Attention to dollars, and other exchanges

I’ve been thinking a lot about the attention economy lately, so Brad’s excellent post about The Three Constituencies got me thinking about how attention figures into this triad of consumers, publishers, and advertisers.(What he calls subscribers I’ll broaden to “consumers,” since you often receive media from publishers whom you don’t really subscribe to. Watching TV, for example.)

Each constituency has something to give and something it wants:

  • Consumers want media which is interesting, funny, relevant, etc. In a word, something salient. They are willing to pay attention if they find something.
  • Publishers, if they’re any good, have people paying attention to them. But unless they’re into the starving artist thing, they want money. And they’re willing to give up some of their received attention in exchange for money.
  • Lucky for them, advertisers want people to pay attention to their ads. And they are willing to pay Publishers who can deliver that attention.

It looks like this:

has wants
consumer attention salience
publisher salience dollars
advertiser dollars attention

Consider our friend Joe watching a TV show.

  • Joe wants to be entertained (salience) so he watches (pays attention to) American Idol (Published by NBC).
  • NBC wants money, so it shows adverisements to Joe (gives some of his attention to Coke)..
  • Coke wants to influence Joe’s behavior (via his attention) so it gives money to NBC in exchange for showing Joe the advertisement.

Of course, the same pattern emerges for subscribing to a blog, or reading a newspaper.
This gives us a certain flow by which each party gets what they want:

consumer ←salience
publisher attention→

From this view, you can see that Google starts by greasing the salience-for-attention exchange, but gets paid by taking a cut of the dollars-for-attention exchange. And the genius of it is that they use the data gained in the first exchange to increase the value of the second exchange: they show ads that are more salient because they know what the consumer was searching for or viewing..

consumer ←salience
publisher attention→

The final exchange which completes the circle is when the consumer gives money to the advertiser in exchange for stuff. In our example, when Joe goes out and buys a Coke.
Brad’s distinction is rich. I expect to find more nuggets within it.

5 thoughts on “Attention to dollars, and other exchanges”

  1. Stan,

    The next place you will find richness here is in segmentation. What consumers find salient is different from person to person, and moment to moment. There are also two kinds of salience, intentional and serendipitous. These different categories of salience result in consumer (really, consumption) segments, which drives targeted publications, which allows advertisers to target certain consumers. The match between the targeting of the ads can be demographic (MySpace has a lot of teens, I’m selling Coke to teens), or it can be direct (Dogster attracts people with dogs, I’m selling dog toys), or instantly direct (I’m looking for a hotel in Denver, here’s a list of hotels in Denver).

    But I’d be surprised if no one had written a book about this.

  2. How do you account for the desires/motivations of readers who comment on blogs, submit their photos to their local newspaper, digg something or contribute to wikipedia?

    Maybe, just like publishers, these readers are seeking attention — in which case, it’s probably easier to think of them as publishers.

  3. Maybe, just like publishers, thesereaders are seeking attention — in which case, it’s probably easier to think of them as publishers.

    You’re absolutely right: Folks engaging in “social media” are becoming publishers. And beginning to marginalize the mainstream publishers in the process.

    This supports what (for example) Goldhaber has been saying about the Attention Economy; that attention is valuable even to inviduals, not just publishers and advertisers. Bloggers, social bookmarkers, Wikipedia updaters and Diggers aren’t working for free, they are simply being paid in the new currency: attention.

  4. I thought about this several months ago and jotted it down as a possible topic for a journal article: What governs reputation on the Internet? Do people create content (blogs, flickr, wikipedia entries, et cetera) to improve their online reputation? To share knowledge? To simply get a response?

    I suppose that there are a number of ways Internet users can be classified. Some folks want to share information simply because they feel the sharing of information is a good thing. Others do it because they want to feel “special”, get some attention. I’m sure there’s a lot of people in between those two categories. Maybe there’s a way to classify them based on economic systems, e.g., socialists, capitalists, et cetera?

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