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[SEAOC] High prices for codes and standards on CD-ROM

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Regarding various recent e-mail by Gonzalez, Koczarski, Jones, etc. on 
expecting publishers of codes and standards to put their products on CD-ROM, 
and at prices comparable to those of hardcopies, a fact of life was not 
mentioned.  Yes, the primary missions of ICBO and SEAOC are to support and 
advance the profession of their members, not to be publishers. It doesn't 
mean, though, that the organizations should subsidize the members on the 
publications. In fact, it needs to be just the other way!  To keep membership 
costs as low as possible, these organizations depend on profits from 
publications (ICBO), and from seminars and classes (ICBO, SEAONC, SEAOSC, 
etc), to underwrite the services and activities that are provided to members. 
The wide-spread availability of their products on CD-ROM unquestionably will 
reduce the number of copies that are sold, which goes a long way in 
explaining the necessity for putting higher prices on the CD-ROM products.  
My department's recent actions illustrate the problem for the publishers.  We 
purchased 40 copies of UBC Volume 1 (admin, fire, life safety, field 
inspection) for inspectors and plan checkers, 8 copies of Volume 2 (design, 
engineering) for plan checkers, 0 copies of Volume 3 (standards) and 1 CD-ROM 
which is mounted on our network.  The folks who have only occasional need for 
code sections and standards in a volume now no longer receive hardcopies, but 
are expected to access the CD-ROM.  We also dropped the practice of placing 
hardcopies of all these volumes in the county clerk's office (and the many 
city clerk offices of cities contracting with us).  These volumes are adopted 
by reference in local ordinances adopting new building codes, and are part of 
the ordinance that must be kept on file by the county/city clerks.  We've 
received an opinion from counsel that by allowing a citizen who comes to the 
clerk's office to view any section of the codes on the computer monitor 
reasonably complies with the law.

The amount of services provided by ICBO, and the associated costs incurred, 
may not be appreciated by folks who have not given any thought to them.  The 
UBC and other codes published by ICBO are developed and maintained by 
building officials who serve without pay.  But the costs nevertheless are 
significant.  Public employees are seldom able to have their employers pay 
for participation in such activities, so ICBO picks up all these expenses.  
Aso, the high volume of maintenance work (350+ proposed changes just to the 
UBC this year) generates a lot of staffwork.  It also costs an arm and a leg 
to print and mail the large volumes that contain the proposed changes, the 
report of the decisions of the code development committee, and the challenges 
that are received and dealt with at the annual meetings.  And lets not forget 
the staff support that must be available for all the calls to ICBO by 
building officials and design professionals for interpretations.  A review of 
the non-profit ICBO's budget will show a lean operation, and certainly no 
excess profits.  What some folks feel are excessively high prices for 
publications and CD-ROMs are a fiscal necessity - there are no free lunches.

While this email has focused on ICBO, SEAOC faces similar, albeit less 
intense, pressures.  When I was on the SEAONC Board, I recall protracted 
discussions one year over continuing the practice of giving a free copy of 
the then newly-printed Blue Book to all members.  We were faced with 
increasing dues significantly or reducing the levels of services.  I can't 
recall the breakdown, but my impression was that about half of the copies 
printed were sold to people who were not members, or to firms that wanted 
more than one copy.  Dropping the freebie (it wasn't) would have been a big 
help to our revenues.  If the next Blue Book and/or other documents are put 
on CD-ROM, I'd expect sales to drop, and the squeeze on budgets that much 

Franklin Lew, C.B.O, S.E.
Building Official