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 ( a New Yorker and Fortune Book of the Year) and who coined the term "net neutrality"—a revelatory, ambitious and urgent account of how the capture and re-sale of human attention became the defining industry of our time. Feeling attention challenged? Even assaulted? American business depends on it. In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of messaging, advertising enticements, branding, sponsored social media, and other efforts to harvest our attention. Few moments or spaces of our day remain uncultivated by the "attention merchants," contributing to the distracted, unfocused tenor of our times. Tim Wu argues that this condition is not simply the byproduct of recent technological innovations but the 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 the explosion of the mobile web; from AOL and the invention of email to the attention monopolies of Google and Facebook; from Ed Sullivan to celebrity power brands like Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump, the basic business model of "attention merchants" has never changed: free diversion in exchange for a moment of your consideration, sold in turn to the highest-bidding advertiser. Wu describes the revolts that have risen against the relentless siege of our awareness, from the remote control to the creation of public broadcasting to Apple's ad-blocking OS. But he makes clear that attention merchants are always growing new heads, even as their means of getting inside our heads are changing our very nature—cognitive, social, political and otherwise—in ways unimaginable even a generation ago. "A startling and sweeping examination of the increasingly ubiquitous commercial effort to capture and commodify our attention...We've become the consumers, the producers, and the content. We are selling ourselves to ourselves." —Tom Vanderbilt, The New Republic "An erudite, energizing, outraging, funny and thorough history...A devastating critique of ad tech as it stands today, transforming "don't be evil" into the surveillance business model in just a few short years. It connects the dots between the sale of advertising inventory in schools to the bizarre ecosystem of trackers, analyzers and machine-learning models that allow the things you look at on the web to look back at you...This stuff is my daily beat, and I learned a lot from Attention Merchants." —Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing "Illuminating." —Jacob Weisberg, The New York Review of Books From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: 2016
ISBN: 9780385352024
Branch Call Number: OverDrive ebook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


From Library Staff

Your attention is worth money: here's how news outlets, advertisers, and pundits compete for it.

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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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