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March 4, 2009

Perhaps The Final Word on Availability of Bulk Chemical Prices

.: As many of you know, I've been waging a campaign for the past three years with ICIS Chemical Business in hopes that it would maintain and update the bulk chemical prices from 28 August 2006, which was the last time these prices were published in what was then known as Chemical Market Reporter. Selected prices had been updated for 2007 and 2008, and I recently wrote to Simon Robinson, Online Editor for ICIS.com, and asked if updates were forthcoming for 2009. Simon wrote back to confirm that this will not be happening, unfortunately. He wrote:

As you say it is that time of year again that your students start putting their design projects together. I am glad that you find the August 2006 numbers useful. We did up date them last year, but as I am sure that you realise 2009 promises to be a very tough year in the chemical sector and also for information providers to that sector. As such we can’t really promise to update the numbers this year, or fill in the holes that you have found in the database on our site. This is because our resources are going to be fully committed elsewhere.
Regarding my ongoing concern that chemical engineering students are and remain ICIS' future customers, and that consideration must be given to them accordingly, he wrote:
I appreciate that Chemical Engineering students are the seed corn that will ensure the chemical industry’s success in the future and are potential long term customers for ICIS products. However, they are not existing customers, and if 2009 is going to be about anything for companies operating in the chemicals sector it will be about servicing the information needs of our existing subscribers.

I thank Simon and Penny Wilson, his predecessor, for keeping the lines of communication open with me for the past three years as we worked to try to solve this very serious concern.

I hope that you will understand the hard commercial reality in which we operate, as part of a multinational company.

I wrote back to Simon, and expressed my disappointment in his response. I noted that these bulk chemical prices are the only resource for access to such data for chemical engineering students. I did thank him for keeping the dialogue between us open and honest, and asked if the ICIS Students site would be maintained, along with the 28 August 2006 price list, for the time being. He wrote:
Thanks for you kind and understanding reply. It is tough in the world of business at the moment and like other companies we’re looking at our cost base. That said, since the indicative prices are up on the website now, there is little danger of them coming down in the foreseeable future. I am not certain, though, that there will be enough resource here to update them this year or in the future. I realise that these numbers give your students the feel of a real life project, but this year some chemical prices have gyrated wildly and almost no price indications would have given them the certainty that a project would be profitable by completion. .

We are unlikely to significantly extend the students site beyond its current scope. But we are upgrading our ICIS connect site which might be a good place for your students to interact and ask questions of the industry directly.

So while I'm disheartened with ICIS' decision to no longer update the August 2006 prices, I am grateful to Simon for confirming that the Indicative Prices page will remain on the ICIS site for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we as engineering librarians will need to find other bulk chemical pricing resources for our chemical engineering students, which could prove to be very difficult indeed.