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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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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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.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Raleigh
  • greensboro, NC, United States
  • 03-08-17

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

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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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Great Perspective

The book provides an interesting historical perspective of how advertising came of age and developed to where it is today.

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Boring history book

Expected something more analytical but what I got is a plain tale about the history of advertising and attention grabbing products/tech.
Too little on the current state of things. And whatever is said about the internet age I've know already.

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Bad

I want my money back please
As basically it’s a club ration of the material you can get online from the blogs in a put it together become a book for 15 hours long

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value of your life measured by what you focus on

very insightful book about the history the battle for our attention. well written and supported by research.

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It started out strong.

It started out strong. It was a good book and had my interest when talking about the advertising at schools and World War II's use of attention grabbing, but then it got 'average' talking about internet, social media and the Kardashians (Really, who cares about them?)

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Superb insights

This perspective on those who clamor for our attention is eye opening. See advertising from the side of Mad Men and Snake Oil salesman. All woven together artfully and readily understandable.