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The baby boomers' concern with aging, children and environment, and their openness to alternative therapies, has made for enlivening changes in health publishing
Like a demographic bull in a china shop of statistics, the baby boom generation frequently is cited as the source of profound shifts in cultural attitudes. For publishers of books on health and healing, baby boomers, the bulk of their market, represent a massive audience that is likely to increase its interest in health books as it ages. "I don't think there's anything more current in people's minds now than health," says Elizabeth Perle, vice-president and publisher of Prentice Hall Press, adding, "This is absolutely linked to baby boomers and the aging of our narcissistic culture."
With increasing acceptance by baby boomers of nontraditional approaches to healing and recovery, the market for alternative health books continues to shed its "fringe element" image and to develop into a mainstream category. But with this new acceptance comes the risk of a glut of books overwhelming the market, particularly in the recovery area, and mixed feelings by many of its publishing participants about the possibility of mainstreaming ultimately leading to a "watering down" of the distinctive category of alternative health.
There seems to be little question that alternative approaches to healing are continuing to influence, and even merge with, traditional Western approaches. Will Thorndike, nonfiction/health editor of Walker & Company, observes that "alternative healing is more and more coming into the mainstream, and the types of people who are reading and writing about it are those who are seen as part of the medical establishment." As evidence of this transformation, Julie Feingold, sales manager of Moving Books, a Seattle-based distributor, compares her company's bestsellers with those on PW's trade paperback list. "How ironic that Moving Books, a small specialty wholesaler in the Northwest, primarily concerned with books on metaphysics, health and the environment, shares about half of PW's bestseller list! A distribution company that focuses on alternative healing materials must not be that |alternative' anymore if its titles are hitting the bestseller list of a trade magazine." Nothing that alternative health and healing shares some of the characteristics of the New Age movement that helped propel it to prominence, Feingold says that unlike New Age books, which have "really dropped" for her company, healing and recovery books are "phenomenally hot."
Likewise, Claire Zion, associate executive editor of Pocket Books, sees healing and recovery books as among the "few aspects of New Age that have remained worthwhile over time." While she believes that the New Age has become a "submarket" without the "huge potential" it once had, its substantial legacy in the health book market has been to bring about "an open-minded and more spiritual approach to these subjects, a lot of very new and valuable ideas."
As an example of Pocket Books' program of publishing alternative healing books that are "serious, helpful medical guides" for the average consumer, Zion cites Kristin Gottschalk Olsen's The Encyclopedia of Alternative Health Care ($8.95), published in January. While acknowledging "there are a few books available that provide overviews of different kinds of alternative healing methods, they tend to be hardcover." Olsen's book, says Zion, is intended to be a more accessible and objective consumer guide to alternative healing.
To Prentice Hall's Perle, the integration of alternative healing and traditional medicine is irreversible: "It will be very difficult to have books from here forward that don't address both the mental and physical aspects of illness, because the mind-body connection is here to stay."
An indication of the continuing strength of this trend is provided by the most recent books of Deepak Chopra, M.D. A proponent of Indian Ayurvedic medicine and a pivotal figure in the movement to integrate Eastern and Western medicine, Chopra has had a significant impact on the public consciousness of health, …