I’m assuming that everyone knows or has come across an ISO standard sometime during their research. ISO standards are developed by experts in a specific field. Through a consensus process, together they define generic specifications and guidelines to ensure that the relevant industry leaders adhere to the same requirements of products, processes and services.
With respect to the question, why one single ISO standard is so very expensive, the organization answers as follows:
“Developing, publishing and maintaining ISO standards incurs a cost, and revenues from selling them helps ISO and its members to cover an important part of these costs. Charging for standards allows us to ensure that they are developed in an impartial environment and therefore meet the needs of all stakeholders for which the standard is relevant. This is essential if standards are to remain effective in the real world.” (emphasis added)
The first argument is that costs occur and that the money is needed to cover those “production costs”. This seems like a rather valid point: the creation of guidelines on which industry members can agree upon (through a consensus process) seems like a tedious task. Nevertheless, these costs might have occurred either way. For instance, if the industry leaders did not establish such standards but legislators had, as then extensive lobby efforts are required. And such lobby efforts come at a certain cost too.
The second argument of the ISO is to ensure that they are developed in an impartial environment. Here I think some clarification is necessary, as the argument seems a bit blurry. Why would the consensus processes be biased if the ones agreeing on the guidelines knew that everyone could access them for free?
If the standards were free more people could peer-review them and/or blog about potential misfits. Therefore, the question arises: Are these standards so controversial that one would like to deter the greater public from knowing what there is inside and prevent widespread public discourse?
Anyway, in my opinion standards should be free. This point has been brought forward by others too. Reasons brought forward by some individuals of why ISO standards should be free are: