Thursday, January 15, 2015

BPN 1701: In the year 1980: start of Dutch information industry

Young generations most likely are not aware of the existence of a Dutch information industry before the introduction of internet in 1994. The run-up to the commercial and public start of the digital Dutch information industry started in 1967 and 13 years later in 1980 the Dutch information industry went life with databases, videotext services and teletext information services, produced by existing and new companies.

The run-up to 1980
The digitisation of publishing information started with the automation of the typesetting process and storage on magnetic tapes. The process was figured out by Excerpta Medica and its sister company Infonet. Scientific publisher Excerpta Medica started phototypesetting and offline and online distribution, resp. on magnetic tapes and by host organisations such as Dialog since 1974. The expertise of Infonet was used by the reference team producing the Grote Spectrum Encyclopedie (GSE) and the national library system.  
In 1975 the management of Kluwer visited legal publishers such as Westlaw in the USA and started to discuss setting up a Dutch legal database. By 1977 Kluwer Legal was in the process of building up databases and having demos of the first legal databases.
In 1976 videotex was researched for introduction in The Netherlands. The Dutch state owned telco PTT expressed interest in videotex. A year later the Dutch public broadcasting company NOS started to study the variant of videotext, the text television service teletext.
The 1978 the consumer electronics fair Firato was the decision point to get serious about electronic services or stay behind. So in 1979 NOS decided to start experimenting with the official text television service Teletekst. PTT took the decision to start introducing a videotext service; also the Dutch publisher VNU set up a videotext consultancy service TVS (Toegepaste Viewdata Systemen). So two state companies and three private companies were preparing to go resp. public or commericial.

Race for digital information
The year 1980 started with firecrackers. VNU launched a media laboratory named VNU Database Publishing International. It was founded to research the digital opportunities in the business sector.
On April 1, 1980 two introductions happened. The public broadcast system started the television text service Teletekst, excluding the newspaper sector from this service. On the same day Kluwer Legal launched its Legal Database service commercially.

On August 8, 1980 the Dutch PTT started hosting the videotext service Viditel with VNU being one of the largest information providers with Jobdata, Teletips and Distrifood and several third party clients. In the same year Elsevier bought the US Congressional Information Service (CIS) for 43 million guilders; it considered the service to be a stepping stone for a comparable service of the European Economic Union (EEU).

It was clear that the race for digital information had started. Elsevier was far ahead with experience in the online database field worldwide and in the US. Kluwer had started the legal service as a new distribution channel for the legal information it owned. VNU set up a media laboratory in order to find its way in the business sector, but it failed as it did not own content and lacked a real policy. The two state companies just started the Teletekst and Viditel services on public money. However it was clear that the race for digital information distribution had started in The Netherlands. All three companies aimed at 30 percent of the turn-over coming from digital services and products in the year 2000.

Digitisation as part of the internationalisation
The race for digital information was not just limited to Dutch territory. All three publishing companies also got explicit on internationalisation policies. Elsevier had expanded already internationally with its scientific division. Kluwer started to look around in the scientific and professional sectors. VNU started its journey from Haarlem to Harlem at the business sector by buying the US service Disclosure and starting VNU Business Publications in London (UK).

Looking back after 35 years, we can conclude that Elsevier and Kluwer are great in the digital information industry and have established an international footprint. Elsevier is big with information services like LexisNexis, Science Direct and Scopus. Kluwer has specialised in law and health care and offers digital services. VNU is no longer since 2007, when its name was changed in Nielsen Corp.

No comments: