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The Attention Merchants Audiobook

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2016 Tim Wu (P)2016 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"Tim Wu has written a profoundly important book on a problem that doesn't get enough - well, attention. Attention itself has become the currency of the information age, and, as Wu meticulously and eloquently demonstrates, we allow it to be bought and sold at our peril." (James Gleick, author of Time Travel: A History)

"I couldn't put this fascinating book down. Gripping from page one with its insight, vivid writing, and panoramic sweep, The Attention Merchants is also a book of urgent importance, revealing how our preeminent industries work to fleece our consciousness rather than help us cultivate it." (Amy Chua, Yale law professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and The Triple Package)

"Television entranced the masses. Digital media, more insidiously, mesmerizes each of us individually. In this revelatory book, Tim Wu tells the story of how advertisers and programmers came to seize control of our eyes and minds. The Attention Merchants deserves everyone's attention." (Nicholas Carr, author of Utopia Is Creepy and The Shallows)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Scott 10-24-16
    Scott 10-24-16
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "It's Been Sold"

    Ever wonder why you have so little attention for the important things in life?

    Your attention is being sold; it's been sold incrementally over the years.

    Marc Cashman beautifully narrates fifteen hours of a 'brief' history of tactics and trends in advertising.

    This is great book for you if you're interested in gaining control of your attention, find out where it's gone, who has taken it, and how they stole it from you. The why is money, but not for as much as you would think.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S. Yates 12-15-16
    S. Yates 12-15-16 Member Since 2017
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    "Largely a history of advertising"
    Any additional comments?

    3.5 stars. A well-done book that largely acts as a detailed history of advertising and how advertising has been amplified and exacerbated by the various screens in our lives (from the first screen, film, through subsequent screens of television, computers, and finally mobile devices). Wu briefly touches upon other, older forms of attempting to harness attention (religion and governmental propaganda being prime examples), but the bulk of the book is a catalog of the ever-evolving commercial efforts to wrest our limited attention from us in a ploy to sell goods. I think the book could have been better and more illuminating if Wu had spent some additional time explaining the science of attention, why we are swayed, and the cognitive reasons why the ubiquitousness of mobile devices is so devastating. That said, the book covers its topic thoroughly and is engaging if for no other reason than its topic permeates our modern lives. The book is at its best and most interesting as it heads into the 21st Century and tackles social media and the like, the way that social media makes us each a narcissus, and how the minute details that can now be tracked make attention harvesting easier and our need for escape from such harvesting all the more urgent.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Raleigh greensboro, NC, United States 03-08-17
    Raleigh greensboro, NC, United States 03-08-17 Member Since 2009
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    "perhaps george orwell was right"


    i travelled to connecticut recently, to attended my 35th college reunion
    one of my classmates had been a producer for ABC news for many years
    she told me, sadly, that she had recently decided to look for " non-TV " work

    TV only exists, she said, "...as a method, to deliver the audience to the advertiser..."
    network executives use programming only as the bait to catch retinas for commercials
    the needs and wants of the advertisers relentlessly obliterate all other concerns

    she suggested tim wu's book " the attention merchants " if i wanted to know more
    wu's detailed examination of corporate efforts to capture our attention is stunning
    advertising's " green-eyed monster " greedily wants to gobble up our very lives

    wars, depressions and life's various setbacks have all been used as marketing tools
    now, america's youthful fascination with social media is just " another way to get inside "
    mr. wu's book as an insightful and cautionary guide to our modern media driven lives



    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marjohn Love Rockport, MA 10-26-16
    Marjohn Love Rockport, MA 10-26-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Thought provoking"

    When I purchased this audio book I had hoped the author would elucidate what is going on with the rampant pillaging of personal private information. I fear nefarious use of such data. I was not expecting the author's deep, thoughtful historical analysis of the issues around advertising. Where he went, he went carefully and fearlessly.
    I am not clear if cloud storage of data existed at the time of his writing. The level of cohersion to force individuals to use such data storage services is something I find dangerous and personally appalling.
    I am an author and TV show host. Without my consent all my shows and the still photos I use to enrich the studio footage were uploaded to the cloud. I was then informed I had to pay monthly rent for the undesired storage or have the episodes removed from my home computer. Much data was mysteriously deleted from not only the mainframe but also my backup drive.
    I rebelled and was able to reclaim my ownership of my own intellectual property, at least for a short while. Lately I faced a more subtle upload requirement of unpublished text and perfectly functioning portable storage drives are now malfunctioning. I heard the term ransomware. I would love to hear this author's opinions about that and it's impact on intellectual expression and ultimately freedom of speech. If someone you do not know can delete your thoughts and words at will, how safe are you as a creative?

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
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    Steven R. Hall 11-08-17 Member Since 2015
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    "College intro course?"

    I found this book to be rather condescending and simplistic... never got to the internet section...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John 09-26-17
    John 09-26-17
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    "#mustlistenformarketers"

    Insightful and entertaining. Though, it's the modern advertising equivalent of "Manchester By The Sea."

    Recommend listening at 1.5x speed.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    V. T. 05-11-17
    V. T. 05-11-17 Member Since 2015
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    "Nice integrative review"
    If you could sum up The Attention Merchants in three words, what would they be?

    There is not much "new" per se in the book. Maybe some examples. However, it is a wonderful, focused, integrative review of the attention merchant industry. Highly recommend.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Carolyn Saund 03-30-17 Member Since 2014
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    "Dry but fascinating"

    A quite wordy by ultimately interesting history of attention in the US. Gets quite slow at times but the arc and points made offer a unique and interesting perspective.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Amazon Customer Columbiana, AL, United States 03-15-17
    Amazon Customer Columbiana, AL, United States 03-15-17 Member Since 2013
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    "This history of the impact of advertising"
    What did you love best about The Attention Merchants?

    Another reviewer called this the history of advertising. I think it would be more accurate to call it a history of the impact of advertising on us as a society. The Professor does a wonderful job of exploring what the ramifications of advertising have been over the years.

    A good example was how advertising for Newport cigarettes in the early part of the 20th century wound up making the same shade of green used in Newport packaging one of the hot fashion colors at the time.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The author makes clear that advertising is a form of propaganda, and goes on to explain what propaganda is and how it works. Today we think of propaganda as something evil, a way to send a subversive message. Professor Wu helped me understand that at one time the word propaganda had neither a positive or negative connotation, but was instead a method for swaying public opinion.


    Have you listened to any of Marc Cashman’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have, this one is equally as good as his others. Some narrators seem to get in the way of the story, but Mr Cashman does a good job of making the story be the star, the mark of a good narrator.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I enjoyed hearing about Edward Bernays and the impact he had on the world of propaganda and advertising. I'd heard of him before (most notably on the podcast 'Stuff They Don't Want You to Know'), but learned many new things about Mr Bernays from this book.


    Any additional comments?

    I think I enjoyed Professor Wu's work "The Master Switch" a tad more, but that I believe is due to my interest and work in the tech world. (If you haven't read it yet I highly suggest making it the next book you get.)

    When I saw this work though I immediately bought it and don't in the least regret it. I learned many new things, and it gave me pause to think about what impact advertising (propaganda) has had on me.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    J. Webber colorado 12-21-16
    J. Webber colorado 12-21-16 Member Since 2013
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    "Understanding what and who motivates our buying"

    Here is an educational opportunity to know why and who you are supporting with your buying habits and purchases. I enjoy the connection between the option to think of choice rather then impulse.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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