Wednesday, December 24, 2014

BPN 1699: Reed Elsevier acquired LexisNexis 20 years ago

Twenty years ago the Anglo-Dutch publishing company Reed Elsevier acquired the pioneer online information service LexisNedis. It was in fact twenty years, since Elsevier mounted its bio-medical files, EMbase,  on the US information service Dialog. These two milestones were great moments in the history of Elsevier, but also in the history of the online information industry.

In 1994, Reed Elsevier purchased one of America's oldest full-text information services LexisNexis. This pioneer had originated from an activity of the IT department of the paper company Mead Data Central. Since 1967 this department delivered full texts of legal rulings to the Ohio Bar Association. In 1970, the Lexis company was founded, that was to distribute legal information online. Later the news archive service Nexis was added. This service offered the full text of newspaper articles, for example, of the Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Inquirer. A great asset to the service in 1979 was the addition of the archive of the renowned New York Times. Thereafter it bought the news archive service Profile of the Financial Times. By 1994 Mead Corporation streamlined its paper and packaging business and sold LexisNexis for $ 1,5 billion to Reed Elsevier.

The acquisition of LexisNexis happened right at the turning point from online to the internet. Lexis was the main reason for Elsevier. Since 1970, the company had acquired the Congressional Information Services (CIS) as legal-political information service. In 1983, the CIS model was copied for the European market under the name of Europe Data. However, the company failed and in 1987 it was closed. But when LexisNexis in 1994 came on the market, it was an opportunity for Reed Elsevier as general publishing company with a consumer division, a business division and a scientific division buy the online information service. In addition to the newspaper archives as well as business and legal information, LexisNexis yielded many technical and marketing experience. This was used to establish online scientific information services such as ScienceDirect (1997) and citations index Scopus. Now LexisNexis has successfully converted to the internet world and has penetrated in companies, law firms, institutes, colleges and universities.

Excerpta Medica
Twenty years before the acquisition of LexisNexis by Reed Elsevier, in 1974, the first electronic publishing within Elsevier product was launched by scientific publisher Excerpta Medica (EM). This company was founded after the Second World War. The war had changed the scientific world. Before the war, the language used for scientific publications was German with publishers like Springer Verlag and Thieme Verlag. After the war this changed and English became the language of science. That meant new opportunities and new players in the scientific publishing world. EM was founded as an international publishing house in 1946 by Janos Freud and E. Landsberger, both German immigrants, in collaboration with Prof. M. Woerdman. The mission of the publishing house was to publish abstracts of biomedical articles. The medical discipline was divided into 15 sectors and from 1947, the first abstract magazine were distributed.

In 1957, Pierre Vinken arrived as an assistant abstractor/editor. Vinken studied medicine at Leiden University and was trained to be a neurosurgeon. Within Excerpta Media he eventually managed Section VIII, psychology and neurology. But besides work for this section, he also proved to be an excellent organizer and innovator. In 1964 he was appointed as chairman of the editorial committee and in 1966 as co-director of the publishing house. By that time the publishing company had a permanent staff of 54 medical specialists who took editorial responsibility for 35 abstract journals and reference works. The editorial staff produced the summaries of biomedical articles and allocated the index terms. In the mid-sixties the archive contained more than 1.3 million English-language abstracts and an even larger number of index terms.

(© 1980 NVB; Collectie Jak Boumans)

After his appointment as chairman of the editorial committee Vinken quickly developed plans for the publishing portfolio. He wanted enlarge the number of abstract magazines. In practice, this meant reusing a summary and index terms in several magazines. In order to avoid retyping the abstracts, to prevent typo’s and misspelled index terms and to save time and hiring extra hands, he thought about an automated production street.

During his tenure in the academic hospital in Leiden, he had come into contact with the Hospital Information System (HIS), under development by  prof. dr. A. R. Baker. Inspired by this computer project, Vinken ordered in 1997 a report with technical specifications, which the Excerpta Medica system had to meet. In his quest to realize such a system, Vinken met Frans van der Walle, an aeronautical engineer. He advised him the purchase of a computer, four linked NCR 315 machines. These machines and the data entry activities were integrated in a new software house, Infonet, a joint company of the publisher and Van der Walle. In 1968 a successful trial run was held and after the installation of the system in 1969, the production process was completely realised with the portfolio enlargement and all significant savings.

Barry Stern, head Sales EMbase (© 1980 NVB; Collectie Jak Boumans)

By 1974 Excerpta Medica - in 1972 acquired by Elsevier - began to distribute electronically its publications both to pharmaceutical companies for internal use of the research departments as well as to electronic online services such as Dialog Information Service and ESA/IRS. With the launch of the online version, EMbase, the company had become a pioneer of the online industry in the Netherlands and had become a money maker for Elsevier in time.
Illustration from a brochure of Excerpta Medica is printed in the book Tegen idealisme, een biografie van Pierre Vinken, written by Paul Flentrop; Dutch publisher Prometheus (2007)


Thursday, December 11, 2014

BPN 1698: Fading files

On December 5th, 2014 I told the story about the first daily newsletter to go online in Europe in 1984. The newsletter was marketed by VNU on Telecom Gold for some years and then an aggregator incorporated the newsletter in its portfolio, most likely on the host Dialog (these days a ProQuest resource). This is all I know about the life of the electronic newsletter. I mailed Clive Snell, who designed the marketing for the newsletter, to inquire about the life cycle of IDB Online, but he could not help (see mail below). Checking on internet you cannot find any edition nor even a reference to a source on internet anymore. There is a good chance that all the editions have not been preserved or just faded out.

Hi Jak,
Good to hear from you. I think you know more about all this than I do.

I have been away from that world for some 20 years
so can't help with any of your queries at all.
Best wishes

Looking further in my archive, I hit upon another electronic newsletter I contributed to in the beginning of the eighties. The Online Chronicle was a fortnightly online newsletter, produced by Online Inc, publisher of the print magazines Online and Database, later acquired by Information Today. The newsletter was started by the editor of Online, Jean-Paul Emard and ran from 1981 till 1988. I contributed European news to it, some 300 articles.  These were loaded on one of the oldest online information services, Dialog as file 170. Dialog originated within the aerospace industry Lockheed, was acquired by the owner of Reuters, the Canadian publisher Thomson and later sold to ProQuest.  No files can be retrieved nor a mentioned source  on internet. The only content I have left of the articles is a list of bibliographic data such as date stamps and 308 headlines. Perhaps I might have some of the information on a floppy disc, but who can still read a floppy disc.

Why should have these files been preserved? This is usually one of the first questions. In my view these online publications pictured a developing information industry, in particular of Europe, before internet came onto the scene. IDB Online was a monitor for the computer industry in Europe and could give insight how companies came about and computing was promoted throughout Europe. And the Online Chronicle presented articles about the young European online information industry before the word internet came into fashion.

Sample list of 30 European News headlines of articles for the Online Chronicle (Dialog File 170)  from 1982 till 1988 by Jak Boumans on a Superbrain PC (see photograph above)

Jr   Titel

1988 Agricultiural Abstracts On CD-ROM
1988 Elsevier Buys TWO U.S. companies
1988 German CD-ROM With Economic Formule
1988 Dutch Magazine Titels On CD-ROM
1988 Book Review – Electronic Publishing, Looking for a Blueprint

1987 Kluwer Announces Merger With Wolters Samsom Group
1987 Hoppenstedt Shows CDROM With Dataware Software
1987 Elsevier Makes Public Bid For Legal Publisher Kluwer
1987 Jim Ducker Leaves One Pergamon Company For Another

1986 10th  International Online Informaton Meeting Held In London
1986 Search Aid & Publications (European) – Business Guide Minitel
1986 Pergamon-Infoline After The Take-Over Of Orbit 
1986 Changes at MEAD Data Central International
1986 Three Scenarios For European Information Industry

1985 Finsbury Data Adds New Database
1985 Belindis Keeps Going
1985 Datasolve To Launch New Database
1985 Belgian Host Euris Stops
1985 Television Channel Used For Business Data Transport
1985 G-Cam Launches French Language Daily Newspaper
1985 Eurolex Sold To Butterworth by Mead Data Central
1985 Finsbury Moves Into The Black Afther 5 Years
1985 Excerpta Medica Ups Prices
1985 CNOL Goes With Data-Star

1984 Prestel Security Breach
1984 French Online Market 1983: FFR 100M

1982 Elsevier-NDU To Start Europe Data
1982 Belgian Host Belindis To Enlarge Capacity
1982 IEPRC To Institute Fellowship

Friday, December 05, 2014

BPN 1697: 1984 first daily online newsletter in Europe

Today, it is 30 years since the first daily online newsletter in Europe was launched at the annual Online Information Meeting at the Novotel in Hammersmith, london (UK). It was the business newsletter IDB Online, a newsletter for the computer industry. Daily, corporate newsletters were already well known in the US, but not in Europe, let alone newsletters for consumers. I had the honor to launch the newsletter on behalf of VNU (London) Ltd., a computer trade publishing house.

IDB, Informatics Daily Bulletin, was an existing daily newsletter that was like a two-sided A4 on yellow paper. It brought daily messages from the computer and information industry. Most subscribers were located in Great Britain; further, there were subscribers in Europe and the US. These subscribers receive the newsletter via the Royal Mail.

The idea for a online newsletter arose from the postal strikes by Royal Mail. After a strike subscriptions were halted, especially from the US and Europe. Another form of distribution was discussed. Plans were presented for a daily online newsletter, but the management team had its doubts. VNU had just made its first investment in electronic publishing with the acquisition of the US company Disclosure. And in Europe VNU had just burned about 15 million guilders (7, 5 million euro) with the publishing laboratory VNU Database Publishing International. But with a grant of 60,000 ecus (similar value to the euro) from European Economic Community paved the way.

The daily service was closely studied by looking at US examples. One example was the fortnightly newsletter for the information industry, Online Chronicle, file 170 on the host (server nowadays) Dialog. But the plan got solid when the email service Telecom Gold, a subsidiary of British Telecom, got interested. This service was unique in 1982 because at that time, email services and database services were split up; but Westinghouse incorporated email and database services in one machine. In this wat the daily newsletter could be loaded on the database service, while the headlines of the items were sent to the mailbox of the subscriber.

In 1983, plans were developed and pilot was held in 1984. The editorial staff continued working as it had always done. The electronic newsletter was produced with a WordStar text processor. The distribution of the paper newsletter continued to be mailed out with the Royal Mail. The electronic version was produced in the morning after publication and was loaded on the machine Telecom Gold before 12 noon. From 1985, a copy was bumped to the US online service Newsnet, who had the same Westinghouse software.

It was the first encounter for VNU (London) Ltd. with an electronic product. The marketing was developed by Clive Snell, currently co-founder and commercial director of Mylearningworx ltd. The online newsletter ran for several years independently, but was later included in an aggregate file and marketed by a syndicator.

 Alan Burkitt-Gray said in a comment ...
The paper version of the Infomatics Daily Bulletin was founded - without the initial support of VNU management, but as an idea of his own - by Tim Palmer. I'm surprised you don't mention him. In 1983 I was editor of Infomatics magazine and Tim was editor of IDB, sitting opposite me. I left at the end of 1983 to move to a different sector. Tim, with others, went off with colleagues to set up another company. VNU had never been a wholehearted supporter of the IDB.