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Attention = money; why the attention economy is broken

“…the path to profit is to manufacture attention more cheaply than what you get paid for it.” Ev Williams

A big part of our economy is centered around attention. Some would argue we are living in a de facto attention economy. That is now our scarce resource. There are only so many waking hours in a day and every company and social media platform is fighting for their sliver of your attention.

However, the irony of the attention economy is that, while it has gotten easier to make and share “content” with the world, the quality of that content matters less than the attention it garners. Because that’s what the system rewards. Whatever you may think about Trump, he has mastered the art of attracting attention.

Ev Williams – co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Medium – recently wrote a piece on this topic called: Words still matter. It is very much about the mission driving his publishing platform, Medium. Here is an excerpt:

It’s not that there aren’t journalists, publishers, and thinkers doing great work and putting it out there. But the realities of the attention economy are very tough for those who create things designed for anything but the widest possible (i.e., lowest-common-denominator) audience. For ad-driven sites, the revenue per reader has been dropping for years (while the experience worsens and privacy disintegrates), leaving little room for research, fact checking, or polish… let alone nuance or complexity. The system demands quantity. It demands speed. And it demands little else — except our clicks.

Their solution is the Medium Partner Program. It is an “open paywall” that allows publishers of great content to lock some of their best content behind a paywall. Their view is that to fix the attention economy, we need to move beyond ad-supported lowest-common-denominator content. 

This not entirely novel, but they are calling themselves the first “open paywall” platform. I would be curious to hear your thoughts about this in the comment section below. I’ve had a few people suggest to me that I employ a similar approach for this blog. I’m not convinced.

1 Comment so far

  1. Well written! I have noticed the same trend in the attention economy. The quality of the content matters less than the ability to garner attention. In fact, I would argue that attention-garnering can be a separate system from content quality. I wrote this comment less on your content and more on my personal neuron “rule” to leave comments on WordPress blogs when I can.


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