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The Attention Merchants
Cover of The Attention Merchants
The Attention Merchants
The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
by Tim Wu
One of the Best Books of the Year
The San Francisco Chronicle * The Philadelphia Inquirer * Vox * The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
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.

Ours is often called an information economy, but at a moment when access to information is virtually unlimited, our attention has become the ultimate commodity. In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of efforts to harvest our attention.
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. Wu's narrative begins in the nineteenth century, when Benjamin Day discovered he could get rich selling newspapers for a penny. Since then, every new medium—from radio to television to Internet companies such as Google and Facebook—has attained commercial viability and immense riches by turning itself into an advertising platform. Since the early days, the basic business model of "attention merchants" has never changed: free diversion in exchange for a moment of your time, sold in turn to the highest-bidding advertiser. Full of lively, unexpected storytelling and piercing insight, The Attention Merchants lays bare the true nature of a ubiquitous reality we can no longer afford to accept at face value
One of the Best Books of the Year
The San Francisco Chronicle * The Philadelphia Inquirer * Vox * The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
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.

Ours is often called an information economy, but at a moment when access to information is virtually unlimited, our attention has become the ultimate commodity. In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of efforts to harvest our attention.
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. Wu's narrative begins in the nineteenth century, when Benjamin Day discovered he could get rich selling newspapers for a penny. Since then, every new medium—from radio to television to Internet companies such as Google and Facebook—has attained commercial viability and immense riches by turning itself into an advertising platform. Since the early days, the basic business model of "attention merchants" has never changed: free diversion in exchange for a moment of your time, sold in turn to the highest-bidding advertiser. Full of lively, unexpected storytelling and piercing insight, The Attention Merchants lays bare the true nature of a ubiquitous reality we can no longer afford to accept at face value
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About the Author-
  • Tim Wu is a policy advocate and professor at Columbia Law School. In 2006, Scientific American named him one of fifty leaders in science and technology; in 2013, National Law Journal included him among "America's 100 Most Influential Lawyers"; and in 2014 and 2015, he was named to the "Politico 50." He won the Lowell Thomas Gold medal for travel journalism and is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.

    http://www.timwu.org
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 8, 2016
    Business is always trying to get our attention—and perhaps our souls—according to this lively if sometimes overwrought history of advertiser-sponsored media. Columbia law professor and net-neutrality advocate Wu (The Master Switch) takes readers from the 19th-century dawn of New York’s penny press, when media moguls first realized that the attention of readers was their “product” and advertisers their customers, through the propaganda of wartime Britain and Nazi Germany, the advent of television’s mesmeric power, and ultimately the current onslaught of garish pop-ups and click-bait junk-journalism fighting to hijack our eyeballs on the Internet. Wu’s critique of the Kardashianized spiritual malaise of our society of the spectacle—“We are at risk of being not merely informed but manipulated and even deceived by ads... of living lives that are less fully our own than we imagine,” he groans—feels old hat; the real problem seems to be simply how to prune back ads that have grown too invasive and annoying. Fortunately, his history is usually vigorous and amusing, filled with details of colorful hucksterism and cunning attention-grabbing ploys along with revealing insights into the behavioral quirks they instill in us. The result is an engrossing study of what we hate about commercial media.

  • Kirkus

    When something online is free, then the product being sold is you. Wu (Columbia Law School; The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, 2010) elaborates on that sobering note.Think of this next time you're browsing social media and a targeted ad goes floating by: how do they know to send that ad your way? The answer lies in the fact that there are legions of humans, and behind them busy bots and vast databanks, trying to get inside your head, determine your wishes and tastes, and, more than anything else, capture your attention. Wu opens his learned, skillfully delivered treatise by pointing to a phenomenon that ought to trouble anyone with a soul, namely, the selling of ads on school marquees, sports fields, and the like to fund school activities. The school board that approved the first such deal, Wu notes, realized that it "was holding an asset more lucrative than any bake sale"--namely, the students themselves, a captive audience almost by definition. But it goes deeper than that. As the author writes, every time we go online, we're being tracked and monitored, ambushes being laid at every click. One of the most interesting passages is his account of "clickbait," the villains of the piece, mild-mannered ad people, a brilliant MIT-trained scientist, and the Huffington Post, among others. The result is an all-out assault on our attention, as the "microfamous" fill our eyes and ears and the merchants work ever harder to pull down the wall between advertising and actual content. Wu closes this broad-ranging but closely argued argument by noting that given that our lives are what we pay attention to, we are now obliged to "defend the sheer reach of the attention merchant into the entirety of our lived experience." Indeed, and it involves more than simply turning off the TV--though that's a start. Forget subliminal seduction: every day, we are openly bought and sold, as this provocative book shows. COPYRIGHT(1) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2016

    The nature of our lives is at stake, claims Wu (Isidor & Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Univ. Law Sch.; The Master Switch) as he looks at how advertising has shaped people's lives. In 1833, Benjamin Day started selling broadsheets for a penny in New York City. His profit was not in the price of the newspaper, but rather in what he could charge for readers' attention, which for Day was the real "product" being sold. Wu shows how this trend continued through the advent of the first screen (movies), second screen (television), third screen (computers), and most recently the fourth screen (smartphones and wearable technology). From snake oil to Netflix, the author follows the rise of advertising, the shifts in technique, and the public response. Propaganda as advertising, "demand engineering" (creating the desire for merchandise that otherwise wouldn't exist), brand loyalty, targeted ads, and item placement are all touched upon. Wu further argues that consumer revolts have arisen before but never totally succeeded. His goal is for readers to be aware of how much attention they are giving away to others. VERDICT Part history and part social wake up call, this book is for everyone.--Bonnie A. Tollefson, Rogue Valley Manor Lib., Medford, OR

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Tim Wu
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