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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.

August 18, 2008

ICIS Chemical Business Updates Its August 2006 Bulk Chemical Prices

.: Good news to those of us who need access to current bulk chemical prices. Simon Robinson of ICIS Chemical Business in London confirmed in an e-mail today that 62 of the chemical prices on the 26 August 2006 list of indicative chemical prices, which was the last full list of bulk chemical prices published by ICIS in the final issue of Chemical Market Reporter, have been updated to reflect 2008 prices. Simon writes:

...we have managed to give updated prices on 62 materials in the list, which is effectively all of the prices that we cover in that list now. Our portfolio of pricing information is rather more focused on the petrochemicals sector than the fine and specialty businesses, especially since the merger of ICIS Chemical Business Americas and Europe into a single publication.

One of the features of the new list is that several prices are quoted over quite wide ranges. This is because there have been considerable variations in the price of a number of oil-based commodities. It might add a little verisimilitude to your students’ projections of profitability to see if they can find the minimum price at which their processes are profitable.

February 26, 2007

ICIS Returns August 2006 Archived Chemical Prices To The Web (Open Access) and Launches ICIS Students Site

.: Those who follow this humble blog are aware that I have been on a mission of sorts regarding ICIS and its publication, Chemical Market Reporter (CMR), which became ICIS Chemical Business Americas (ICBA) in September 2006. My rants posts included rants coverage about the removal of weekly chemical prices from the print edition of CMR in 2005, and then the sudden and unannounced end of CMR during the first week of September 2006, and the appearance a week later of its replacement, ICBA, complete with 80% of the chemical prices permanently removed from its weekly listing. I last reported that I had received a very positive response to my rants concerns from Penny Wilson, the ICIS Global Editorial Director, who reaffirmed ICIS's commitment to its student readers. Subsquent to Penny's first response, she forwarded a number of suggestions for what ICIS could provide on its website to be of use to students. These included:

1. Create a holding tank for company price announcements. In this way students will get a lot more than from the slimmed down list currently offered on the ICBA site. The latter is provided by ICIS pricing and updated regularly, but it is not enough for students themselves. The prices we offered on the old CMR site were a big attraction to students, even though they were out of date and very rarely updated by CMR which didn't have the resources to do so.

2. Create a kind of "my space" for student blogs and forums - it will be global and allow students to swap information and discussions, tips and anything else they'd like to swap across many oceans, or just locally. It needs to be self-governed in some way. Undoubtedly it would provide us with good fodder to follow in our own content, as well as helping us take the temperature of students' needs/wants/thoughts etc.....

3. Create a holding tank for interesting student papers so they can be shared and aired. Academic papers could also be accommondated. A kind of "think-tank" environment.

4. Create a space for employers to market their companies to the next generation of employees - no job ads of course, but they could talk about the career development and post grad training opportunities they offer.

5. Create a space/holding tank for press releases. This would allow students to keep up with the news of the day (however biased) and also help them get a handle on vital industry information.

Over the past few months, Penny, her ICIS colleague Sue Royse, and I have been in touch a few times, and last week, Sue called from London to advise that the first iteration of the new ICIS Students site is up and running:
Welcome to the first phase of our service to students. We intend to develop this area into an entire Knowledge Zone, with information designed to help students with their studies and to equip tutors with some teaching tools. We hope it will turn into a space in which students and academics worldwide can communicate and discuss issues with each other, and showcase their best work to the wider world, not least potential employers.
Included in the new site is the last set of full chemical prices from the last issue of CMR, dated 28 August 2006, which at the very least can provide students with pricing information that for the next while is not necessarily that outdated. Additionally, Penny is soliciting feedback on how to make the site more useful and robust, so PLEASE send her your comments and ideas.

So kudos to Penny Wilson, Sue Royse, and the ICIS staff for not simply giving my concerns lip-service, but actually walking the walk. Penny and Sue plan to consult with a number of chemisty and chemical/materials engineering librarians and faculty in the coming months, to improve the site and make it as useful to students as possible. What's refreshing to me is that this is a rare example of a publisher - a trade publisher no less! - responding sincerely and to the needs of a very small percentage of their readership - students, who are their future customers.