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.
The exact cause of the recent bump in computer books sales is unclear. A similar trend uplifted many book categories in July, according to the Association of American Publishers. Book sales tracked by the association, which includes adult hardcover books and audio books, jumped about 20 percent in July.
Leonard points to several probable factors that increased computer book sales.
Barnes &amp; Noble recently had a sale on computer books, plus computer sales have increased, and many new technology products have hit the market such as the Apple iPhone and Windows Vista.
"That's about as far as we are able to identify it," Leonard said. "But we hope it is significant and it will continue through the fall."
The fact that the iPhone is affecting O'Reilly's book sales reflects a new strategy it started about two years ago. The company, which began in 1978, decided to offer more books for consumers. Previously, it targeted software programmers and computer system administrators with more-technical material.
The company's current best-selling book is "iPhone: The Missing Manual," by New York Times technology columnist David Pogue.
Most of its consumer-oriented books are branded under "The Missing Manual" label.
While most of its book sales still come from the traditional technical manuals, the expansion has allowed O'Reilly to capture a growing share of the computer book category. The company, which held 10 percent of the computer book market in 2003, took 14 percent of the market last year, Leonard said.