1st Edition

Modern Advertising and the Market for Audience Attention The US Advertising Industry's Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Transition

By Zoe Sherman Copyright 2020
    186 Pages
    by Routledge

    186 Pages
    by Routledge

    Modern advertising was created in the US between 1870 and 1920 when advertisers and the increasingly specialized advertising industry that served them crafted means of reliable access to and knowledge of audiences.

    This highly original and accessible book re-centers the story of the invention of modern advertising on the question of how access to audiences was streamlined and standardized. Drawing from late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century materials, especially from the advertising industry’s professional journals and the business press, chapters on the development of print media, billboard, and direct mail advertising illustrate the struggles amongst advertisers, intermediaries, audience-sellers, and often-resistant audiences themselves. Over time, the maturing advertising industry transformed the haphazard business of getting advertisements before the eyes of the public into a market in which audience attention could be traded as a commodity.

    This book applies economic theory with historical narrative to explain market participants’ ongoing quests to expand the reach of the market and to increase the efficiency of attention harvesting operations. It will be of interest to scholars of contemporary American advertising, the history of advertising more generally, and also of economic history and theory.



    Chapter 1 — Introduction: Audience Attention as Commodity, Commodification as Historical Process

    • Audience Attention as Commodity
      • Commodification as Historical Process
      • Audience Attention as a Fictitious Commodity
      • Sectors of the Audience Attention Market
        • Mass media
        • Outdoor advertising
        • Direct mail

    • The Dramatis Personae
      • Who We the Advertisers? Why Did Their Sales Practices Change?
      • Who Were the Advertising Professionals? What Were Their Business Practices?
      • Who Were the Consumers?

    • The Drama
      • Conflicting and Complementary Interests
      • Engaging the State
      • Growth

    • Conclusion

    Chapter 2 — Packaging Readers: Newspaper and Magazine Advertising

    • Introduction
    • Newspaper Readers as an Incompletely Tapped Resource
    • Magazines, Mass Culture, and the Expanded Production of Audiences
    • Pricing Audiences and Dividing the Spoils
    • Increasing Efficiency and Intensifying Resource Use
      • Extensive Mining of Attention
      • Intensive Mining of Attention

    • Advertising Professionals Advocate Changed Business Practices for Advertisers and Publishers
    • Conclusion

    Chapter 3 — Pricing the Eyes of Passersby: Outdoor Advertising

    • Introduction
    • The Outdoor Advertising Supply Chain
    • Monopoly
    • Efficiency Gains: Lowering the Cost Per Gaze
      • Audience Compulsion
      • Material Inputs

    • Sequential Rents in Outdoor Advertising
    • Urbanization and the Governance of Public Space
    • Conclusion

    Chapter 4 — Home Invasion: Advertising Delivered Door-to-Door

    • Introduction
    • Mining Data to Compile the Mailing List
    • Social Barriers to Data Collection
    • The Mailing List as Asset and as Commodity
    • Mailing List Operating Costs
      • Creative Content
      • Paper
      • Printing
      • Addressing and Mailing

    • Technologies and Labor Processes in the Information Economy
      • Encoding Information
      • Office Workers
      • Mechanized Information Processing

    • Audience Control
    • Approaching the Supply Chain as Supplicant or Disciplinarian
    • Disciplining the Profession
    • Conclusion

    Chapter 5 — Conclusion: Multimedia Demands on the Resource of Attention

    • Advertising of All Sorts
      • Billboards vs. Newspapers
        • Decade of conflict: the 1890s
        • Détente: after 1900

      • Direct Mail Enters the Fray

    • New Media Since 1920
    • Contested Property Rights in Attention
      • Attention Ownership Claims of the Interceptors
      • Attention as a Common Resource
      • Living in the Attention Commons


    Zoe Sherman is Assistant Professor of Economics at Merrimack College. Her scholarly writing has appeared in Rethinking Marxism, Forum for Social Economics, and other peer reviewed publications. Her popular writing appears regularly in Dollars & Sense magazine.

    “The chapter on data mining, direct mailing, and the new role of the federal post office in the advertising during the late 19th and mostly the early 20th century is densely citational with delicious detail, all organized according to a central thesis. I believe this chapter will likely be heavily utilized and referenced by future economic historians of advertising and marketing.”

    - Jack Amariglio, Professor Emeritus, Merrimack College

    “I find Sherman’s work on advertising extremely clear, rigorous, and persuasive. I am not exaggerating in saying that I find her work the best I have seen as a rigorous analytical treatment of the theme of the ‘culture industry.’”

    - Antonio Callari, Professor, Franklin and Marshall College

    “Since Marx wrote of the fetishism of commodities and Polanyi explored fictitious commodities, it has been clear that a key to understanding market economies is in the social creation of the commodity. This is what Zoe Sherman is doing: working as a historian as well as a social scientist, she is reconstructing the political and social creation of consumer attention as a commodity.”

    - Gerald Friedman, Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst