Attention Merchants and Netflix

Attention Merchants and Netflix

Tim Wu is the author of “The Switch”, which is a book about the history of communication. His latest book is “Attention Merchants; how our time and attention are gathered and sold".


A similar book, but this time about the history of advertising. Starting with a man called Benjamin H. Day who invented the business model of reselling the attention of his audience in 1833. He created advertising.


Or what is now (in 2017) called brain space. In a world where everyone is suffering from ADD, how do you get somebody’s attention? How do you commercialise that attention when the average attention span is now less that of a goldfish?

No scare mongering

I was expecting a book like “The shallows” or “The end of absence” or “Digital versus human”. None of that. A factual progression of the advertising medium across the years. 

From Benjamin to Reed (Hastings) 

About the ongoing fragmentation of the media and the difficulty in that fragmentation to capture anyone's attention. The journey from newspaper to posters, radio, TV, the internet, gaming, AOL, MTV, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Buzzfeed and Netflix.

Some interesting facts

  • The first computer game was introduced in 1972 
  • In 1978 segmentation was invented, it was called PRIZM (Potential Ratings in ZIP Markets), which created the beginning of the media fragmentation
  • The first spam mail was sent in May 1978
  • In 2011 Netflix bought the rights to “House of Cards” for a 100 million dollars


The book is a historical overview about attention fragmentation and media fragmentation. The surprise is in the last chapter. 

Netflix as the counter move

Netflix is the counter move (and there is always a counter move) to attention fragmentation. Netflix is the move to deep, sustained attention, without advertising. Netflix invented binge watching. Being so engaged and immersed with a programme that one can watch hours and hours in one sitting.

Bill Bryson

Like to finish with an adjusted quote from Bill Bryson (watched “Walk in the Woods” this weekend). Cracking quote, cracking movie. “Books are Netflix for smart people”. It is the ultimate immersion.


Pick a book for Easter. Any suggestions welcome.



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