is hard for a wide audience to digest, and it is considered too theoretical by many.. It’s no wonder that 150 of us, fired off an email in reply to a request for reviewers.

You may notice that the fourth most popular book on the list is a “10 minute” type of book for SQL. This is ironic but it doesn’t contradict the anecdotal evidence, as real world experience suggests that many developers don’t really know SQL, and they resort to quick guides as a remedy while working on a given project. It’s a shame, because database and SQL understanding are essential skills needed to be successful programmers in many areas. To conclude, by looking at the table, it is apparent that the Pragmatic Programmers are definitively influential. Let’s face it, they contributed a great deal to the growth of the Ruby community and are now helping edge forward Erlang’s popularity. According to other data available on the web, Erlang should have been somewhere at the bottom of this list along with Haskell, but the Pragmatic Programmer’s book on this language has already presold many, many copies (it will be published in mid-July). It is clear that this book is going to be a best seller and that it will do a lot to promote the language itself. This is absolutely a good thing, because Erlang deserves the spotlight. By looking at the column of publishers, one can’t help but notice that O’Reilly truly successfully markets its books, and they are generally highly regarded by us developers.

Disclaimer (Or… wait a second, dude!)

  • The method that I used didn’t account for books related to frameworks (Django, Rails, Seaside, etc…). The Agile Web Development with Rails book for example, has an incredible Amazon Sales Rank and it’s one of the best sellers of all time in our field;
  • This methodology favors languages that have a book which has been widely adopted within the community, as opposed to languages where sales are split relavitely equally amongst a few titles;
  • Not all languages are represented here of course. I just picked a reasonable selection;
  • Amazon is not the only place on Earth where books are sold. But I think it’s still a fairly accurate indication of the US market;
  • The Pragmatic Programmers sell many of their books directly, the sales ranks shown here don’t take this into consideration, so chances are they are underrepresented;
  • The links to Amazon have my referrer id. This won’t cost you a cent more, and will help support this site.

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