A new chapter?
Sebastopol's O'Reilly's recent sales bump may be indicative of industry trend

After six years of stagnation and decline, sales of computer book are showing a little sparkle.

And that pleases folks over at O'Reilly Media in Sebastopol, which is one of the nation's largest publishers of computer books.

Sales have spiked as much as 10 percent in the last six weeks, company founder Tim O'Reilly disclosed Sunday in his blog.

While six weeks might be too short to signify a trend, it has certainly seeded hope in the mind of Mike Leonard, director of sales for the 127-employee Sebastopol publisher.

"We are happy to see it," Leonard said. "The computer book market has been depressed."

Sales of books on how to use computers and write software skyrocketed in the late 1990s as tech workers and consumers alike scrambled to keep up with the fast-changing world of technology.

But it all came to a halt in 2001 with the dot-com bust. Over the next three years, sales of computer books dropped 20 percent annually, according to the company's estimates.

With employment in the tech market drying up, people weren't diving into new books to improve their computer skills.

"The tech bubble burst, and so of course a lot of people were out of tech jobs," said Allen Noren, director of online marketing for O'Reilly Media.

From 2004 to 2006, sales remained relatively stagnant in the computer book category. Then in late July, after a 40-plus-week slump, sales suddenly surged.

While similar spikes have occurred in the past, O'Reilly hopes a slew of new tech products on the horizon will drive consumers' appetites for in-depth manuals and prolong the sector's growth.

More than 95 percent of O'Reilly's book sales come from the computer book category, so the company follows weekly sales numbers, Leonard said. Its publishing business is still the largest component of the company, which generated an estimated $60 million in revenue last year, which also includes ad revenues from its Web sites, investments in start-ups and a host of technology conferences.

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