Monday, January 02, 2006

VNU history (1)

During the Xmas recess I had taken along the commemorative book on the 40 years jubilee of VNU. Earlier I wrote about the beautifully laid-out and illustrated book. During the recess I had time to read it.

As I have been an employee of VNU twice, I recognised many facts. In 1970 I was the first editor to be accepted in the not yet existing editorial team of a new reference department of a VNU subsidiary. (The Dutch language encyclopaedia was the example of the Academic American Encyclopedia by the VNU subsidiary Arete, bought by Grolier in 1983). From mid-1979 till 1986 I was a VNU employee in the Business Press Group.

It is interesting to see the selection of developments and incidents the authors of the book made. Perhaps more interesting are the facts which are not mentioned. I am not implying that the authors purposely left developments out in order to hide misers; in fact the authors do not mince about with their opinion. About the Dutch and American encyclopedia projects they clearly state that they both were not a success and blocked a lot of capital for a long time. But in the field of new media I noticed two developments, which did not make the book: VNU Database Publishing International (this blog) and VNU Multimedia (next blog)

In the book you will not find the first VNU company dealing with databases. The first database company, mentioned in the book, is Disclosure, in which VNU got a minority share of 33 per cent in 1982. Not mentioned is VNU Database Publishing International, abbreviated to DPI. The company was launched officially on January 1, 1980. On January 2, 1980 a full page advertisement was published in the financial daily Het Financieele Dagblad and some national newspapers, telling about the new company and soliciting personnel. The company was directed by Jay Curry, the father of ipodguru Adam Curry.

The company was supposed to be a greenhouse, a kind of laboratory, where experience would be gained with technology and database products. One of the business units exploited videotext technology through consultancy, seminars and assignments for the production studio. Another unit started up a technology exchange database.

But the company had problems starting up a company, mastering new technology and developing new products, all in one go. It is the classic management problem in the publishing industry. If you start up a new company, there are no products and subscribers; if you put a technology unit into an existing company, you have a better chance as there are already products and subscribers.

Two years later it was clear that VNU database Publishing International would not make it as a company with products and services as well as customers neither as an international accelerator, as it only was limited to the Netherlands. By 1983 the few activities left were merged into existing companies and the first attempt of VNU entering the database field had failed. The next steps were taken in the States. After Disclosure a 55 per cent share in Interactive Market Systems (IMS), a marketing company with 300 databases. One year later a 50 per cent share was taken in the market research company Claritas.

Now the publisher VNU has turned into an information provider in a period of almost 20 years. Now the company is hanging onto its existence as IMS Health was a road too far.


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