The Attention Merchants Book Summary - The Attention Merchants Book explained in key points
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The Attention Merchants summary

Tim Wu

The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

4.4 (18 ratings)
16 mins

Brief summary

"The Attention Merchants" by Tim Wu explores the history of advertising and its impact on our attention, privacy, and democracy. It uncovers the techniques used to capture and sell our time and how they shape our thinking and behavior.

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    The Attention Merchants
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    Newspaper advertisements used to be strictly informational until one New York City paper changed the game forever.

    Nowadays, if you look at a news source, whether online or in print, you’re just about certain to stumble upon a litany of advertisements. But this wasn’t always the case.

    In fact, ads in the earliest newspapers, which date back to the start of the eighteenth century, were, for the most part, informational. They weren’t persuasive or loaded with gripping rhetoric; instead, they were simply there to impart facts. Much like the classifieds of today, they included vacancy notices, as well as a lost and found.

    Then, in 1833, a young journalist and businessman named Benjamin Day changed everything. He set out to launch his own newspaper, called the New York Sun and, to reach a large audience, began selling each copy for just a penny. With rival papers like the New York Times, the Morning Courier and the New York Enquirer each selling for six cents per copy, Day’s paper was a much more affordable option.

    However, selling a paper so cheaply was bound to generate a loss, as the cost of production would exceed the income from sales. To overcome this obstacle, Day invited businesses to place ads in his paper, charging them a fee for the exposure.

    Within just a few months, the paper had become an enormous success, selling thousands of copies a day. By the end of the year, the advertisements were bringing in a massive surplus and, within two years, the paper was number one in New York City.

    Day had shown, somewhat unintentionally, how a newspaper could be about more than just news; it could also do business and literally resell the attention of its audience.

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    What is The Attention Merchants about?

    The Attention Merchants (2016) details the history of the fascinating field of advertising. These blinks will teach you all about the “attention industry,” offering a historical account of how advertising has arrived at its modern incarnation.

    The Attention Merchants Review

    The Attention Merchants (2016) dives into the world of advertising, exploring how our attention has become a valuable commodity in the digital age. Here's why this book is worth a read:

    • It offers a fascinating history of advertising, tracing its evolution from the early days of newspapers to the present era of social media.
    • Through meticulous research and insightful analysis, Tim Wu sheds light on the ways in which our attention is manipulated and monetized by advertisers.
    • The book provides eye-opening revelations about the impact of advertising on our culture and individual lives, forcing us to rethink the role of attention in our increasingly connected world.

    Who should read The Attention Merchants?

    • Entrepreneurs and aspiring businesspeople
    • Veteran marketers, or those new to the industry
    • Tech industry employees, including programmers and developers

    About the Author

    Tim Wu is a policy advocate, law professor at Columbia Law School and frequent contributor to He’s the author of The Master Switch and head of the Poliak Center at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York.

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    The Attention Merchants FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Attention Merchants?

    The main message of The Attention Merchants is about how our attention is bought and sold by advertisers.

    How long does it take to read The Attention Merchants?

    The reading time for The Attention Merchants varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Attention Merchants a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Attention Merchants is a thought-provoking read that sheds light on the attention economy and its impact on our lives.

    Who is the author of The Attention Merchants?

    The author of The Attention Merchants is Tim Wu.

    What to read after The Attention Merchants?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Attention Merchants, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Mindful Self-Discipline by Giovanni Dienstmann
    • Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram
    • The First Rule of Mastery by Michael Gervais
    • Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein