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Elsevier to Close Three End-User Portals
Posted On December 29, 2003
An in-house employees' newsletter, Elsevier Today, dated Dec. 3, revealed that a company review of portal operations had decided that "the contribution of this form of marketing to S&T's [science and technology] current business is not sufficient to continue the associated high investments." Therefore, Elsevier plans to discontinue operation of its three end-user portalsóBioMedNet (, ChemWeb (, and Some current activities will migrate to the main site, which may have some redesign.

Elsevier began working with portals 6 years ago. The BioMedNet portal alone has a stated 1,133,819 registered users, a number of knowledge workers that would seem more than enough to attract many a dot-com. Elsevier promises to meet any subscription commitments to users.

In making this decision, Elsevier pointed to the tough economic environment and to legislative changes that "make it more difficult to defray costs through advertising based activities using membership lists." Eric Merkel-Sobotta, director of corporate relations at Elsevier, provided a company statement.

"During our 6-year association with virtual community portals in the science and technology arena, Elsevier has tried a number of different business models in an attempt to make these portals self-sustaining, with only limited success. Lately, their principal role has been as a tool to market our products to their respective discipline areas. Having carefully reviewed the options available to us, we have decided that future marketing investments will be made in other areas and that the investments in the science and technology portals BioMedNet, ChemWeb, and will be withdrawn.

The portals are also home to paid-for products and we are currently evaluating how to integrate our essential service(s) and product(s) that are hosted on our portals within alternative solutions. No further investment in science and technology portals is planned though they will continue to operate as usual until the integration work is completed."

Membership in the portals was free, though requiring registration. Members could access free content that included news stories, e-zines, research updates, abstracts to articles from Elsevier journals, job postings, and access to abstract databases. For full-text access, users were referred to personal or institutional subscriptions. Institutional full access came through Elsevier's ScienceDirect service.

The portals also supplied pay-per-view full-text retrieval through a connection to ScienceDirect, one of the few routes open to the public without subscriptions. The BioMedNet service connected MEDLINE references for non-Elsevier material to The British Library's Document Delivery Service.

Unique sources on the portals included BioMedNet's, a catalog with technical details on research products and protocols, and, a job opening list divided by sector, discipline, and geographic region. BioMedNet also carried the Mouse Knockout and Mutation Database, the Pharmacological Targets Database (PTbase), and, a subscription service.

ChemWeb supplied free access to the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Chemistry WebBook, a reference source with chemical and physical property data for various compounds; U.S. patents from IFI/CLAIMS; Beilstein Abstracts; a Tools collection of online software hosted by ChemWeb; Ashley Abstracts database; NCI 3D database; and a PrePrint Server. offered free access to Engenius, a 2-year collection of abstracts to articles in key engineering journals; a Bookstore that included descriptions, tables of contents, sample chapters, author profiles, etc.; information on conferences and exhibitions around the world including information submitted by users; and a Post-grad Toolkit with a miscellany of information useful to advanced engineering students.

The portals will continue to operate until Elsevier decides what to do with them. What happens to the free sources remains undecided.

Originally, BioMedNet was started by Current Science Group, which sold it to Elsevier. Current Science Group now owns BioMed Central. Jan Velterop, publisher and director of BioMed Central, stated: "Neither BioMed Central or its parent company, Current Science Group, has been approached to acquire BioMedNet, ChemWeb, or any of the products that Elsevier is to withdraw. We have no plans now to launch new products to fill the need now vacated. BioMed Central already offers the biomedical research community an invaluable resource. We publish over 100 biology and medicine journals (available at and because all of the research published in these journals is open access, it is freely available to read, download, reuse, and archive."

"Open access" issues continue to plague Reed Elsevier. In February and March 2004, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee will hold an inquiry into scientific publishing. The inquiry is expected to cover high subscription prices, the backlash of academics, both faculty and librarians, and possible government support for open access. A Guardian article on the inquiry quoted the committee chair, Ian Gibson MP, as believing in the idea that "public funded research should be freely available to everybody to see it." This U.K. move would echo activities already underway in the U.S., from the Public Library of Science to the Sabo bill.

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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