The Attention Merchants

By Tim Wu,

Book cover of The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

Book description

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…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

8 authors picked The Attention Merchants as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

In today’s media environment of 24-hour news, clickbait, and social media, there is tremendous competition to grab our attention. Our attention and our data have become commodities that can be monetized and sold to the highest bidder.

I love this book because Wu places this struggle for our attention in a broader historical context, tracing its roots to a 19th-century newspaper owner who discovered that advertising revenue could bring in more profits than the price he charged for newspapers. This business model has been applied to radio, television, and now the internet, but the goals remain the same.

Wu is…

Although it is now a well-known fact that many actors are fighting for our online attention, and will do just about anything to get and keep it, Wu puts it all in historical perspective by going back to the 1800’s and the beginning of print advertising. 

He then traces our relationships with ads across a century and four screens: movies, television, home computers, and finally the cell phone. For the same reason that I enjoy reading history books to try to make some sense of the world’s current political chaos, this masterpiece by Wu should ensure you that nothing about…

I came into the ad industry during the long period of media stability from the 1950s to the 1990s, when we didn’t question the dominance of mass spot TV.

Those who have come in since then take other things for granted, like search or social media. But Tim Wu’s history of media helped me see the longer view – that while mass media continually evolve over time, through the interplay of technology, culture, and commerce, the fundamental principles of fame creation have stayed the same since P.T. Barnum.

This is an important read for understanding exactly how media operates in cycles of attentional capture and consumer pushback. It is a fascinating exploration of the history of attention extraction, and an inventory of the major shifts of how we as a society learn to deal with them. A fascinating and eye-opening read.

You may think you can tune out advertising, but you’re wrong. You may think it’s natural for so much entertainment to be available “for free” on all your digital devices. But most of us don’t realize how many businesses are profiting from harvesting our attention—and they keep finding new ways to entertain, inform, and persuade us, that we may not even notice them. I loved this book because of the engaging way that Tim Wu chronicles the history of the many industries that feed on human attention. He demonstrates how influencers, hawkers, celebrities, politicians, and pitchmen are not just salespeople,…

Marketing today is a battle for the customer’s mind-space. In Attention Merchants, Tim Wu lays out the stakes, the players, and the methodologies they use to grab and grasp space in the consumers’ mind. Marketing has transformed, for better or worse, from a game of cajoling the consumer through alluring branding and advertising to discipline of converting consumers’ attention into purchase and loyalty behavior. Tim Wu describes how this is done. While not intended as a “how-to” book, it is a must-read for any marketer with a conscience.

From Niraj's list on marketing strategy.

A companion piece to my book, I flatter myself to think. Tim Wu charts the rise of the attention economy to its current place at the heart of modern capitalism. Attention merchants - industrial-scale harvesters of human attention - have invaded every tiny moment of the day in order to sell that attention and data to advertisers. As more and more of our day has been consumed by media consumption, culture and politics have adapted as the arms race for attention escalates. Both broad and deep, it looks at our attention-seeking culture from the removal of an academic and considers…

From Faris' list on on how valuable your attention is.

If you use something on the internet for free, then you are the product. Your attention and your personal data are being sold to advertisers, either directly or through the social media platforms that have disrupted long-standing business models of media and advertising. Wu sketches the history of the commodification of human attention, and what the consequences are. As a cognitive scientist, I know that people’s attention is attracted by things that attract outrage and anger—whether we like it or not, we are attracted to negative emotive material. Put that aspect of human attention together with today’s social media algorithms…

From Stephan's list on the perils facing democracy.

Want books like The Attention Merchants?

Our community of 11,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like The Attention Merchants.

Browse books like The Attention Merchants

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in consumer behaviour, advertising, and marketing?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about consumer behaviour, advertising, and marketing.

Consumer Behaviour Explore 31 books about consumer behaviour
Advertising Explore 49 books about advertising
Marketing Explore 191 books about marketing