Ethical Questions: Favorable Incompetence cover
Ethical Questions: Should I sell a controversial book? Cover of the book, Favorable Incompetence: Shining a Light on 9/11. Click on cover to find out more.

Sometimes, ethical questions come upon us suddenly. A few weeks ago, I promoted two new books I had written, Dirt Ordinary (conspiracies), and Favorable Incompetence (9/11). I’m still attempting to get the hang of this marketing game.

I knew that sales comes with its own measure of bumps and bruises. As a writer, I’ve experienced my own share of rejections. I learned in college to thrive on it. Learning only comes by exposure, and frequently that exposure includes rejection. Marketing is no different.

On Twitter a couple of different individuals made a big deal about selling a book on 9/11. “Evil! How dare you!” And, “You’re no better than the perpetrators.” Slam! Suddenly, I was facing an ethical question that took me by surprise. Should I sell my book or give it away?

Charging money for a book? Sacrilege! Well, not exactly. Charging money about a recent tragedy—that’s the apparent sacrilege.

Naturally, writing a book about some distant and ancient war would not be sacrilege. “Sure, you can charge anything you want for that tragedy, but don’t you dare touch my tragedy.”

Am I reading this correctly?

One Twitter member said that he knew the truth of 9/11 and that I should give away the book for free. I’ve given away lots of my writing. In some respects, I’ve spread myself pretty thin, writing for nearly twenty of my own websites, on topics from education to astronomy, and the Atlantis myth to computer programming.

I asked that Twitter member who knew the 9/11 truth if he had written a book on the subject, but he did not reply. I wanted his free book to see what truths he really knew. But apparently he did not take the time to write a book. So, he hoards his “truths,” keeps them to himself and deprives us of his knowledge. I suppose he thinks his time is too valuable to work for weeks or months on a book and then to give it away.

Yet, I knew before writing the book that I would not become rich by writing and selling it.

Ethical Questions versus a Perception of Value

Ethical Questions: bookstore where books are sold
Ethical Questions: How many books sold here should be given away for free? Bookshop in Much Wenlock, UK Photo: MichaelMaggs (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikipedia.org. Contrast and brightness enhanced.

All too often, people treat free things with disdain. It’s almost as if those free items are worthless. Even if those free items satisfy a specific need, the sense remains that it didn’t cost anything, so why worry about maintenance or other care.

I’ve heard examples of products or services that were repackaged (renamed with new descriptions) and given a hefty price, that sold as if they were wildly popular. Free quite often means “worthless;” and something with a price tag can be “valuable.”

When an entrepreneur wants to sell something, sometimes they will give away items to sweeten the deal. They fix a price tag on those items, and make the freebie seem more valuable. Now, you don’t have to pay for this, and this, and this; you get them all free, when you purchase this item at a heavily discounted price. Wow! What a value.

But it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all in the perception induced by words and opinion.

In order to keep the lights on, pay for the web host, keep the body alive with food and shelter, money is needed. If a book that tells valuable truths about a tragedy can help make people more wise, would not that be something of value? Would not the author of such wisdom deserve a small reward for their work and care? Among the ethical questions we could ask, is it fair for someone to demand that such a work be given to them for free?

Beyond Ethical Questions

Ethical Questions: Produce market in Barcelona
Ethical Questions: Should this produce be given away for free? Produce market, La Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Dungodung (PD) via Wikipedia.org.

Ethical questions would disappear in a perfect world. It would be nice to live in a world where money didn’t exist. That is the ideal. Everyone makes products and services available and always gives them away. No one hoards products or resources. They take what they require and give away what they don’t need. How could this ever happen? Everyone would need to eliminate self-concern and to live by a code of unconditional love, requiring nothing in return for their generosity.

The result of such an altruistic society would be an end to all wars, crimes and evil. No one would ever steal, because they don’t think of themselves, but only of the needs of others. No one would lust for power. No one would ever murder, because they value the lives of others, including those of their enemies, if such ever existed.

But we live in a me-me-me world that is reaching a critical mass of selfishness or separation. Psychopaths rise to positions of power and turn murder into conquest, and turn theft into “divine right.”

Should I sell a book of insights and wisdom, even if it concerns a tragedy many of us witnessed? For me, if the price tag offends anyone, I would recommend to them not buying it. But if anyone remains curious to learn, then any price might not be too high, so long as we have the ability to pay that price.

If you’re intrigued about books on controversial topics and fiction that makes you think, check out my publishing website.

This article was originally published 2015:1214 on RodMartinJr.com.

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