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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.

July 29, 2008

ICIS To Update August 2006 Bulk Chemical Prices

.: This morning I was in conversation with Simon Robinson of ICIS Connect, regarding the state of ICIS' historical bulk chemical prices from the 28 August 2006 (and final) issue of Chemical Market Reporter, now known simply as ICIS Chemical Business. My concern was twofold: 1) would ICIS continue to maintain this list and make it available to users everywhere, especially the thousands of chemical engineering students requiring these prices for their design projects, and 2) would some of the prices be updated to reflect 2008 prices, where available?

Simon confirmed both my concerns: the prices will remain, and ICIS will be working to update the chemicals to give indicative prices for 2008 where available. This is great news to those of us who work with students in chemical and materials engineering, who will be requiring access to such prices for their forthcoming design projects.

For those interested in the STLQ discussion thread involving ICIS and Chemical Market Reporter, all the posts can be found here. I am very pleased that ICIS remains committed to maintaining this price list, which is absolutely invaluable to students and faculty working in chemical engineering design classes.

Also of note is the actual ICIS Connect site itself. The site includes Forums, one of which is for Students. Students can post a question under headings such as, "I Need Help With ..." There is also a section, called "Downloads" (for now, anyway), in which documents of interest from many different categories can be downloaded for use, and users can also upload documents of potential use and interest to other users of the site. The term "Downloads" needs to be changed to better reflect the content of that part of the site, and Simon is working on a number of upgrades to ICIS Connect, including rebranding some of the content.

In order to make ICIS Connect successful and of use and value to our chemical engineering students, we need to publicize it, and encourage them to make use of the resources there.

April 1, 2008

ICIS Launches ICIS Connect

.: ICIS, publishers of the former Chemical Market Reporter, and now ICIS Chemical Business, has launched its new social community website, ICIS Connect. It a site described in an e-mail received today as one that ICIS hopes "will give our users, readers and people interested in chemicals a place on the web where they can ask questions and get answers, write their blogs, post their pictures and find information that will be generated by other users."

Of interest is the Forums section, which has a number of Discussions found under banners such as Business and Professional, Students, Consumer, and School. The only way for these discussion forums, and for the site itself to become active and robust is to spread the word, so please do so if you can - get the word out to your chemical engineering students and faculty members. I've already posted a entry under Schools about how good it would be to see Chemical Prices included as a separate discussion topic in the forum itself, as the lack of access to current chemical prices remains a serious sore point with us in chemical engineering academia. Nonetheless, I'm happy to see ICIS Connect is now available for everyone's use. Please register and see if we can contribute to making it a useful site for our students and researchers.

August 27, 2007

The Bad News From ICIS on Chemical Price Coverage

.: Readers of this site will know that I have written and followed up on the slow but steady decline in chemical price coverage by ICIS Chemical Business, formerly ICIS Chemical Business Americas, formerly Chemical Market Reporter. The last full set of weekly chemical prices appeared in the 28 August 2006 issue of Chemical Market Reporter, the final issue before it became ICIS Chemical Business Americas. Now we have reached a point where very few, if any updated weekly chemical prices will be available from ICIS, rendering its pricing coverage virtually useless for our undergraduate engineering design students.

In September 2006, ICIS Chemical Business Americas began maintaining and updating a significantly reduced price list of ~80 or so chemicals in each issue, while maintaining the 28 August 2006 list on its ICIS Students site. The bad news to report, however, is the following. On 16 July, ICIS Chemical Business Americas merged with ICIS Chemical Business (Europe, Middle East, Asia) to create one global magazine, ICIS Chemical Business. Details on this were provided here. As of the 16 July 2007 issue of the new ICIS Chemical Business, the section covering those ~80 chemical prices is no more. Two sections in the new magazine will cover some pricing information: Chemical Market Trends and Key Chemical Prices, which lists about 10-15 prices only.

ICIS Pricing is a service to which one can subscribe to get detailed reports, prices and analyses of key chemicals, including: Benzene, Toluene, Xylenes, Para-xylene, Ortho-xylene, Styrene, Naphtha, Methanol, MTBE, Ethylene, Propylene. A list of the markets on which ICIS reports indicates coverage is primarily in petrochemicals. ICIS Pricing also provides chemical price reports for "major chemical markets including olefins, aromatics, plastics, solvents and intermediates". The ICIS Pricing service is of no use to our students, of course, because it requires separate subscription funding for each report.

There is some good news: ICIS has updated some of the prices on the static page of prices from 28 August 2006 to reflect the second quarter of 2007, which will be of help to our students seeking current pricing information, and for this we are grateful to Sue Royse for her diligence. In e-mail conversation with Sue, I also learned that the NYC office of ICIS is looking into which of the ~80 chemical prices previously covered through to the 09 July 2007 issue it might be able to update on a regular basis.

The bottom line for all chemical engineering and other engineering students on campuses throughout the world, working on their capstone design projects, is that they can no longer use ICIS Chemical Business as a source for current chemical prices, at least not for the time being. This is very frustrating, but is the reality we as instructors and engineering librarians now face. There are few remaining options, one of which is to use the prices from the Sigma-Aldrich mega-site, which continues to list prices for thousands of chemicals, albeit in very small amounts. Students would need to extrapolate the price to get a figure that could be used in designing a chemical plant or process.

If you feel feedback is warranted on these recent changes, please e-mail the ICIS editor, Joseph Chang, at joseph.chang@icis.com, or ICIS Global Editorial Director Penny Wilson, at penny.wilson@icis.com. While I am very disappointed in this change in direction, I do know that both Joseph and Penny would welcome your comments and feedback. I have spoken and exhanged e-mails with both of them in the past, and they are very aware of the concerns I have raised over the past two years and have been gracious in their reception of my comments and concerns. The ICIS Students site, still being developed by Penny, emerged as a result of our conversations.

The video below, from the ICIS Pricing page, explains ICIS pricing methodology.




September 22, 2006

A Heartfelt Response: Penny Wilson, ICIS Global Editorial Director, Reaffirms ICIS' Commitment To Students

.: In response to previous postings about the sudden disappearance of Chemical Market Reporter, the shortly-thereafter emergence of the new ICIS Chemical Business Americas (ICBA) site, and the lack of available chemical prices therein, I have had two very productive conversations, first with Joseph Chang, Editor of ICBA, and most recently with Penny Wilson, Global Editorial Director of ICIS Publications. From their responses, I think it is safe to suggest that ICIS values its student readers highly, and that issues raised from the aforementioned events appear to be on the road to resolution, with a heartfelt commitment from ICIS to address the needs of chemical engineering and chemistry students, and their instructors around the world. I invited Penny Wilson to respond to my posts, and as with Joseph Chang's earlier letter, I am happy to present Penny's letter in this forum. She raises new issues for consideration, and seeks to involve us - librarians, professors, instructors and the students - in a forthcoming collaboration to create something of value and use to those in the educational setting. Penny writes:

Dear Randy,

Your well-deserved rant about our lack of attention to students' needs when redesigning the CMR website to accommodate our new magazine brand, ICIS Chemical Business Americas, sowed a seed so deep that it has preoccupied many of my waking thoughts. Indeed I have, for the first time ever, welcomed a few traffic jams - encountered on many roads deep in the English countryside - because they've allowed me more time to better form my thoughts on how we could better serve the student community.

It is true that in the whirlwind of a huge rebranding, innovation and change management throughout ICIS in which we have launched many new products and services, and significantly revamped others to answer to rapidly changing global needs, students have fallen off the radar. But I can assure you they have never left the screen. Actually, we're passionate about students because we can all remember what it was like to be one but much more importantly, they are the future generation of readers and users and we have to nurture them.

Your criticisms have spurred us into action but while we have a rudimentary map of what we would like to do, we need your help - and others from around the globe - to help us create a truly meaningful service that is sustainable now, and in the future. Most of all, we need students themselves to tell us what they want and need, harness that information, use it wisely, and deliver in spades.

I thank you wholeheartedly for agreeing to help us draw together an advisory panel, which in my view needs to spread globally to truly reflect needs and wants. This project will take time to bear fruit, and I ask only for patience and as much feedback as possible while we work it out.

Meanwhile, we remain immensely proud of the services and products that we DO deliver today - ICIS pricing, the 24-hour ICIS news, ICIS forecasting, ICIS conferences, ICIS radio, ICIS TV and, of course, ICIS Chemical Business Americas and its sister, ICIS Chemical Business covering Europe, Middle East and Asia. Much of this has been achieved in less than 3 years.

As with every business and rapid innovation, cracks appear and one has to work hard to fill them. Rest assured that we're not glossing over the one you have highlighted.

With kind regards,
Penny

Penny Wilson
Global Editorial Director
ICIS Publications
Tel: +44 208 6523921
Email: penny.wilson AT icis.com

Penny followed up with another e-mail to me, outlining ideas for a "student site" at ICIS. I will share these with you pending Penny's approval at a later date, and promise to continue posting about this new concept as it slowly unfolds. In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing back from anyone who would be interested in participating and contributing to such a student site. If you have ideas and feedback, let's hear from you, and please feel free to contact Penny Wilson and Joseph Chang as well. Finally, my thanks again to Penny, and to Joseph, for taking the time to respond to concerns raised on STLQ about their publication.

September 15, 2006

Joseph Chang, Editor of ICIS Chemical Business Americas, Responds To Concerns About Chemical Price Information in ICBA

.: In response to my criticisms and concerns about the changes to Chemical Market Reporter, and the sudden albeit temporary disappearance of its web site (with the chemical prices!) during the first week of classes, Mr Joseph Chang, editor of ICIS Chemical Business Americas has written the following letter, which is printed here in its entirety, and without comment from me. I had a friendly and productive discussion with Joe on the phone earlier this week, and offered him the chance to respond here if he wished to do so. I really appreciate that he took the time to do so, and note that he is receptive to our concerns. Thank you, Joe.

Letter from Joseph Chang, the Editor of ICIS Chemical Business Americas

I want to offer my sincerest apologies for the great inconvenience the revision of our online price pages has caused. We truly value the academic community and our educational subscribers and we are eager to continue a fruitful dialogue.

Let me explain the rationale behind the changes in our pricing section: Over the years, our magazine has shifted towards more news and analysis, and although prices are an important aspect of our product, they are our editors’ primary focus. As a result, many of the entries in the pricing section had not been updated for years, making them irrelevant or worse.

To correct the problem, we significantly narrowed the list of chemicals in the pricing section to those we can update on a regular basis. The entries that currently appear consist of 95 chemical prices: 28 commodity chemicals and 67 oils, fats and waxes. These are the prices we are comfortable posting, because we can ensure that they are relatively up-to-date.

We would rather put up a limited price list that is meaningful than a large price list that is suspect. That said, I understand that you would have been better served by some advance notice of the changes we planned, and I regret our failure to provide it.

As Randy Reichardt correctly observes, the students you teach are the future of our industry. We fully recognize this and aim to better serve you needs and interests.

I sincerely hope you and your students find value in our publication ICIS Chemical Business Americas, even with the narrowed—but more accurate--chemical pricing section. We also offer important news, as well as analysis and insights on major trends in the global chemical industry. As you guide your students onto their future paths, I can only hope that they make our publication a key part of their journey.

I welcome any of your comments and questions. Please feel free to contact me at 212-791-4224, or joseph.chang@icis.com

Joseph Chang, Editor, ICIS Chemical Business Americas

September 11, 2006

ICIS Chemical Business Americas Replaces Chemical Market Reporter - ICIS Disregards Its Educational Customers

.: I.: I don't know where to begin this time. I'm trying hard to contain my anger. Last week I reported that ICIS brought down the Chemical Market Reporter site, virtually at the same time I was teaching a class of 155 chemical engineering students on, among other things, how to search CMR to find current chemical prices, a major component of one of their assignments. What I didn't realize was that ICIS had brought down the CMR site, and was redesigning it to become ICIS Chemical Business Americas. After learning about this the day after my instruction, the professor and I scrambled to get an explanation to all 155 students; we sent them a note advising that the new site would be up today (Monday 11 Sept 2006). I had hopes that the new site would at the very least return access to the full list of chemical prices. This did not happen.

Instead, in yet another example of a trade publisher's apparent disregard of its educational subscribers (which would include thousands of students studying to become engineers and needing access to these prices for their design courses), ICIS no longer is reporting most of the prices it previously reported on a weekly basis, with the following explanation:

These are chemical price indications based on pricing information obtained from market participants. Posted prices are updated on a periodic basis and do not necessarily represent levels at which transactions may have actually occurred, nor do they represent bid or ask prices. Price ranges, indicated by the two columns, may represent quotations from different participants, as well as differences in quantity, quality and location. Although prices are reported as accurately as possible, they do not carry any guarantees. The prices are intended as a guide for ICIS Chemical Business Americas readers and not to be used as a basis for negotiations between producers and customers.

The volume of prices has been narrowed significantly to those which can be updated on a regular basis. If you have any questions, please contact Editor Joseph Chang at 212-791-4224 or joseph.chang@icis.com , or CSC at 888-525-3255 or csc@icis.com .

This means that prices will only be posted if they change – a price doesn’t change for two years, it won’t get posted until then. My guess is at least 75% of the previously reported chemical prices are gone. If I had any doubts that ICIS did not consult with anyone in engineering education before these changes were confirmed, those doubts have been washed away with the deleted chemical prices.

I checked the Chemical Prices P-S for the week of 28 August - 3 Sept 2006, and counted 209 prices. For the period of 11-17 September 2006, Chemical Prices for the letters P, Q, R, and S total 36 prices, or an 82.% decrease in the typical number of prices previously reported in this alphabetic range.

What is it about trade publishers and their apparent disregard for their educational customers? I know, it's all about the almighty dollar, but good grief - what part of "we’re teaching your future customers” doesn’t resonate in the commercial world?

It doesn't matter that I have a bit of egg on my face from having taught 155 chemical engineering students how to search a site that no longer existed while I was actually teaching them. But there's a larger rub that really angers me.

As documented earlier, ICIS removed the chemical prices from the print edition of CMR in April 2005, moved the prices online, and decided to charge something in the vicinity of US$10,000 to access the prices online. After I and others raised hell about that option, Brian Gray reported that he had negotiated with CMR to allow educational institutions access to the most recent twelve months of chemical prices online, at US$415 - something for which we had paid in our print subscriptions in the first place! Later it was confirmed that unlimited access would cost us US$715! So for any of us in universities, colleges, etc., to provide access to the archived weekly chemical prices, we needed to ante up another few hundred dollars for a service that we had received as part of existing subscriptions for decades. Did I mention that these chemical prices are at times critical to an undergraduate chemical engineering student's education?

Now, said unlimited access gives us much less from Sept 2006 onwards. As such, college and university libraries supporting programs in chemical engineering and the chemical industry will need to decide whether or not to continue to pay an inflated subscription price for access to an online product, once extremely critical to undergraduate chemical engineers' education, or to cancel and look for the same information elsewhere.

Perhaps the writing is on the wall, and I'm too dumb to process it: for commercial and trade publishers, maybe future customers don't count until they actually exist.

September 6, 2006

ICIS Puts Chemical Market Reporter On The Bus - Could They Have Chosen a Better Time To Do This?

.: As if the timing couldn't be worse, in a move that further confirms how sadly out-of-touch trade publishers are with their educational customers, the Powers That Be at ICIS have dumped Chemical Market Reporter, and are launching a new title in its place, called ICIS Chemical Business Americas. Apparently it will be available next week. Meanwhile, when you visit the CMR page (the number one site for chemical prices) or ICBA sites, it says is "coming soon."

Dumb question: Could ICIS have done this at any time other than the beginning of fall semester at universities and colleges all over the freakin' planet? Perhaps. Yesterday morning I was extolling the virtues of CMR to 155 students in Chemical & Materials Engineering 200, using previously-designed screen shots to show them how to search for and find a chemical price. Oddly enough, each of them must find a price of a chemical in order to complete an assignment distributed to them yesterday in the class! I learned that CMR wasn't working when I received an e-mail from a distraught CME 200 student this afternoon. The last time I checked the site (a few days ago), it was working fine.

In the spring of 2005, after learning that CMR had dumped the chemical prices from the print version, and was charging something outrageous like ~US$10,000 to access the same information online, I led the charge to have the prices reinstated, or at least made available to educational subscribers at a considerably reduced rate. Read all the posts here if you like. Now ICIS pulls this stunt at the exact same time tens of thousands of chemical engineering, chemistry, business, and who knows what other categories of students are beginning classes, and need access to chemical prices ASAP.

Amazing, astonishing, but I am not surprised. I remember hearing that educational subscribers constitute perhaps 5-7% of CMR subscriptions, and I would expect the same percentage would apply to most trade titles in engineering and related disciplines. Trade publishers cater to their industries, and why not? The for-profit subscribers are their bread and butter. But what trade publishers tend to forget is that those of us at educational locations who subscribe to their publications are also teaching THEIR FUTURE CUSTOMERS. At this point in time, I seriously doubt such a concept has any resonance with them whatsoever, otherwise by now we would have seem some evidence to the contrary.

Sure, the new site might be up on Monday of next week, but even if it is, those of us who subscribe to CMR - er - ICBA, will need to reconfigure our tips sheets, resource guides, catalogue entries, etc etc. Like we have nothing else to do when classes begin. Never mind the additional embarrassment of having taught students in large groups, only to discover the site to which we were referencing has gone buh-bye. I guess it serves me right for using screen shots instead of going live during my presentation...

To put it mildly: ARGH!!! Idiot publishers. That sound you hear is my head banging against my desk.

Rant over.

April 22, 2005

Bonehead Move of the Year: Chemical Market Reporter Stops Including Chemical Prices In Its Issues

:: As reported in CHMINF-L by David Flaxbart:

Has anyone noticed the significant changes in Chemical Market Reporter? As of the March 28 issue, CMR has gone to a slick-magazine format. More importantly, the Chemical Prices section no longer appears. The CMR web site (http://www.chemicalmarketreporter.com/) provides access to this and other information only by registering with a subscription number, then logging in with a username and password. Obviously, this is not a viable solution for library users who have used CMR for years to obtain current chemical pricing information. I see no information on their web site about institutional web subscriptions, either.

CMR has just become much less useful for a library, and the publisher probably did not stop to consider this when redesigning the magazine. It's also unclear how Schnell, the longtime publisher, is related to ICIS, the new publisher.

This is the kind of news that makes me want to bang my head against a wall. What is up with this publisher? Once again, those of us in libraries supporting students and researchers who need critical nformation for their work and studies will be denied access because of a publisher's decision that most probably did not take the educational users of their product into account. Students on our campuses are studying engineering disciplines and when they graduate, many of them will become Paying Customers of publications like CMR.

CMR can be searched on Business Source Premier or ABI Inform. I searched it on BSP, and as expected, no "People and Prices" section is available past the v267 n12 21 March 2005 issue. The quality of the.pdf version of this section, when downloaded from BSP or ABI Inform has been marginable at best, but it was better than nothing, when the print edition might have been hard to track down for our users.

Having to use a subscription number plus ID and PW to access any journal is a useless exercise for libraries. This is an unwelcome development for libraries supporting chemistry and various engineering disciplines such as petroleum refining and chemical engineering. It will make it all the more difficult for students working on capstone projects in engineering design courses to secure prices for their research. Then again, students and faculty members don't generate subscription income as a rule, do they?

I'm also ticked because I recently completed an article for the Newsletter of the Chemistry Division of SLA on - wait for it - finding chemical and petroleum prices, and of course I mentioned the "People and Prices" section of CMR. (It was the editor, Mary Ann Mahoney, who e-mailed me with this news.)

I wonder if it's worth flooding the publisher with a number of angry e-mails? I will pass this information on to the chemical engineering professors on my campus, and ask them to consider taking some action about it; they will not be happy about it, to be sure. The editors of CMR may not have considered that this decision might alienate a few users, and yet this is what has happened; pity. Dumb, stoopid move.

March 26, 2004

Chemical Prices - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

:: Here at the U of Alberta, we have a number of chemical engineering design classes, in which students work in groups for the duration of the course, designing chemical plants and products. Most often, they require chemical prices, among many other types of information.

Chemical Market Reporter is one of the best sources for weekly (US) prices. What I've discovered, however, is that the Prices & People section of each issue, which lists said chemical prices, is indexed inconsistently in ABI Inform and Business Source Premier (EBSCO). Each Prices & People section begins with the phrase, Week Ending, with the appropriate date. Sometimes the section is indexed as "prices & people", other times it is indexed as "week ending..." (The "&" will work as a search word.)

In Business Source Premier, to find this section, you must search the phrase: (prices and people) or (week ending). Even then, the results are inconsistent. The 2004 results, for example, return the Prices & People section for v265, #s 1-6, 8-9, and 11. Why #s 7 and 10 aren't there is a mystery. ABI/Inform is worse - the most recent Prices & People column available is November 24, 2003.

The most frustrating aspect is that these two databases are advertised as full-text. It's a mystery why neither fully indexes perhaps the most heavily used section of each issue of Chemical Market Reporter. (Props to Kevin Lindstrom at UBC for addition information. Word.)