I’ll chime in on the “modest proposal” that costs be migrated from the MB booklets to the badge itself. It seems like an awfully big increase in the costs for a scout to achieve rank to make such a move, whether those costs are borne directly by the scout (units charge scouts “by the badge”) or indirectly (units require more fundraising or increase dues to cover increased costs).
What I mean is, a typical unit might have a MB booklet library of one (maybe two) copies of the booklet for the more popular merit badges, and a couple of copies for each of the required badges, assuming a unit large enough to warrant having such a library. Figure $6/booklet x (2 x 17 + 1 x 50) = $504, assuming two for each of the Eagle-required and their alternates (assuming I counted correctly) plus one each for another 50 badges. A quick look in a couple of my merit badge pamphlets suggests ~ 52 merit badges get new pamphlets in a two year period. Let’s assume 26 badges per year change, out of the 135 currently available (I think that’s right), or roughly 20% annual replacement cost for booklets.
MB’s are about $2.80 each. Assume each scout only earns the 21 required for Eagle (not realistic, but we’ll use it as a starting point), so that’s an additional 21 x $2.80 = $58.80 per scout for the badges themselves. This excludes the recognition cards, the blue cards, etc, since there’s no proposed change to the costs for those.
A unit’s costs might look something like this:
$504 + (0.2 x $504 + $58.80/Eagle x Eagles/year) annual costs
If we assume that a Star Scout is 6/21 of an Eagle, a Life Scout is 5/21 of an Eagle, and an Eagle is the remaining 10/21 of the rank (in terms of MB cost), we need annual estimates of the rates for achieving each rank to work out a cost. Rounding to whole numbers, I’m using an estimate of 4/year for Star, 3/year for Life and 1/year for Eagle. The numbers for our unit are somewhat higher than that, but the statistics are pretty lumpy. So, that gives a rough cost of:
$504 [sunk costs]
0.2 ($504) + (4 x 6/21 + 3 x 5/21 + 1 x 10/21) x $58.80 = $238 [annual costs]
ignoring MB costs for scouts partway through completing Star, Life and/or Eagle, and for those who get some or all of the MBs but don’t complete any of the top three ranks for other reasons.
Flip that around an look at a proposal to make the booklets free and charge $5-$10 for each badge. The calculation changes to:
$0 [sunk costs]
$0.2 x $0 + (4 x 6/21 + 3 x 5/21 + 1 x 10/21) x $58.80 x $5/$2.80 = $245 [annual costs]
$0.2 x $0 + (4 x 6/21 + 3 x 5/21 + 1 x 10/21) x $58.80 x $10/$2.80 = $490 [annual costs]
At the $5/badge price point, there’s not much change (~ 3% increase) to the unit’s annual MB cost in this simplistic analysis. Again, it neglects those scouts who earn merit badges, but do not complete rank, and it assumes that units are purchasing merit badge pamphlets vs receiving donated pamphlets from families, and that the pamphlets are being replaced at the rough average rate estimated for pamphlet updates. My guess is that both of these are flawed assumptions. Much of the basic information in some pamphlets isn’t changing, and updates are in some fraction or another “cosmetic” (e.g. dated photos/equipment examples), and to some extent based on changes to the requirements. Many units don’t update pamphlets that frequently, and just purchase copies of the Scouts BSA Requirements booklets, or wait for a donation from a scout who completes the merit badge. Neglecting the pamphlet replacement costs (i.e. assuming only direct costs for the badges), it’s a 1.8x cost multiplier (i.e. 80% increase based on $5/ea vs $2.80/ea)
At the $10 price point, however, there’s a rough doubling of annual costs, even assuming the unit actively maintains a current MB pamphlet library. Neglecting the pamphlet replacement costs, the multiplier is closer to 3.6-fold. That cost would have to come from somewhere, and many families/units can’t readily bear that kind of cost increase, particularly in light of the recent increase in registration fees that came out from both BSA national and councils.
As far as why the content isn’t freely available electronically, why doesn’t the BSA make everything program-related available freely? The simplest explanation is that everything costs something to produce and maintain. Whether it’s funded solely, in part, or not at all by sales of the pamphlets is beside the point. To maintain the program costs something. To pay for the copyrights to ensure that the material isn’t reused, altered or simply republished for profit by someone else (or worse yet, copyrighted by some troll who wants to prevent the BSA from using it) is not a trivial cost.
I’ll flip the question over? Why do you believe it should be provided freely, and the cost of development and maintenance should be transferred to the badges? You proposed a significant change, but didn’t really justify the reasoning for the change.