''Idiots'' vs. ''Dummies'' -- The two self-deprecating self-help series jostle for shelf space and brand recognition

Even those who cling to pointless partisanship — who must have Coke, not Pepsi, at all costs; who absolutely refuse to go to McDonald’s if a Burger King is down the pike — might have trouble deciding whether they’re Dummies or Complete Idiots.

Yet that’s the dilemma faced by the hapless self-help customer these days, as two reference-guide series, while both purporting to make things simple, jostle confusingly for shelf space and brand recognition.

You want to improve yourself, open your mind. You wander blankly into Barnes & Noble (or Borders). In this dunce’s corner: IDG’s Books for Dummies, with 300 trade titles and a purported 50 million copies in print. The challenger: Alpha Books’ Complete Idiot’s Guides, with 175 trade titles by the end of this year (they don’t reveal sales figures).

Each series solicits experts to spell out the bare rudiments of basic life skills, from quilting (Idiots) to bird-watching (Dummies) to planning one’s wedding (both). Dummies has the celeb edge, with Dr. Ruth on sex and Flo-Jo telling us how to run — but Idiots is rebounding with a Walt Frazier basketball primer and a recently expanded line of travel guides (because negotiating Disney World can be hard). Flummoxed? You want that with a yellow cover, or orange?

Alpha editorial director Gary Krebs claims that ”it’s a very easy comparison” between the two — hell, it’d better be! — pointing to Idiot‘s larger illustrations. He also alleges greater strength in lifestyle books. IDG CEO John Kilcullen responds incredulously: ”We’ve got gardening. We’ve got decks and patios. We have Kristi Yamaguchi.” He admits, however, that ”the customer confusion issue is worrisome.”

Like, duh.