Is it ethical?

Seth Godin poses an interesting question. A website offers to tell you what common over the counter drug to take to stop vomiting if you pay them $5 via PayPal. Seth asks:

Other than trying to leave a legacy for future midnight surfers, the purpose of this post is to help us think about whether charging $5 for information like this is ethical–and if you think it is, whether it is possible to do it successfully for long…

Of course it is ethical to trade knowledge for money. We all do this everyday. Seth charges people to attend his seminars. They aren’t holding a gun to your head to make the transaction, and they probably aren’t the monopoly source for such information. In fact when you visit your doctor you pay for their knowledge, assuming by virtue of their medical degree that their knowledge is of value.

The ethical question might be a lot more complicated though if this company was the only source for such information.

Whether it is possible to do it successfully for long is another question. Seth already provided the information in this case, thus making the information free. And a good searcher will probably be able to find the information for free, meaning that this company isn’t really providing much value for that $5.

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