Isn't it counter-productive to ask for 384 Swiss franks for C11 or 352 Swiss franks for C++11, if the aim is to make the standards widely adopted?

Please note, I'm not ranting at all, and I'm not against paying; I would like to understand the rationale behind setting the prices as such, especially knowing that ISO is network of national standard institutes (i.e. funded by governments). And I also doubt that these prices would generate enough income to fund an organization like that, so there must be another reason.

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    Voted to close, off topic. ISO charges a fee for each one of their publications, not just programming language standards. They don't charge for the standard itself, but ask for a minimal fee for publication costs (possibly, ask ISO for exact answer). Also, why do you interpret "open standard" as free (as in beer)?
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 12:14
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    He is not interpreting it as such. He is just saying that if the stated goal of an organization is the wide adoption of the standards it produces, then one of the ways to help this wide adoption is making them freely (or at least cheaply) available. It is kind of like a guy at the street corner already getting paid to distribute advertising fliers and wanting to charge each passer-by a couple of bucks per flier.
    – Mike Nakis
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 12:21
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    A better question would be: Why does ANSI, a member of ISO, charges more for the same standard?
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 12:45
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    @Tamas Would you prefer Microsoft, Apple and Google to sponsor the C++ standard? ;-)
    – quant_dev
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 13:12
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is asking about the pricing of a third-party product.
    – user22815
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 23:29

3 Answers 3


With regards specifically to ISO standards, there is a question/answer in their FAQ that addresses why ISO standards cost money:

ISO standards cost money to develop, publish and distribute. Someone has to pay. The current system whereby users are requested to pay for the standards they use, not only sustains the development process but also, very importantly, ensures that the balance of independent vs. government, private vs. public interests can be maintained.

With regards to other standards organizations, I suspect that Yannis Rizos is correct in his comment and that it is similar to the ISO's stance. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a standard, and then transform it into a format that is consumable. You are paying for the time and resources that it took to turn that standard into the format that you are using and then have it delivered to you.

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    The people who actually write the standard do not usually receive any of that money. It all goes into maintaining the ISO bureaucracy. ECMA, for example, distributes its standards for free.
    – ibid
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 17:15
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    AFAIK, ECMA standards are open (at least some are), but those are free. W3C is free. Unicode is free.
    – Cole Tobin
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 22:27
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    Of course ISO claim that the money is being spent on development of standards. They'd say that in a world where it's completely true, and they'd also say that in a world where all the valuable labour is being done by unpaid volunteers who would've made it freely available if ISO hadn't convinced them to hand over the copyrights, and where literally the only thing that ISO does is rent-seeking to enrich themselves. I don't know which of those worlds we live in, or how I'd find out, but the fact that ISO says "we're doing something useful, honest!" doesn't help distinguish the two.
    – Mark Amery
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 11:30
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    So lame. Making people pay for a standard that is hoped everyone will abide by is so antithetical to its entire purpose. Like shooting itself in the foot.
    – Joe Flack
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 0:56

Many of the older standards organisations do still charge for their standards, but IMHO it acts as a barrier to wider adoption of the standards.

Many standards organisations already manage to provide their standards free. IMHO organisations like ISO and ANSI seem quite outdated by still charging.

Here is an arbitrary personal selection of important standards that can apparently be published free.

  • +1 That's a good list of standards that are available without any fees. Unfortunately, there are quite a few equally important standards that require larger fees than ISO.
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 13:27
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    You can get C# 5.0 for 328 franks from ISO or nothing from ECMA
    – Cole Tobin
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 23:30
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    As a doctoral student working on infrastructure and tools in medical informatics, I frequently need to cite ISO standards, but without being able to read them, all I can do is stuff others have written about them. It certainly makes sense for a company wanting their products to comply with an ISO standard to chip in for the cost of maintaining the standard, but for scholars and students it seems crazy. I would say the same about academic journals, except my university provides me access to most of those.
    – Sigfried
    Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 11:34
  • Thanks Sigfried. Actually I think the same applies to academic journals. Open access journals are the way forward.
    – MarkJ
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 7:16

Some points:

  • IIRC, the price of an ISO standard is directly a function of the number of pages in the standard, whatever the standard is.

  • Programming languages is one of the very few matter for which individuals may want to get a copy of the standard. For most matters, only companies (and sometimes an handful of them) will want a copy. And for companies, the price is indeed nominal compared to other costs (such as ensuring that their product comply effectively with the standard -- even for PL, if you are writing a compiler, 300 euros for the standard is what? 1 or 2 days for one person?, and people writing compilers, the standard libraries or books are the market for standard, most other uses aren't really pertinent).

  • When selling the standards, ISO is in competition with its member. ANSI, AFNOR, BSI, ... are also in the process of selling the documents. Those won't accept ISO to cut its price too much. Note that some of them sold the C and C++ for far less (ANSI had the previous version in electronic form at 30$, BSI co-published an hard copy edition; I've not found yet such a source for the latest version)

  • People of the committee are already contributing quite a lot of the costs (sometimes there is a fee, and then their time, they travel of their own expense, they provide sponsorship for the meetings)

  • Other standardization may be cheaper to get but participation can be more costly (ECMA gives freely its standards, but the fee for participation is far higher).

  • How much does ECMA serve as a rubber stamp, and how much of their own work do they do? While there's a definite role for a rubber-stamp standardization organization, that works less well for things in widespread use. Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 15:42
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    @DavidThornley, I don't know. I never participated in that. But I think it is for ECMA as it is for ISO, most of the work is done by members and so the amount of polishing depend on the interest of the members. With that in mind, I guess that there is far more collaboration for ECMAscript than for C#; but I could be wrong. Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 17:05

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