The Attention Merchants Book Notes: The history and business of trading Human Attention

The history and business of trading Human Attention

The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu is about the history and business of how people trade human attention. Human attention is arguably the most precious commodity in modern history, so this book studies the different ways this valuable asset has been acquired and used over the years.

I really like historical books because studying history is one of the best things you can do for pattern recognition and understanding the world better. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the latest controversy du jour, but putting things in a historical context gives you a better understanding of what’s really happening. More importantly it shows you that no matter how new and controversial and “life changing” a new technology or platform seems, it can be abstracted as a reinvention of something which already exists.

Tim Wu, does a really good job with this book and it’s incredibly well researched.

One room for improvement is I would have liked to see a bit more humor or sarcasm in his writing. To be fair, I usually don’t say this in most book reviews since I read almost exclusively non-fiction but since I just read Klosterman’s but What if We’re Wrong, the bar for writing style in non-fiction has been raised.

  • Book starts very strong. Tells the story of a company EFP, Education Funding Partners that approaches the Twin Rivers school disctrict in 2011 that they will give money to struggling school district in exchange for money. Also tell the story of a company in Florida that put the McDonalds logo on its report card (good grades qualified you for a report card)[4]
  • Funny enough I actually pitched this idea to a company I worked for before
  • I think my high school had a Canada Dry Logo in our gymnasium
  • But the book’s strong opening frames the problem very well. The human mind is an extremely valuable resource that both people and arganizations want to access.
  • Benjamin day invented ad-supported media at the age of 23 [10]
  • Snake oil salesmen used to literally sell Snake Oil as medical thing that would cure all diseases
  • Monotheistic religions demand the undivided attention of their believers [26]

Demand Engineering, Scientific Advertising, and What Women Want

  • Advertisers realized that if they want to get people to buy their products, they need to actually focus on the women
  • Tangentially, I’ve also realized that when I run Facebook ads for Atila. After the campaign ends, I look at the analytics and often we get better engagement from females
  • “The Nazis effected a shutdown of free thought in the land of Kant, Schiller and Goethe” [109]
  • Smart people make mistake of using facts in a complex issue [110]
  • For propoganda to be effective, in a sense it has to be less intelligent [111]
  • Hitler worked as a copywriter making advertising posters in 1910s [111]
  • Mention’s William Jennings Bryan Cross of Gold Speech [114], which I referenced in my [thoughts on money speech tk add link](tk add link)
  • West Germany decentralized radio to prevent repeat of Nazism [121]
  • Rosser Reeves unique selling proposition [131]
  • COmmercial break, weaver [136]
  • Game show called $64,000 question, reminds me of HAQ and who wants to be a millonaire [138]
  • Zennith Radio company did some very innovative stuff [144]
  • Commander E.F. McDonald was ahead of his time
  • Anti tv-ads reminds me of commercials, we still have tv and commercials, what does that say about social media? [150]
  • McLuhan and Leary had a meeting [152]
  • LSD was still legal back then
  • Pepsi as the “cool hippie” brand [158]
  • Hippies and consumerism [159]
  • “They [the hippies] are in the peak acquisitive years, and their relative affluence enables them to consume goods and services at a rate unheard of for their age level.” [159] – John Adams in 1971, but still very relevant to millenials today
  • “THe instrucment can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends” Murrow [161]
  • Mr. Rogers got his big break in Canada
  • How did advertisers win when everyone was advertising [168]
  • The adaptability of Capitalism
  • Jonathan Rabbin wsa ahead of his time with demographic advertising in 1950s and 1960s. Prior to that everyone received the same messae
  • Coke was able to market diet coke and Tab without cannibalization
  • PRIZM potential ration in Zip Markets [172]
  • Fragmentation of cable [175]. You should read Paul Graham’s “The Refragmentation” for more on this
  • Origins of Fox News [176]
  • Deja-vu history repeats 1985
  • “Zapping” people skipping commercials
  • “By the mid-1980s, CHannels magazine was among the first to notice a new way of watching TV, which it called “grazing”. “People, rather than viewing specific shows or even specific types of shows”, the magazine reported, “liked to sample in an unpatterned way a wide variety of what the medium offers. Their television diet comes from throughout the full buffet of shows” [178]

Email, “Check in”, Birth of the Internet, here comes everybody

  • Roy Tomlinson invented email mostly by luck, the @ symbol was pretty much an arbitrary decision and not intelligent design etc. [183]
  • 1973, 75% of network traffic was email [185]
  • Ray Tomlinson invents email mostly by luck [183]
  • In 1973, 75% of network traffic was email [185]
  • Stephen Lukasik used to carry his terminal around [185]
  • Gary Invern, marketing manager for DEC, first person to send email spam [188]
  • Ralph Baer invented TV games, predicted if he could sell 1% that’s 400k, sold 350K
  • Ironically, the last article I read last night was about a Toronto e-Sports team that focues on Overwatch or Activision Blizzard games and sold for around $50 Million
  • Space invaders, Japanese game, very addicting.
  • Amazing how many innovations actually start in Japan [192]
  • Even in early 1980s, video game inustry was more than film industry [194]
  • Fast flowing stimuli engage visual cortex, which is why people with ADD can focus in video games [194]
  • origins of Pac-man [195][196]
  • Lots of companies forewase rise of internet, compuerve, prodicy, genie, AOL [200]
  • AOL was the smallest but the only one still around
  • Prodigy tried to slow down popular features, 5% of users sent 3.5 million emails
  • worried that chatrooms would scare advertisers [206]
  • 123, 24-year old Henry Luce founded Time Magazine (trend of young people starting media companies, see Benjamin Day)
  • Decided to focus on stories about individuals, very insightful [218]
  • “Time didn’t start this emphasis on stories about people he insisted. The Bible did.” [219]

Interesting book reference, “telling the old story, the art of narrative preaching”

  • Time magazine, most succesful magazine [222]
  • People magazine pioneered “celebrification” of society
  • Red Bates pioneered athlete endoresments w/ O.J Simpson and Hert in 1970s [226]
  • Origins of the Smartphone “RIM” [308]
  • It’s amazing b/c I was in High School and witnessed the transition from everyone talking on BBM when I was in grade 9 to everyone using iMessage in grade 12. Same thing with the rise of Instagram in 2013 and rise of Instagram influencers [313]
  • End of book ties in hstiroy of attention merchants all together