The Attention Merchants

The Attention Merchants

The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

eBook - 2016
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"From Tim Wu, author of the award-winning The Master Switch and who coined the phrase "net neutrality"--A revelatory look at the rise of "attention harvesting," and its transformative effect on our society and our selves. Attention merchant: an industrial-scale harvester of human attention. A firm whose business model is the mass capture of attention for resale to advertisers. In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of advertising enticements, branding efforts, sponsored social media, commercials and other efforts to harvest our attention. Over the last century, few times or spaces have remained uncultivated by the "attention merchants," contributing to the distracted, unfocused tenor of our times. Tim Wu argues that this is not simply the byproduct of recent inventions but the end result of more than a century's growth and expansion in the industries that feed on human attention. From the pre-Madison Avenue birth of advertising to TV's golden age to our present age of radically individualized choices, the business model of "attention merchants" has always been the same. He describes the revolts that have risen against these relentless attempts to influence our consumption, from the remote control to FDA regulations to Apple's ad-blocking OS. But he makes clear that attention merchants grow ever-new heads, and their means of harvesting our attention have given rise to the defining industries of our time, changing our nature--cognitive, social, and otherwise--in ways unimaginable even a generation ago"--
Publisher: New York :, Knopf,, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780385352024
Characteristics: 1 online resource (viii, 403 pages)

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Nov 01, 2017

If you're looking for a survey of mostly American media that was and is supported by advertising, from postering to the Internet, then this book is for you. If you enjoy the game were you take a drink every time someone's Canadian nationality is mentioned, then this book is for you. If you're willing to slog through all 350 pages, you'll also get a few other interesting tidbits, but for the most part this is a rehash of what you're read before about media and advertising.

Dec 31, 2016

Tim Wu is a law professor at Columbia, and the author of "The Master Switch," an interesting book that led me to the "Attention Merchants." He takes the reader through one of the oldest American commercial quests, enticing consumers to buy things whether through the back of a medicine show, newspaper advertising, digital billboards, infomercials and cable television, and then the supercharged era of the Internet, search engines, online advertising, and culminating with Google and Facebook. The latter are the Twin Towers of the $60 billion online advertising business.

Attention merchants are all the folks--not just marketing like in the old days--whose job is to get you onto a site, maximize your dwell time, generate clickthroughs, and leave a trail that can be analyzed to better target ads for your next visit. Google, Apple and Microsoft offer free email, cloud storage and other services to cement the consumer's relationship with a particular platform.

A very techy and quantitative industry is described in clear prose and an informative style in this book. The references in the notes are good sources, and not outdated by events as some of these books tend to be.

A basic message is that consumers have been persuaded by the free software and other "perks" to give away their time to engage with Google, for example, for everything from entertainment, music, live sports, and photo sharing, all the while drawing more and more ads to your pages. In the meantime, your email history, searches of other sites from your browsing session, and now your photos (Facebook too) are being mined for predictive data about your identity and behavior. So, the software isn't really free, and the cost to us is lost time, productivity and greater stress.

The goals of advertisers and the platform owners in the era of the Attention Merchants are not consistent with our typical personal goals, e.g. to spend more quality time with my children or to destress from work.

This is a good book, from a knowledgeable source, about important subjects.

Oct 26, 2016

This is really good, well-written history on commercial media, but perhaps a far more enlightening book would be Black Ops Advertising by Mara Einstein. [This could just be my bias, as I always seek more vigorous uncovering of those who seek to draw the curtains shut on Reality!?]
But Prof. Wu does his usual outstanding job of providing us with the history, even mention William von Meister [some call him the Father of the Online Industry], although only fleetingly so.
[Sidebar: Did learn that George Wisner was the first official news reporter, and looking further he appears to be the ancestor of Frank Wisner, Sr., one of the founders of the CIA, and it would be Wisner's son, Frank, Jr., who together with John Negroponte formed the Franco-American Foundation in France, skillfully utilizing that country's media to foist a fraudulent scandal on Sarkozy's presidential opposite, helping to get him elected the first time around {Frank Jr. was technically the step-father of Sarkozy}. Richard Helms' family was also at one time the owner of Newsweek, I believe, although none of this was in the book, just my aside.]

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