The downturn in the computer book market is showing some signs of easing, Tim O'Reilly, founder and president of computer book publisher O'Reilly & Associates, reported during a visit to PW's offices. While 2001 was a tough year for computer book publishers (O'Reilly's "first down year," he said), O'Reilly told PW that "sales are picking up in the new year." He said "resurgent" interest in the Macintosh OS ("the Macintosh iBook is now the laptop of choice") is driving sales of David Pogue's bestselling Mac OS X: The Missing Manual.

Also an online publisher, O'Reilly emphasized that 85% of his business was still in print books. He said about 30% of his sales come from online retailers, with about 10% from sales made through the O'Reilly Web store (

O'Reilly has also teamed up with Pearson to launch Safari Books Online (News, Dec. 24, 2001), a venture that offers digital access to the top technology books from both publishers (including Pearson tech imprints Que, Addison-Wesley and Cisco) through a subscription Web site. "It's an information resource, a premium channel for definitive texts for technical information," said O'Reilly. The site allows an individual, a corporate IT department or a government or educational institution to select a library of technical titles that can be made available through customized accounts. Safari Books Online has also announced an agreement with ProQuest, an educational and reference information company, to market its services to libraries. The service will allow libraries to conduct searches across 20 technical categories.

Founded in 1978 by a group of former programmers and systems administrators, O'Reilly has a track record of spotting technology trends and releasing the first books on them. O'Reilly was among the first to publish books about the World Wide Web and Linux operating system, and these days he points to the field of "bio-informatics" the use of computers to study biological data. "We evangelize for new technology," said O'Reilly. "Our mission is to transform the world by finding and supporting innovators."

Like other tech publishers, he suggested that e-books need to be cheaper and "either bigger or smaller" i.e., include more detailed information or only the most essential. And he prophesies that full-text O'Reilly reference books may turn up in the form of an e-book help file on software programs in the future. "We need to look into how information can best be delivered."