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Are PDF files of Merit Badge Pamphlets available?

Thank you very much for all the replies.

Given the fact that the BSA updated many documents when female scouts were to join, I also wonder how older version is close to up to date with requirements.

Our troop is new, just a little over a year old, but fortunately we are also a sister troop to the existing boy troop, which has been scouting for close to 80 years, so we have an access to merit badge pamphlet library that they have. However, majority of the books are very old (to the point that the cover is not in full color version) plus it is hard to track which merit badges are updated and not. Besides… scouts cannot come get them now, under Shelter-in-Place situation.

I wonder if there is any BSA Merit Badge Pamphlet “Library” system… where most up to date pamphlets can be shared amongst troops in much wider areas… (like mailing them to each other?) Just wondering.

Our troop is also a female only troop, and I read that Scouts USA had large number of people to go through all the merit badge pamphlets to change any sections which are male oriented, to gender neutral. I wish our scouts had access to those, but they are probably all new, and we do not have an overhead to purchase all brand new pamphlets for them to borrow.

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Well, I just saw a Bryan on Scouting post TODAY about the 2019 version Boy Scout Manual being published via Kindle, so maybe MB pamphlets are coming soon…

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An ad-hoc library system to be able to lend and borrow MB pamphlets between units was suggested by our UC and council chair, however as you pointed out, transferring between lenders and borrowers would involve violating the current shelter-in-place order, or if sending through mail would require lenders to pony up sufficient postage and borrowers to endure additional delays. All of which would not be an issue if electronic editions of the pamphlets were available.

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Well, the 2019 Scout Handbook for Girls has been there since Feb/March 2019. They responded to me about the Boys being there since Feb 2020. So, they know how to do it. It looks like 8 MBs. I am not sure if they are current requirements
or not.

They have in Kindle (I did not include some 3rd party knot books and others that seemed like knock off old handbooks):

  • Cooking MB

  • Communication MB

  • Sustainability MB

  • Digital Technology MB

  • Rifle Shooting MB

  • Cycling MB

  • Swimming MB

  • Space Exploration MB

  • Guide to Safe Scouting 2019

  • Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls 14th Ed

  • Scouts BSA Handbook for Boys 14th Ed

  • Handbook For Venturers

  • Venturing Advisor Guidebook

  • Venturing Awards and Requirements

  • Cub Scout Leader Book

  • Cub Scout Leader How To (old?)

  • Tiger Leader

  • Wolf

  • Wolf Leaders

  • Bear

  • Bear Leaders

  • Webelos

  • Webelos Leaders

  • Awards and Insignia

  • 2019 Guide to Advancement

  • Troop Leader Guidebook Vol 1

  • Troop Leader Guidebook Vol 2

  • Committee Guidebook

  • Senior Patrol Leader Handbook

  • Patrol Leader Handbook

  • Program Features Vol 1

  • Program Features Vol 2

  • Program Features Vol 3

  • Fieldbook

  • Administration of Commissioner Service (probably should be removed as it has been replaced by resources on the web)

Matt

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I’m surprised about Program Features 1-3. I thought those were available as PDF from troopleader.org.

ETA: OK, not apparently completely available in PDF. Looks like a mix of online content and printable PDFs of the forms. I kinda like that format better, anyway, as just having a Kindle edition seems like it would lack the printable features.

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It would likely be very easy for the BSA to withdraw the copyright on merit badge pamphlets and release them for free for all scouts under a Creative Commons license. If they’re terrified of losing the revenue, then increase the annual fee $1 per scout.

A scout helps other people at all times. A scout is also loyal, helpful, and thrifty.

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With the bankruptcy proceedings, the copyrights may be viewed as an asset so withdrawing them may not be easy.

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In this situation, I think BSA ought to make a temporary exception to the rule, like many major publishers of college textbooks are doing.

A reasonable exception would be to treat the book as if a paper copy were being shared. If the rules permitted the owner of a physical copy to scan and share with one scout at a time, and that scout agreed to delete the PDF when he/she was done using the material, it would be the same as sharing a book.

But, if BSA does not make an exception, scouts ought to respect the intellectual property rights of BSA and not engage in unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted material.

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As with everything else online, once it’s out there, it’s out there and the publishers/copyright owners no longer have any control over it. College textbooks typically come with an access code to get the online version of the textbook, and the publisher can nuke those codes essentially at will.

The MB pamphlets are in a different category – other than a few Kindle MB pamphlets, none of them have been published as ebooks by the BSA. They aren’t legally available electronically at all.

I wonder if they could offer them via Kindle for $0.00 and then “nuke” them, as you say, after a point. Or, just make them all available for $5 for those that wish to / can pay for them.

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You have to remember that the BSA is operating under bankruptcy rules which are highly restrictive. They have to get court approval for anything that involves spending money or would reduce their assets.

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Very good reminder. I read some of the documents and keep forgetting. They had to get approval to pay employees and vendors. All finances are under control of the courts until out of restructuring.

I have often heard the justification for restricting digital content is merit badge development is funded by the pamphlet sales. I agree with the concept but believe it is shortsighted the funding come from the consumer. The real beneficiary is the merit badge recipient. The merit badge program would be ahead to remove as many barriers to use as possible, and instead charge a somewhat significant fee for the merit badge emblem and “registering” the merit badge award; say on the order of $5 to $10. If not registered the award would not count for rank advancement. The pamphlet could be freely distributed by troops and content more easily integrated with programs. Physical printed books still available for the cost of printing and fulfillment. There are already too many examples where the copyright is being violated. It’s not working to protect the revenue stream.

These are all excellent points and ideas. I do agree that they could charge a small fee for registering a merit badge and charge a fee for a pamphlet. However, we may be overlooking a small point that only now dawned on me. With the advent of the internet, information is at their finger tips.

I asked my son a question earlier today about some trivial thing and he said he’d look it up on the internet for to get the answer. The only thing we need to help teach in that regard is how to cross-reference to verify fact from fiction. This is what we did with books in our college years and they do for their schooling now-a-days with the digital frontier.

I know this doesn’t help for all merit badges, but it can help with the theory for quiet a few. The rest is just a practical exam.

Thoughts?

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Merit badge development is not funded by pamphlet sales.

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In that case why are e-content not freely available

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.

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Here is the thing - the merit badge books are a loss item now. But for the most part - they just aren’t a needed expense. There are a few badges with requirements that reference something inside the book.

I would like to see them remove any reference from inside the book and drop the stupid things and let scouts actually you know do some research.

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The precedent is all of Sea Scouts curriculum is online for free

Man, I should have been a Sea Scout leader. Alas, my son gets seasick watching boats… :^(

That raises a different set of questions for me, though: how did they manage to do that, and in what way can that be leveraged for other purposes, without raising costs?