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Chemical Market Reporter and Chemical Prices - An Editorial Response

:: Chemical Market Reporter dropped the "People and Prices" section from its print contents with the v267 n13, 28 March-3 April 2005 issue. This was reported on CHMINF-L by David Flaxbart (which generateed considerable response), and was followed with a rant of my own on this site.

Afterwards, I waited until we received the paper copy of the issue in question. After examining it and confirming the absence of chemical prices within, I sent a note to faculty members in the Depts of Chemical and Materials Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, as follows:

Hello to everyone in Chemical and Materials Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. I don't know if you are aware, but with the v267 n13 28 March-3 April 2005 issue, Chemical Market Reporter switched from a tabloid format to a slick magazine format, and removed their weekly chemical prices from the issues. The "People and Prices" section is now available online only, and requires a subscription-based username and password.

As a result, students and researchers no longer have access to the weekly chemical prices. In the engineering library world, we are astonished at this development. Thousands of chemical, materials and mechanical engineering students in universities and colleges regularly use CMR to find chemical prices for their design projects (among other research) - this is no longer possible with CMR's new editorial policy.

I recently wrote a column on chemical and petroleum prices for the SLA Chemistry Division E-Newsletter, entitled A Brief Guide To Finding Chemical and Petroleum Prices and Other Statistical Information (p4-5). The article was set for publication when CMR made its change, and I was able to append my entry, lamenting the loss of access to this very valuable and essential resource.

The editor of CMR, Helga Tilton, welcomes feedback on the new format. Her e-mail address is helga.tilton AT icis.com. My guess is that CMR does not focus on educational institutions, but on the industry primarily, and did not take into account the impact of this decision. I urge you to contact her to express your views regarding this change, which many of my colleagues and I view as a step backwards.
Following my e-mail, a post-doctorate fellow in our Dept of Chemical and Materials Engineering responded with a passionate e-mail to Ms Tilton, expressing her concern that it is now impossible for the average science and engineering student or researcher to access chemical prices. I was very happy to receive her support to get the chemical prices reinstated or made accessible to our students and researchers.

So imagine my surprise as my phone rang yesterday, and when I answered it, Ms Helga Tilton, Editor-in-Chief of Chemical Market Reporter, was on the other end of the line! She told me she had just finished speaking at length with the chemical engineering researcher, Dr Christina Faitakis, and wanted to speak to me as well. We had a candid and frank discussion about how critical it is to students, scientists, researchers and engineers in education institutions to have access to weekly chemical prices. I explained how our engineering students work in teams on their design projects, and cited examples of why chemical prices are a key component of these projects.

Another point is one I continue to hammer home with Standards Developing Organizations, which is this: it is critical for trade publications like Chemical Market Reporter to remember that the students in universities and colleges who make use of their publications on an ongoing basis are their future customers. While the number of educational subscriptions may pale in comparison to the number from industry, the impact of a publication like CMR on students is just as critical as with front-line engineers.

Ms Tilton was very receptive to our concerns, welcomed our feedback, and was pleased that we cared enough to respond to the change in policy. I told her I was extremely grateful that she would take the time to respond personally to our concern with a phone call. She told me that CMR is looking a couple of options regarding chemical prices: return the prices to the print edition, but on a monthly basis, and/or make the online "People and Prices" section available in an IP-protected environment without the need for an ID and PW. Neither option is guaranteed, but at least CMR is considering this, and that is all we can ask. Regarding the latter, there is also the concern about archiving the pricing data, and also, how would one cite the section if it only exists online, and is not part of the paper issue?

This morning, another University of Alberta chemical engineering professor wrote to Ms Tilton in support of this issue. To librarians in similar subject environments, please consider advising your faculty members of this development, and encourage them to write to Ms Tilton if they are so moved. Maybe we can make a difference.

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