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[SEAOC] High price of codes

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There was a series of lively exchanges some months ago on the high prices
of codes.  ICBO in particular came in for criticism for the prices of
their CD-ROM products.  A common sentiment was that the electronic forms
of the codes should be available on the Net at no cost.  This notion
echoed the Homebrew Computer Club hacker ethic that prevailed in the
earliest days of the PC, when information and software were freely shared
and nobody thought much about making money from it (even Gates gave away
his Basic interpreter at first, and later versions were copied without
shame or guilt).  That spirit and expectation still linger among Net users
today.  It's the case that lots of stuff still are available without
charge on the Net.  But that era is winding down.  Shareware
notwithstanding, truly useful and good programs are free only for the
ethically challenged. A lot of the better stuff is at on-line sites that
charge by the hour, and even on the Net, the good stuff are starting to
impose site admission charges (like the WSJ site did recently).  Yes, it's
true that most soft/hardware vendors don't directly charge at their sites,
but the support costs are built into their product prices.  The bottom
line is that when people put in the time and money to develop a product,
they at least need to recover their costs.  For CD-ROM format products,
the production costs of the disks are miniscule compared to the costs
of lost sales of hardcopies made unnecessary by convenient access of the
electronic version to many users.  Those who argue for production-cost
pricing are out of touch with reality.
The above thoughts came to mind just now during a perusal of the NFPA
catalog in today's mail.  The hardcopy volume of the NEC is $35.50, while
the single-user CD-ROM version which is $99.95.  The entire 13 volumes of
NFPA codes is $675 in hardcopy, $500 for single-user CD-ROM, $950 for
single-user network CD-ROM, and $1,500 for a CD-ROM for 2 -5 users.  More
users?  If you have to ask, you probably won't want to pay it.<
In addition to NFPA, check out the prices for hardcopy and/or CD-ROM
products from other non-profit outfits such as ASTM, AWS, AISC, AISI, ACI,
CRSI, ASCE, and ISO.  Most are higher than comparable products from ICBO.
Surely, not all of them are run by greedy nogoodniks.  To mangle a
metaphor, as much as we wish it to be otherwise, there are no free (or
even cheap) lunchs when a dish is labor intensive to prepare, and the dish
is available at only one restaurant in town.

Franklin Lew, SE
Building Official