How Do You Decide Which Web Design or Programming Books to Buy?

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How Do You Decide Which Web Design or Programming Books to Buy?I think it goes without saying that web design bloggers love to read (similar to how it goes without saying that Germans love David Hasselhoff). If you’re like me, then it’s quite likely you’ve purchased the odd web design or programming book that you weren’t all too thrilled with.

Books can be expensive, especially if you only buy them brand new and when they’re first released. And if you live in a country outside North America or the UK, then they could be even more expensive because of shipping costs.

So before purchasing a new design or programming book, I usually do a few things to increase my odds of being happy with the purchase.

Questions to Ask

I usually try to make sure I’ve considered the following questions before committing to anything:

  • Is the publisher established, and does the publisher have a good reputation in that niche/industry?
  • Does the author have a good reputation as a book writer?
  • Does the author have a strong online presence that would show that he/she is knowledgeable in best practices in his field?
  • Are the examples or the code in the book available for download?
  • Does the author have a reputation for being a helpful person? Or does he/she have a reputation as an aggressive marketer?
  • Does the book itself have an official website or microsite?

Research to Do

In order to assist me to be able to answer the questions above, and to find out more about the book, I’ll try to do as much research as possible on the publisher, author, and the book itself. This is why I probably will never pre-order a book before its publishing date.

The kind of research I do includes most, if not all, of the following:

  • Read reviews of the book — especially all negative reviews
  • Take note of the total number of pages compared to the price
  • Check to see if any portion of the book that’s not available elsewhere is indexed on Google Books
  • Use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to:
    • Read the table of contents (you could also do this on the official website of the book)
    • Read or scan the index to examine the extent of subtopics not mentioned in the chapter titles
    • Read the back cover
    • Read the introduction and/or first chapter, one of which will often have a section called “Who Should Read This Book?” or “Who is This Book For?” or something similar

Another question you might ask yourself after doing some of this research is: Will this book serve as a good reference-style manual? This would especially be important for a programming book. It’s great to learn principles and concepts, but books that are solely devoted to that style will rarely work well as a reference. So if it’s important to you that a book overflow with immediately-accessible practical solutions, examining the chapter titles and index would help immensely.

A Cow Might Not Say “Moo”

Of course, none of the above research can guarantee that the book you purchase will be to your liking. A reputable publisher releasing a book by a reputable author might end up being a boring unusable mess.

On the other hand, an obscure publisher might release a book by an unknown author that is very useful and practical. Sometimes the reviews are invaluable in helping to find such books. But watch out for shill reviews. This is why I mentioned earlier to always read the negative reviews.

Some other things mentioned above that may not necessarily be factors:

  • Negative reviews don’t necessarily mean the book is bad; the reviewers may have just chosen a book beyond their skill level, so read the review carefully in comparison to promotional material
  • The author may lack a strong online presence because he/she is too busy writing best-selling computer books; this is a good thing
  • The book might be brief, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad value; brevity often equates to clarity
  • A book strongly endorsed by “standardistas” may not be for everyone; those guys love each other and will probably not admit when one of their buddies writes something sub-par

Some of My Successful Choices

To conclude this article, here’s a list of books I’ve recently obtained copies of that were successful purchases (at least for me):

Professional JavaScript for Web Developers
by Nicholas C. Zakas

Professional JavaScript for Web Developers

jQuery in Action
by Bear Bibeault & Yehuda Katz *

* I own the first edition of this book, but the link will take you to the second edition.

jQuery in Action

HTML5 for Web Designers
by Jeremy Keith

HTML5 for Web Designers

HTML5 Up and Running
by Mark Pilgrim *

* I actually got this one at no charge as a review copy, and I will be writing a review of it to be published on Webdesigner Depot

HTML5 Up and Running

The Ultimate CSS Reference
By Tommy Olsson & Paul O’Brien

The Ultimate CSS Reference

How Do You Decide?

This gives you a rough idea of how I decide what design and programming books to purchase. Some of this information would apply to almost any book, not just web design.

What about you? How do you decide what books to buy? Is there anything I failed to mention that you think should be considered before buying a book covering some topic related to web design or web development?

9 Responses

  1. badjedi:

    I check out most books through my local library. Then I go to sites like half.com to see if a dealer is selling a little lower than the major websites. Also I take advantage of using Borders coupons when there is a book I really feel is a must have.

  2. Marcin:

    I usually read books via Safari Books Online where I get online access to 80% of the books I could ever need. As such, I usually don’t bother purchasing physical books although it sometimes happens when I really like a particular book and want to read it in bed :-).

  3. These are the same questions that I ask myself…

    For me are important:
    – reputation of author
    – number of pages
    – negative reviews

    Particularly I always read summary in pdf! (for me it’s the most important thing :) )

    Good choices… we have sight in common :D

  4. My recent order of Designing with Data (five simple steps) costs me $64 which is quite expensive for an Indian (Rs. 2880). I too look for author’s reputation and amazon reviews and rating.

    BTW: I’ve written my last blog post targeting comment forms like yours :)

  5. Brian:

    When choosing a book for me it depends on what I need this for. If I know nothing about the language or skill set I am learning about sometimes reputation of the author has nothing to do with my purchase and the best thing I can do is start reading “Chapter 1”. If I understand what they are talking about and start learning or think I can pick it up then I go with that book. Visual Quickstart guides and even the “for Dummies” books are a good quick and easy way to start a new skill in my opinion. If I know nothing about JS and jump into a 500 page bible meant to be a reference guide, it could just be me, but I am going to just fall asleep. Talk about bedtime reading! I can say thought that the books mentioned above are some of my favorite books as well but the best reference guide to online development, is the internet.

  6. Lori:

    I buy O’Reilly’s CSS books but most other SEO books are outdated by the time they are published because the Internet changes so fast as does Google.

  7. What most useful to me are the # of positive reviews.

  8. Very good process, Louis.

    I read the table of contents and download a sample chapter. If I’m buying an ebook, I check which formats are available. If the book is really awesome I may buy a PDF only, but I prefer a .mobi or Kindle format.

    The only reason I care about the publisher is for promotions, for example I know that in SitePoint with 2 books, the shipping is free. The publisher is not an indication of quality.

    I tend to buy anything “for web designers…” and HTML5 for Web Designers exceed my expectations :)

  9. I’ve read some of these ,very good and useful .

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