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:
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.
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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Antonio Cangiano is a Software Developer and AI Evangelist at IBM. He authored Ruby on Rails for Microsoft Developers (Wrox, 2009) and Technical Blogging ( The Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2012, 2019). He is also the Marketing Lead for Cognitive Class, an educational initiative which he helped grow from zero to over 1 Million students. You can follow him on Twitter.