The Best Computer Book

I’ll be on vacation for the next two weeks. One thing I hope to do is visit my friends at ClickZ. I’ve been working for them over several months and have yet to meet them, which is one of the Internet’s great double-edged swords.

While I’m gone, it will be summer reading season. Like you, I won’t be bringing many computer books. I understand them, I’ve written some, but in general, I detest them. They’re “how-to” guides, kept on the shelf for their power to ward off evil (while you’re fighting some evil software program) and only consulted like thesauri (or medieval oracles), in extremis.

This is even true for most of the e-commerce books I’ve read. There’s really no such thing as “e-commerce for dummies,” but I’m sure you’ll find it at Amazon. (I just checked – you can)

The best e-commerce books should be the start of a journey. They should provoke your imagination, stimulate your thinking, and lead you to action of some kind. I’ve seen only two such books in the last year worth recommending.

The first is Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, which has gone from concept to clich in just three months. It deserves to be read several times because most of the people using its title to describe what they’re doing aren’t doing it.

Permission marketing is just another word for trust. You give someone something (a real estate firm stuck an American flag on my lawn for July 4) to gain their permission for a sales pitch. More important, you then value the relationship, offering great value on that first sale, solid value down the road, and working to expand and enlarge that trust into other goods into automatic purchases. It’s not email marketing, but that’s what it has become synonymous with.

The second book I’m recommending is Evan Schwartz’s Digital Darwinism. Schwartz’s writing isn’t as facile as Godin’s, but he’s just reporting this story–he didn’t live it. (Godin could have punched up those “executive summaries” at the end of each chapter, too.)

Still, there’s a lot to think about here. This is a book about business models, and the opportunities the Internet presents for creating new ones. Schwartz pulls no punches (doubtless to the chagrin of some sources), but he does identify seven important trends. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets by identifying them: solution brands, auctions, affiliate marketing, bundling, custom production, cyber-mediation, and integration between the web and real stores. (I’ve called that last one “the ground war.”)

The point is this book isn’t the final word. It’s one synthesis of what’s happening; one you’re free to disagree with or use in your own work. This book is thought provoking, and can be the start of many mental journeys you’ll enjoy while watching the kids run from imaginary sharks on the beach. They’re certain to be imaginary sharks. You left the real ones at the office.

Dana Blankenhorn is a contributing writer to ClickZ.

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