Submitted by Robert Felt on January 17, 2007 - 11:00am.

The Term Debate Begins

In the considerations for E.A.M.S.C. the publication decision we faced was not whether to start a term debate, but whether to produce a literature to rival those books already being adopted by what was then called "the acupuncture schools." This was the obvious commercial choice because it was not only the central market, but also the only substantive market. However, such a choice had both commercial and practical consequences we had to consider.

Because I came to C.M. from the book trade, rather than to the book trade from C.M., I understood the problem of building a new literature as a problem of distribution. Distribution is needed to create new markets and is essential to attracting investment in established markets because it is the means of acquiring a cash flow from the publications . Because I was (and remain) a principal of Redwing Book Company, it was important to avoid becoming known as a "knock off press." (A knock off press is a publishing company that produces essentially similar, but less expensive versions of popular books.) This strategy works by letting the pioneering presses face the costs and risks of creation, then co-opting their market with "consumer pricing." Again, this is obvious commercially but highly problematic from the viewpoint of building a professional literature or developing a viable distribution system.

Distribution networks work because booksellers and book users are never married to a single publisher, rather it is their interest in a topic that drives their collection. In the short term knocking-off the earliest texts might have been profitable; it might also have ruined the chances for a functional distribution network. Unlike knocking-off yet-another self-help book in a genre engaged by many publishers, attacking the first C.M.-oriented markets could have retarded the field itself.

E.A.M.S.C. was a perfect answer. It would allow us to enter publishing with a valuable book line that would help us develop distribution, and create new markets for those presses already engaging the C.M. field -- without stepping on anyone's commercial toes. Wiseman's databases were already larger than any other source and in reasonable application in day-to-day clinical learning as well as projects such as test translations and Zmiewski's doctoral thesis (a translation of a classic ben cao, now lost). The databases also benefited from the contributions of some of the most advanced students of the time. It was the only choice for a foundation literature. The Zhōng Yī Xué Jī Chǔ was chosen as a first project because it was a widely used basic text in China and Wiseman had begun his linguistic research with it. As such it represented a broadly-accepted Chinese view of the basic knowledge in C.M., as well as an excellent test of term choices. As a text whose living authors favored the project, it was legally available. The one problem was the absence of acupuncture data in an era when several schools still openly opposed the teaching of "herbal" medicine. This was remedied by adding acupuncture information from similarly authoritative sources.

This, at least from my perspective, is how the term debate began, unintended and unexpected, with some of the most critical reviews of a book I have seen in more than four decades of intense interest and professional association with complementary medicine. Concentrated on our own view that we were not stepping on anyone's toes, we were actually surprised at the vitriol the book attracted. Once presented with these reviews, however, I realized that the toes we had stepped upon were not commercial but philosophical.