Thursday, March 15, 2007

Economics of Attention

I just finished reading The Economics of Attention by Richard Lanham. The book is so-so but makes some good points in the first couple of chapters. In the first chapter Lanham describes how the world has refocused value from objects to information about objects. He calls this stuff vs fluff. Marketing wins out in this world where brand recognition is more important than product value. One example he brings up is the importance of designers in web applications.

The most obvious new group of attention economists may be the computer-human interface designers. This branch of information design subsumes all the efforts at Web site design, amateur and professional, which we encounter on our daily voyages through cyberspace. The Internet constitutes the pure case of an attention economy, "Eyeballs" constitute the coin of the realm. If as one sometimes reads, Internet companies spend 75 percent of their money on marketing, this only makes sense in a world where stuff has given way to fluff. It should not surprise us that the dominant discipline, the economics that matters in this new theater, is design.
I mostly agree with this statement, but only on the surface ;) I think design is something that initially captures attention, but the attention will quickly dissipate if there is no "stuff" to back it up. Design is extremely important in an information rich world to refocus our attention. Value is what will keep us there for the medium term. And back to design, "ease of use" will keep us around for the long term.

He also talks about the notion of centripetal attention structures

Modern mass communications have created centripetal attention structures that bottle celebrity, and celebrities, for sale. Centripetal attention structures like these emerge so spontaneously from our behavior that they must be an inherited primate behavior pattern, part of our attention capital. So onward to our adoration of princesses, movie stars, and basketball players. These structures focus attention efficiently but on a very few people. They create machine-made fame.
I think this is very true and is an interesting human trait. I hadn't thought about this before and wonder if it's due to our natural tendency to organize information hierarchically. Or is it a Wisdom of Crowds behavior where we will predominantly pay attention to stuff other people are paying attention to? I think Surowiecki talks about an experiment in his WoC book where when one person was pointing up to the sky hardly any passers by stopped to look, but when a bunch of people were pointing then most passers by would stop to look. This causes the focus of our attention to land mostly on a few spots. Blog reading behavior is an interesting example of this. Even though there are millions of bloggers out there a small minority receive a majority of the traffic. We make celebrities of our top bloggers: TechCrunch, DailyKos, Engadget, etc.

In chapter two Lanham talks about economists of attention and holds out Andy Warhol as a prime example. Andy was all about maintaining attention on himself and capitalizing on that attention. Here are the rules of attention economy art as Andy Warhol practiced them:

  • Build attention traps. Create value by manipulating the ruling attention structures. Judo, not brute force, gets the best results.
  • Understand the logic of the centripetal gaze and how to profit from it
  • Draw your inspiration from your audience and not your muse. And keep in touch with that audience. The customer is always right.
  • Turn the masterpiece psychology of conventional art upside down:
    • mass production not skilled handwork
    • mass audience not connoisseurship
    • trendiness, not timelessness
    • repitition not rarity
  • Objects do matter ... Create stuff you can sell
  • Live in the present. That's where the value is added.


cks said...

If you haven't seen it, here's an interesting take on Lanham's book from the person who popularized the term "Attention Economy" (for "interesting" read "the guy who popularized the term a decade ago found it odd he wasn't mentioned at all in Lanham's book)

I don't find the original completely persuasive, but it is entertaining, informative and short.

Anonymous said...

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There are companies online that offers web development services, where you can outsource low cost webmasters to help ensure your website's appropriate layout and logo designs , SEO, lead generation, accessibility, efficiency and quality content.

I hope this helps!

Brad Maier said...

I think it could be argued that we have not moved from substance economy to attention economy but that we have meshed the two. In an internet economy that is so saturated with effective technology we have to find something else to differentiate between products and thus we gravitate to the product that holds our attention since most of the products are of similar effectiveness. Thoughts?

-Brad Maier

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