The Marketplace of Attention

The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age

James G. Webster
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Marketplace of Attention
    Book Description:

    Feature films, television shows, homemade videos, tweets, blogs, and breaking news: digital media offer an always-accessible, apparently inexhaustible supply of entertainment and information. Although choices seems endless, public attention is not. How do digital media find the audiences they need in an era of infinite choice? InThe Marketplace of Attention, James Webster explains how audiences take shape in the digital age. Webster describes the factors that create audiences, including the preferences and habits of media users, the role of social networks, the resources and strategies of media providers, and the growing impact of media measures -- from ratings to user recommendations. He incorporates these factors into one comprehensive framework: the marketplace of attention. In doing so, he shows that the marketplace works in ways that belie our greatest hopes and fears about digital media. Some observers claim that digital media empower a new participatory culture; others fear that digital media encourage users to retreat to isolated enclaves. Webster shows that public attention is at once diverse and concentrated -- that users move across a variety of outlets, producing high levels of audience overlap. So although audiences are fragmented in ways that would astonish midcentury broadcasting executives, Webster argues that this doesn't signal polarization. He questions whether our preferences are immune from media influence, and he describes how our encounters with media might change our tastes. In the digital era's marketplace of attention, Webster claims, we typically encounter ideas that cut across our predispositions. In the process, we will remake the marketplace of ideas and reshape the twenty-first century public sphere.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31980-5
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    Digital media offer people countless choices. They can spend their time with hundreds of television networks, thousands of expensively produced films and TV shows, and a seemingly endless supply of websites, videos, and tweets. Some of these offerings are intended for large audiences; others are more narrowly directed to friends and followers. But almost without exception, their creators want attention. With it, they hope to amuse, build social capital, make money, or change the course of human events. Without it, their efforts are of little consequence. Media need an audience before they can achieve a purpose. And to find that...

    (pp. 23-48)

    Media users power the attention economy. Their decisions about what to read or watch or share, taken as a whole, create the audiences that sustain media and give them meaning. So our study of the marketplace of attention begins with them. The importance of figuring out what makes media users tick has been evident to researchers for a long time, which means there’s a lot of material for us to digest. In this chapter we’ll hear from economists, marketing researchers, sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, social network analysts, and people in communication and cultural studies. Each discipline has its own way...

  6. 3 THE MEDIA
    (pp. 49-74)

    Media provide people with resources. Not so long ago, those resources were limited and controlled by large institutions. Today, digital technologies offer people a host of tools that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Users can tap into media whenever and wherever they want. They can create and share media with their friends or the entire world. In fact, the line between traditional media institutions and users gets blurrier every day. Yet, old or new, most media makers want public attention and will do what they can to attract an audience. In this chapter we’ll consider the pervasive logic...

    (pp. 75-96)

    Each of us uses just a tiny portion of the media available to us. Our actions typically reflect a blend of habits and preferences, but our appetites vary and our knowledge of the offerings is far from perfect. So getting exactly what we want, when we want it, can be difficult. In the aggregate, the choices we make create something of value to the media—public attention. As a result, the media do all they can to create and sustain that attention, including everything from heavy-handed campaigns designed to enforce exposure to more subtle attempts at currying our favor. Users...

    (pp. 97-128)

    We’ve waded through a lot of material that suggests how audiences ought to behave. Users, the media, and the measures on which they both depend all play a role in how public attention takes shape. But there’s no consensus on what kind of audience formations will emerge from that combination of factors. Perhaps users, empowered with on-demand media platforms, will demonstrate clear-cut loyalties that effectively narrow their diet of media to a few favored offerings. But it could also be that the variable nature of our preferences leads to equally varied patterns of consumption. Perhaps digital media will encourage endless...

    (pp. 129-146)

    The first chapters of this book provided the pieces of a puzzle we have yet to solve. They described the predispositions of media users, the strategies and constraints of media providers, and the role of media measures—all of which influence public attention. But these strains of argument and evidence rarely come together in one complete picture of how audiences take shape. Rather, we confront a variety of theories about how people and systems are supposed to behave. The audience formations we just reviewed offer a rough empirical test of how well those theories work. Unfortunately, our expectations of audience...

    (pp. 147-164)

    Throughout this book I’ve noted the wildly different expectations that writers have about how digital media will affect society. Optimists see a rebirth of participatory culture. Pessimists see society being polarized into enclaves or silos. So what should we expect? The answer depends largely on how people use these new resources and the patterns of public attention that result.

    We’ve learned a good deal about audience behavior: how users and structures interact to produce different audience formations. I hope that provides useful insights into how media systems operate, but the purpose of this last chapter is to address the larger...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 165-220)
    (pp. 221-256)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 257-268)