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From FSGO x Logic: a revealing examination of digital advertising and the internet's precarious foundation In Subprime Attention Crisis, Tim Hwang investigates the way big tech financializes attention. In the process, he shows us how digital advertising--the beating heart of the internet--is at risk of collapsing, and that its potential demise bears an uncanny resemblance From FSGO x Logic: a revealing examination of digital advertising and the internet's precarious foundation In Subprime Attention Crisis, Tim Hwang investigates the way big tech financializes attention. In the process, he shows us how digital advertising--the beating heart of the internet--is at risk of collapsing, and that its potential demise bears an uncanny resemblance to the housing crisis of 2008. From the unreliability of advertising numbers and the unregulated automation of advertising bidding wars, to the simple fact that online ads mostly fail to work, Hwang demonstrates that while consumers' attention has never been more prized, the true value of that attention itself--much like subprime mortgages--is wildly misrepresented. And if online advertising goes belly-up, the internet--and its free services--will suddenly be accessible only to those who can afford it. Deeply researched, convincing, and alarming, Subprime Attention Crisis will change the way you look at the internet, and its precarious future. FSG Originals � Logic dissects the way technology functions in everyday lives. The titans of Silicon Valley, for all their utopian imaginings, never really had our best interests at heart: recent threats to democracy, truth, privacy, and safety, as a result of tech's reckless pursuit of progress, have shown as much. We present an alternate story, one that delights in capturing technology in all its contradictions and innovation, across borders and socioeconomic divisions, from history through the future, beyond platitudes and PR hype, and past doom and gloom. Our collaboration features four brief but provocative forays into the tech industry's many worlds, and aspires to incite fresh conversations about technology focused on nuanced and accessible explorations of the emerging tools that reorganize and redefine life today.


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From FSGO x Logic: a revealing examination of digital advertising and the internet's precarious foundation In Subprime Attention Crisis, Tim Hwang investigates the way big tech financializes attention. In the process, he shows us how digital advertising--the beating heart of the internet--is at risk of collapsing, and that its potential demise bears an uncanny resemblance From FSGO x Logic: a revealing examination of digital advertising and the internet's precarious foundation In Subprime Attention Crisis, Tim Hwang investigates the way big tech financializes attention. In the process, he shows us how digital advertising--the beating heart of the internet--is at risk of collapsing, and that its potential demise bears an uncanny resemblance to the housing crisis of 2008. From the unreliability of advertising numbers and the unregulated automation of advertising bidding wars, to the simple fact that online ads mostly fail to work, Hwang demonstrates that while consumers' attention has never been more prized, the true value of that attention itself--much like subprime mortgages--is wildly misrepresented. And if online advertising goes belly-up, the internet--and its free services--will suddenly be accessible only to those who can afford it. Deeply researched, convincing, and alarming, Subprime Attention Crisis will change the way you look at the internet, and its precarious future. FSG Originals � Logic dissects the way technology functions in everyday lives. The titans of Silicon Valley, for all their utopian imaginings, never really had our best interests at heart: recent threats to democracy, truth, privacy, and safety, as a result of tech's reckless pursuit of progress, have shown as much. We present an alternate story, one that delights in capturing technology in all its contradictions and innovation, across borders and socioeconomic divisions, from history through the future, beyond platitudes and PR hype, and past doom and gloom. Our collaboration features four brief but provocative forays into the tech industry's many worlds, and aspires to incite fresh conversations about technology focused on nuanced and accessible explorations of the emerging tools that reorganize and redefine life today.

30 review for Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    The internet has morphed through numerous stages to get to the current advertising model. Tim Hwang says that global model is so corrupt and corrupted it looks like the stock markets just before the Financial Crisis and recession of 2008. “The whole edifice of online advertising…is bunk,” he says. In his Subprime Attention Crisis, he explores the many ways it doesn’t work. The whole raison d’être of the world wide web seems to be personal data collection and surveillance. Hwang says the data coll The internet has morphed through numerous stages to get to the current advertising model. Tim Hwang says that global model is so corrupt and corrupted it looks like the stock markets just before the Financial Crisis and recession of 2008. “The whole edifice of online advertising…is bunk,” he says. In his Subprime Attention Crisis, he explores the many ways it doesn’t work. The whole raison d’être of the world wide web seems to be personal data collection and surveillance. Hwang says the data collected is laughable. Ten percent of the records have some data that is wrong, and as many as 85% are just plain wrong altogether. In a world where garbage in means garbage out, decisions made on this data are worthless at best. Yet they are the pride of the internet: it’s shining difference. It was supposed to be so highly targeted there would be no waste. For users, it meant ads speaking directly to them, based on sites they had visited, things they had purchased, and chats they had posted. For marketers, it meant finally knowing which half of the money they were spending on advertising was wasted, while improving the closing of sales because no effort was being inefficient. Turns out almost all the money spent on website ads is wasted. Users are not clicking or buying, and pinpoint targeting fails repeatedly. Compounding this disaster is the structure of ad placement itself, which has evolved from direct negotiation with various sites, to middlemen placing the ads for a fee. The problem is those middlemen are raking off a 70% cut, leaving the site with just 30% of the revenue from showing ads on their services. Sooner or later, Hwang says, both advertisers and their host sites will wake up to the ripoff. The result might be the complete destruction of the model and a whole new beginning for the internet. The way it works now is that two kinds of middlemen meet to place ads. One aggregator represents the sell side, with an inventory of empty slots on various sites. On the buy side are the advertisers who want pinpoint placement to take advantage of the internet’s supposed power to target individuals precisely. When someone lands on a page, the buy side and the sell side get together in an instant auction, placing some client firm’s ad on that page. The firm bought into that placement being precisely what it wanted: the right user landing in the right spot, interested and ready to purchase the firm’s product. Nothing could be further from the truth, and sales results prove it daily. Not only is the personal data wrong, but far from being of interest to the user, ads are all but totally ignored. When they began in the id-90s, ads were so new, people clicked on them out of curiosity. The clickthrough rate was an astonishing 44%, convincing many firms that the internet was where to place their marketing dollars. Today, the clickthrough rate less than one half of one percent, making it a worse buy that most other media. People are sick of ads, don’t want the distraction of clicking away from what they were doing and often resent the ads that come closest to actually being of importance to them. It is too creepy to have an ad know exactly what you want. Meanwhile, back in the process itself, marketers’ ads end up costing far more than they thought they would in the instant auction process. They pay more and get less exposure than they paid for. Some ads get placed at the bottom of the page, where the user might never scroll to before clicking away. As many as 56% of online ads are never seen by a human, just because of bad placement. Some end up on pages that are merely there to collect ad revenue and have no content. Some are fraudulent clicks made by bots. And of course, both bots and paid humans click away on the ads themselves to boost the (fake) results and thereby convince the sucker, er, marketer, to keep buying that space on that page. More than half of inventory is lost to click fraud or unviewable inventory. Hwang says it is “a massive global economy of fraud in the programmatic advertising marketplace. “ 51 But wait! There’s more. Users have taken matters into their own hands too. Free ad-blocking software has been installed on hundreds of millions of devices. Browsers themselves now come equipped with automatic ad blockers. Estimates are that 75% of North Americans use some sort of ad blocking, so they never see an ad at all. How long before the marketers wake up? How long before they admit their ads are not being seen, never mind being clicked by a highly reliable and curated potential customer? How long before the marketers rebel at the absurdly high cost per ad in the totally opaque and untraceable process of purchasing an ad space? What could possibly go wrong with this infrastructure setup? While consumers might rejoice at the ripoff of advertisers and their failure to increase sales or even be noticed at all, there is a very dark side to the joy. The whole web has arisen on the back of the ad model. Everything that is free on the internet is supported by revenue from ads. Without the marketers ‘ money greasing their engines – even if it is just 30% of the final auction price – millions of services worldwide will quickly starve to death. Hwang uses the buy and sell siders’ own words to show how closely the ad system tacks to the stock markets. He quotes numerous firms’ executives describing their auction systems as paralleling the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ markets. It seems they are just as blind and vulnerable as those markets, which took a decade to recover from the Financial Crisis they allowed to overtake them in 2008. But in this case, they might not come back at all. They are not institutions, but weak new companies with shallow pockets and no roots. It will mean a completely different kind of World Wide Web going forward. It might be subscription based, or perhaps services will be entirely sponsored by one firm. Or something completely different. The main point is a huge disaster is looming. No one is preparing for it, and no one knows what will replace the current system. This portends turmoil like the web has never experienced. If you had to pay for twitter, would you? If you had to pay for every Google search, would you? Of the dozens of free services you now use, how many could you even afford to pay for? So don’t get comfortable with your lovely set of highly focused bookmarks. All those sites are as fragile as the newspapers and magazines they so easily displaced. The internet as we know it might have the shortest lifespan of any medium to date. David Wineberg Author, The Straight Dope, or What I learned from my first thousand nonfiction reviews

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Breza

    I have an insider perspective on many of the things this book discusses. I run the data science department for a digital publisher. Among other things, I'm in charge of evaluating programmatic networks that we might want to use. I've come to the conclusion that, while there are good actors out there, much of the inventory on programmatic exchanges is rubbish. We're careful to work only with the good guys, but many publishers and marketers don't have the resources or knowhow to navigate this comp I have an insider perspective on many of the things this book discusses. I run the data science department for a digital publisher. Among other things, I'm in charge of evaluating programmatic networks that we might want to use. I've come to the conclusion that, while there are good actors out there, much of the inventory on programmatic exchanges is rubbish. We're careful to work only with the good guys, but many publishers and marketers don't have the resources or knowhow to navigate this complicated landscape. As a result, enormous amounts of ad spend are wasted on inaccurate targeting, opaque pricing structures, and outright fraud. Subprime Attention Crisis is the most complete and coherent argument I've seen about the state of advertising today. What would happen if the advertising marketplace that supports the internet's culture of free services suddenly imploded? The answer is chilling.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jenna (Falling Letters)

    Review originally published 4 Oct. 2020 at Falling Letters. I receivd a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley. Subprime Attention Crisis is one of four titles launching on Tuesday October 13 that comprise a collaboration between publishing imprint FSG Originals and tech magazine Logic. To quote the blog post announcement, “the four books in the FSGO/Logic series are brief but provocative forays into the tech industry’s many worlds, inciting fresh conversations focused on nuanced and accessib Review originally published 4 Oct. 2020 at Falling Letters. I receivd a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley. Subprime Attention Crisis is one of four titles launching on Tuesday October 13 that comprise a collaboration between publishing imprint FSG Originals and tech magazine Logic. To quote the blog post announcement, “the four books in the FSGO/Logic series are brief but provocative forays into the tech industry’s many worlds, inciting fresh conversations focused on nuanced and accessible explorations of the emerging tools reorganizing and redefining life today”. Regular readers know such topics are a far cry from the usual content reviewed on my blog. But this title caught my eye as I browsed Netgalley. Internet advertising has a significant impact on anyone reading this. We all see it (even when we diligently use an adblocker). Maybe you have advertising on your blog. Most importantly: we all depend on it as the foundation that supports how the Internet currently functions. Hwang argues that ineffective internet advertising has built up around inaccurate and unreliable metrics. I thought I knew the basics of how internet advertising works. I learnt a lot more about it from this book. These metrics, along with other factors that Hwang explores, mean the system is poised to fail as the markets did in 2008. As the title implies, Hwang draws comparisons throughout the book to the subprime mortgage crisis. Internet advertising faces a ‘subprime attention crisis’. Why should we care about the potential failure of online advertising, which for most of us is little more than an irritant? Because it’s currently the key that allows us to freely access websites and the information contained within. Hwang concludes with broad suggestions of how the industry might anticipate such a failure and begin to mitigate it. The nature of Hwang’s subject lends itself to mildly technical language. It reminded me of reading textbooks in university. I can understand the topic generally, but I need to focus to really comprehend what he’s telling me. Finally, I understand the 2008 mortgage crisis, haha. I had to look it up in order to understand Hwang’s comparison. 💭 The Bottom Line: Subprime Attention Crisis may require focused attention from a layperson to comprehend, but its relatively short length and important topic make it a good read for anyone who cares about the long term sustainability of the Internet as we know it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Taracuda

    I thought this was going to be a book about advertising. Instead, it was a book about automated exchanges. In 2020, they’re the same thing. It was an interesting read, if frankly terrifying when you remember how much of the economy is propped up by the commodification of attention. Slow in places but very relevant

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julia Simpson-Urrutia

    In Subprime Attention Crisis, Tim Hwang initiates an upsetting conversation about not only the relationship of social media to advertising (which latter supports social media and causes it to remain free) but about the possibility that the many free services that enable internet users to explore products and news were suddenly behind a paywall. It could happen. If advertising is contingent upon the public having free access, how far down would sales be driven by the abrupt necessity to pay for e In Subprime Attention Crisis, Tim Hwang initiates an upsetting conversation about not only the relationship of social media to advertising (which latter supports social media and causes it to remain free) but about the possibility that the many free services that enable internet users to explore products and news were suddenly behind a paywall. It could happen. If advertising is contingent upon the public having free access, how far down would sales be driven by the abrupt necessity to pay for each service, much as one pays for TV programming services? It does not take too many pages--or paragraphs--for the author to draw the reader's attention to the fact that the online advertising edifice is a wobbly thing. The description of the algorithm-driven process by which programmatic advertising takes place is very damaging to the confidence of anyone counting on such advertising to boost sales.. Hwang's description, best suited to understanding by familiarized online advertising experts, goes some distance in helping readers grasp the (lack of) logic behind the advertisements they see. This book seems to be an important study in online marketing and its interconnection with the rest of the global economy. Marketing teachers would do well to consider choosing Subprime Attention Crisis for their classes, if for nothing else than critical thinking and planning. #SubprimeAttentionCrisis #NetGalley

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    This whole book basically argues that programmatic advertising, on which the entire internet economy is based, is a bubble growing larger and larger as it prepares to pop. The ways in which the advertising industry today mirrors Wall Street before the Great Recession are compelling. If Hwang is right, we'll be talking about this book a lot a decade from now. If he's right, the internet as it is now might be unrecognizable in a decade. If he's right, we're in for a doozy of a time. And if what he This whole book basically argues that programmatic advertising, on which the entire internet economy is based, is a bubble growing larger and larger as it prepares to pop. The ways in which the advertising industry today mirrors Wall Street before the Great Recession are compelling. If Hwang is right, we'll be talking about this book a lot a decade from now. If he's right, the internet as it is now might be unrecognizable in a decade. If he's right, we're in for a doozy of a time. And if what he predicts does not come to pass, it'll be because efforts were made to stop it. One thing is for certain: I'm not sure I grasped the reliance of the internet as we know it now on ads before I read this book. And another: we should decide on the future of the internet together. Instead, it increasingly feels as though it's left to Google and Facebook, and we just have to deal with it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Inspired to read this book after the dopamine rush that I experienced when misleading Trump campaign advertising dollars with my fellow BTS stans. and boy am I glad that I did! Tim Hwang convinced me that advertising infra today is a big bubble and it's gonna pop soon just like the 2008 crash. Tim taught me how much digital advertising suxxxxxxx at doing its job Inspired to read this book after the dopamine rush that I experienced when misleading Trump campaign advertising dollars with my fellow BTS stans. and boy am I glad that I did! Tim Hwang convinced me that advertising infra today is a big bubble and it's gonna pop soon just like the 2008 crash. Tim taught me how much digital advertising suxxxxxxx at doing its job

  8. 5 out of 5

    Peter Fuller

    4-star writing, 6-star creative idea for basing the book entirely on an extended metaphor (the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis as an analogue to the coming reckoning of “Hey, paid digital ads aren’t even CLOSE to as valuable as we thought they were!”) Bonus points for an awesome book cover and the decision “let’s keep this to 150 pages instead of beating a dead horse for 350”

  9. 5 out of 5

    McDavid Stoddard

    Tim took a 1,200 word Forbes guest contributor article and stretched it out into 100+ pages by adopting a writing strategy of repeating everything else he's said before introducing a new idea and them summarizing everything else he's said plus the new idea before going onto repeat everything again at the start of the next chapter before then adding another new idea. Also, let's pretend he just wrote the 1,200 word essay. As someone who works in the programmatic world I found this essay useless. Tim took a 1,200 word Forbes guest contributor article and stretched it out into 100+ pages by adopting a writing strategy of repeating everything else he's said before introducing a new idea and them summarizing everything else he's said plus the new idea before going onto repeat everything again at the start of the next chapter before then adding another new idea. Also, let's pretend he just wrote the 1,200 word essay. As someone who works in the programmatic world I found this essay useless. Yes, the digital ads world is far from perfect but stocks and programmatic ads should not be compared. Hiring a sales person with an opaque track record to get you new customers is not akin to storing your extra capital in hopes for a return. Anyways... I would keep ranting but this shit book isn't worth my time. Tim & FSG should both be embarrassed by the quality of this work.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Nicholas

    I love a book that makes a claim that in five years time will be either eerily spot on or completely off the mark.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Indranil Datta

    Very well articulated on the opacity of programmatic buying leading to ad frauds. Also the growing skepticism on digital advertising.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Martijn

    I've always been suspicious about the sustainability of the online advertising model, and this book is a good and easy read, confirming that suspicious, yet never fully convincing me that the bubble is really about to burst. I've always been suspicious about the sustainability of the online advertising model, and this book is a good and easy read, confirming that suspicious, yet never fully convincing me that the bubble is really about to burst.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    In Subprime Attention Crisis Tim Hwang compares the current state of digital advertising to the years immediately before the 2008 financial crisis. Hwang takes what may seem like a relatively dry topic - online ads - and breaks down how they work, how programmatic ad-buying has changed things, and why these conditions have created a bubble in a way that was eminently readable. I found Hwang's arguments to be compelling, but this book is worth reading even just as an explainer to how online ads w In Subprime Attention Crisis Tim Hwang compares the current state of digital advertising to the years immediately before the 2008 financial crisis. Hwang takes what may seem like a relatively dry topic - online ads - and breaks down how they work, how programmatic ad-buying has changed things, and why these conditions have created a bubble in a way that was eminently readable. I found Hwang's arguments to be compelling, but this book is worth reading even just as an explainer to how online ads work and how our time online is commodified. Anyone who uses social media should be aware of how platforms track, package, and sell your presence online to advertisers and the possible and real ramifications of that business model.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I encourage you to read this book. And not just because it is on a seriously interesting topic, but also because it is on a topic that is fairly difficult to understand and this book could easily be a textbook on how to write about difficult topics in a clear and accessible way. I found out that I needed to read this book while reading an article in The Guardian - https://www.theguardian.com/commentis... I was thinking before that it would be all too easy to write a review of this book that would I encourage you to read this book. And not just because it is on a seriously interesting topic, but also because it is on a topic that is fairly difficult to understand and this book could easily be a textbook on how to write about difficult topics in a clear and accessible way. I found out that I needed to read this book while reading an article in The Guardian - https://www.theguardian.com/commentis... I was thinking before that it would be all too easy to write a review of this book that would say that the author is predicting the collapse of the internet as we know it – something he actually isn’t really doing – and to make this book sound like the equivalent of a disaster movie. What he does here is much more interesting. I know we particularly like doomsday predictions – but while he does point to a series of problems with the way the internet currently runs, and discusses the implications of what could happen if things turned out badly, this book is much more interesting than just providing a prophet of doom. It forces us to think about how and why the internet is currently structured as it is. And this structuring of the internet deserves our attention, not just because it might all suddenly collapse, but because how it is currently structured might not be how we would prefer it to be structured. A large part of this book is based in the idea that the internet we currently have is a result of people simply don’t want to pay for the internet – at least, not directly. That means that the internet is paid for by advertising. But why would advertises want to fund the internet rather than, say, newspapers, billboards, films or magazines? Well, a very large part of that reason is because the internet offers something other media can’t offer. That is, measurable audience attention. Sites like Google, Facebook and Good Reads require you to enter information about yourself before you can access the features of these sites. Then they track every damn thing you do – often not just on their site, but on every other site too. Then they sell advertising that is directed at you, according to both the wants you know you have – given you have just searched for the best drone to buy or a reasonably priced divorce lawyer or a particularly flavoursome vanilla ice cream – or wants you might have if you were nudged hard enough, given the preferences you might not even know you might have, but that seven-out-of-ten divorced drone pilots who eat vanilla ice cream share. We are so used to the standard ideas about the internet knowing us better than we know ourselves that we might find it hard to believe that perhaps this all-seeing eye could possibly not be nearly as all-seeing as we think. I am certainly a victim of this type of prejudice. But if this book is one thing, it is a bit of a curative. Again, the book isn’t saying that all of our fears about capitalist surveillance have been overhyped, although, that is clearly part of the message. Rather, the author discusses the problems with the way advertising is sold on the web. One of these problems is that those who sell advertising have a clear and obvious interest in hyping the potential of their ability to provide attentive eyeballs to advertisements. But sometimes they stretch credibility. For instance, at one point in this the author mentions that Facebook promised to provide more young people of a certain age in the US than the census said existed. Another part of the problem is that an increasing number of people are using ad-blocking software. So, even if Google knows you want to kill your granny given your recent history of search and WhatsApp messages, their ad for cheap rat poison suppliers might never end up be seen by you, even though it is exactly the right ad you need to see. Then there is the problem of bots that flit about the internet ‘generating traffic’ but, since they aren’t conscious, they generate numbers ‘views’ of ads that aren’t really anything of a sort. At one point in this book the author says that over half of all ads on the internet might never have actually been seen by a human. And then there are ‘fat fingers’ – where you mistakenly tap an ad on your phone that you actually had no intention of tapping, except scrolling and tapping can all too easily look like the same thing. Even so, let’s pretend you are a human and you don’t have ad-blocking software on your computer – does that mean you actually see and register the banner ads on display on your favourite website? Sometimes Facebook asks me if I’ve seen an ad by some company or other they have presumably displayed for me over the last couple of days. I never answer these requests, since it is in the least bit clear what possible benefit there could be for me in answering these questions, other than in helping a company that makes a fortune out of selling my attention to find better ways to market shit I don’t need at me. The fact is that I don’t think I’ve ever remembered seeing any of the ads they mention. Sometimes I think this is part of the trick – you know, they are trying to see if I’m being honest with them and so they ask me about a penis enlargement ad they never actually displayed. Kind of a clever double pike with a twist – where there was no penis enlargement ad, but now I’m still thinking I need to get on to enlarging my penis anyway. Of course, penis enlargement might well be so front-of-mind that I might think I must have seen an ad for it over the last few days anyway. We all like to believe advertising only works on other people – I have to admit that I’m much more likely to believe advertising might well work best when we don’t notice we are aware of ads. I remember hearing someone from the Evil Murdoch Empire™ saying that people (although, it is unlikely he would have referred to us as people – maybe something like ‘potentially viable though currently inactive target consumer marketing units’ – should be forced to make cups of tea and to go the toilet during television program times, rather than ad breaks, as skipping the ads is a form of theft. Clearly, the only advantage of the Trump wall along the border with Mexico is that it will be sufficiently long to save the revolution from the stress of working out which of these bastards needs to be first put up against it. The book provides more than enough information on how advertising on the internet is sold and how it is variously manipulated by players, not least so as to push up its price. The book details how dark pools exist so that the lack of reliable information and transparency means that speculation around the price of advertising becomes inevitable and that this could eventually lead to a ‘subprime’ crisis where companies realise they are not getting the value they are paying for and then pull the plug on the gushing revenue stream that funds much of what happens on the web. That this might then make a ‘user pays’ model to fund the web inevitable. Such a shift would make the internet virtually unavailable for large numbers of current users. This would result in a massive loss of faith in the current value of advertising on the internet – but a large part of the point of this book is to call into question the basis upon which that faith is based. The book begins with a discussion on a presentation the author saw at an advertising conference in which an academic researcher provided the results of their research showing that a lot of digital advertising was worse than useless – it’s more expensive than ‘non-targeted’ advertising, and often only impacts people who were about to buy your product anyway. But when the researcher finished his talk and asked if there were any questions, there were literally none – and the following session was yet another hype-and-spin on the joys of targeted advertising. Like I said, even if this book proves to be wildly off in everything it predicts – I would still recommend you read it. It’s short, it’s clearly written, and it makes otherwise difficult topics clear and accessible. Even if there proves to never be a subprime attention crisis, at the very least this book will make it clear what those words mean and why seeing them strung together in that order should concern us.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ula

    If you also are wondering "how on Earth internet has gone so wrong," this is a book for you. The answer is surprisingly simple: much of the blame can be put on the programmatic advertising. The history of how it happened is explained in detail in another book I am currently reading and highly recommend, "The Tangled Web We Weave" by James Ball, while Tim Hwang is more focused on its actual mechanisms. The main argument of this book is a convincing parallel to financial markets and the 2008 crisi If you also are wondering "how on Earth internet has gone so wrong," this is a book for you. The answer is surprisingly simple: much of the blame can be put on the programmatic advertising. The history of how it happened is explained in detail in another book I am currently reading and highly recommend, "The Tangled Web We Weave" by James Ball, while Tim Hwang is more focused on its actual mechanisms. The main argument of this book is a convincing parallel to financial markets and the 2008 crisis. Moreover, in the spirit of "solution journalism," the author advises on how to avoid the explosion of the "subprime" attention bubble. It can be a bit challenging read for someone who isn't much into financial issues, but it is worth the effort. The book is a part of a very interesting series, FSG Original x Logic, which dissects the way technology functions in everyday lives. Thanks to the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    michael weis

    Fascinating description of the digital marketplace for buying and selling advertising along with it's various weaknesses. Fascinating description of the digital marketplace for buying and selling advertising along with it's various weaknesses.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark Donovan

    I'll grant the theory that the online advertisement economy is out of whack and potentially rigged. I'm just not convinced that we will see a bubble burst. The parallels to the lead up to the subprime mortgage meltdown are clearly laid out. However, the author doesn't explain clearly the last part of the analogy, why we should expect such a sudden market implosion. If the prices are as out of proportion to the value people are paying, I would predict they will gradually come back into alignment I'll grant the theory that the online advertisement economy is out of whack and potentially rigged. I'm just not convinced that we will see a bubble burst. The parallels to the lead up to the subprime mortgage meltdown are clearly laid out. However, the author doesn't explain clearly the last part of the analogy, why we should expect such a sudden market implosion. If the prices are as out of proportion to the value people are paying, I would predict they will gradually come back into alignment through normal market forces/pressures. People have forever been saying the advertisement model doesn't work online. Yet, they keep finding new ways to inject ads. Like inline videos. Spoken in the middle of podcasts. It's an arms race, the efficiencies will work themselves out, as large companies wax and wane their marketing budgets. The solutions of government control seem far fetched. Other than sounding the alarm, I'm not sure this book provides much value.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cosmictimetraveler

    There is nothing particularly wrong with this book, but it is essentially a 3.5 star online long-form news article stretched over 120+ pages. The idea is intriguing and although I have long expected something fishy is afoot with the profitability of companies like Facebook and Google, this was the first time I have seen it approached in the public sphere. I would be more than happy to pay a monthly subscription for general internet use + email in exchange for no (or greatly reduced) ads or spam, There is nothing particularly wrong with this book, but it is essentially a 3.5 star online long-form news article stretched over 120+ pages. The idea is intriguing and although I have long expected something fishy is afoot with the profitability of companies like Facebook and Google, this was the first time I have seen it approached in the public sphere. I would be more than happy to pay a monthly subscription for general internet use + email in exchange for no (or greatly reduced) ads or spam, but I think the author's other suggested conclusion is more likely - that an implosion of the digital ad economy will just result in a rebuilding of the same type of digital ad economy once the dust settles.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rollin

    Good metaphors usually put a complex idea in simpler terms. That makes the buildup and unraveling of the U.S. housing market in the 2008 financial crisis a bad metaphor. But Tim Hwang makes it work. It really shouldn't, but it does. That doesn't mean that that he's dumbing down the '08 recession. With clear and precise language, Hwang describes the savings glut hypothesis, NINJA loans, and CDOS (though it definitely helps to have some background knowledge, go watch The Big Short or something befo Good metaphors usually put a complex idea in simpler terms. That makes the buildup and unraveling of the U.S. housing market in the 2008 financial crisis a bad metaphor. But Tim Hwang makes it work. It really shouldn't, but it does. That doesn't mean that that he's dumbing down the '08 recession. With clear and precise language, Hwang describes the savings glut hypothesis, NINJA loans, and CDOS (though it definitely helps to have some background knowledge, go watch The Big Short or something before reading this book). And it turns out that all the market failures, fraud, and perverse incentives that led to the subprime housing bubble map on quite cleanly onto the programmatic advertising market. The internet is run on ads. Programmatic advertising is a huge chunk of Google, Facebook, and all of news media's revenue streams. All online platforms are designed to render its users legible through profiles, likes, and shares so that their attention can be commodified into a "18-24 year old, Asian male, interested in economics." This is a swift 150-page book. Hwang lays out a clear and ambitious argument for all the ways that online advertising is horrendously overvalued, how the underlying asset of our attention spans is crap, all the different ways to defraud online advertisers, and the market incentives that want us all to look the other way. I often find myself at the end of one chapter thinking "But what about this?" and seeing his next chapter address just that. The most provocative part of the book is his push for us to imagine an internet that is not mediated around selling our attention. I'm writing this review on Goodreads where I have a profile, rate books, and build to-read lists as the platform is showing me an ad of Sephora beauty products and probably is collecting my personal data for its parent company Amazon. The incentive to attract attention is so baked in where even I, a consumer who makes no profit using this site, write with the hopes of getting the one or two likes from my Goodreads friends. What would a book-based social media site look like if it were removed from the attention economy? Would people leave more heartfelt reviews? Would we be doing communal reads sessions? I don't know, but we should probably think of something before all these "free" internet services go belly up and can no longer sell us as the product. The only area where the book falls short is in the solutions it provides. Hwang offers level-headed but also bland solutions like a third-party think tank/watchdog and government regulation to help deflate the bubble. Yet at the same time, he encourages a more radical imagination for what we would like the internet to be. What does the appetite for ad spending say about an economy built around overconsumption? What does a de-commodification of attention look like? Finding solutions through these questions may be a bit utopian but are still worth exploring heeding his provocation. Hwang cites a quote by the retailer Wanamaker: "I'm wasting half my money on advertising, the trouble is I don't know which half." Subprime Attention Crisis shows that we're wasting a whole lot more than half and we better figure out what to do before it all comes crashing down.

  20. 4 out of 5

    jasmine sun

    When I first heard Tim Hwang speak about Subprime Attention Crisis at Logic Book Festival, he began by saying that the problem with the discourse about Big Tech is that both its champions and its critics give it too much credit. That is, the marketers overhype what the technology can do, and the rest of us are eating it right up. (Anyone who's worked at a startup gets it: Engineering is always playing catch-up to Sales's promises.) His book, then, is a case study about why taking these claims at When I first heard Tim Hwang speak about Subprime Attention Crisis at Logic Book Festival, he began by saying that the problem with the discourse about Big Tech is that both its champions and its critics give it too much credit. That is, the marketers overhype what the technology can do, and the rest of us are eating it right up. (Anyone who's worked at a startup gets it: Engineering is always playing catch-up to Sales's promises.) His book, then, is a case study about why taking these claims at face value is not only gullible, but a threat to the health and stability of our digital economy. Hwang argues that the modern digital ad market is on its way to becoming a bubble, much like the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008. Today, consumers ignore ads, Facebook and Google hide behind opaque, self-serving definitions of "views" and "conversions," and everything from overt fraud (click farms) to clever accounting (Facebook's overstatement of video views) runs rampant. It feels like everyone, from the digital marketers to the industry researchers, has a perverse incentive to act like digital ads work better than they do, despite study after peer-reviewed study questioning this assumption. Hwang is also a fantastic econ teacher—and I'm saying this as someone who had no idea how the 2008 financial crisis worked until last summer. He breaks down the programmatic ad market step by step, walks you through its similarities to the mortgage market of the late aughts, then provides numbered suggestions to reform the system—all in a tight little 178-page volume. With clever analogies (e.g. one unit of attention: one fictionalized Standardized Chicken Lot) and a clear-cut narrative structure, you won't need a pre-existing passion for two-sided market design to get something out of this read. By the end of the book, Hwang starts describing the social consequences of having the whole Internet—from journalism to Google Maps—run on ad dollars: surveillance capitalism, addictive feeds, political polarization. Each of his carefully numbered arguments builds toward a picture of the ad industry as an increasingly precarious house of cards, so it's no surprise that he concludes that "Rather than trying to fix a broken market, we should work toward a controlled demolition that reduces its influence in the long run." Hwang ends by proposing a few of these possible reforms, such as industry-independent research organizations, mandatory disclosures for vendors of programmatic ads, and legal teeth to punish frauds. Overall, I found Subprime Attention Crisis persuasive, if mildly hyperbolic: the narrow reforms proposed in the last few pages don't seem to match the urgency of the the crisis-like descriptions of the first three-quarters. In my opinion, the bigger challenge of the next 5 or 10 years—and what I'm most interested in asking Hwang about next Thursday—is how we'll actually wean the web off ads and toward something more sustainable. reviewed for the reboot newsletter - come to our q&a on the book on 3/18!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pete

    Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet (2020) by Tim Hwang is a book that looks into the serious problems with internet advertising and ponder what would happen if there were to be a crash in internet advertising spending. Hwang has worked at Google as a public policy lead and was the former director of the MIT-Harvard Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative so he knows what he is talking about when it comes to internet advertising and Machine Learnin Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet (2020) by Tim Hwang is a book that looks into the serious problems with internet advertising and ponder what would happen if there were to be a crash in internet advertising spending. Hwang has worked at Google as a public policy lead and was the former director of the MIT-Harvard Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative so he knows what he is talking about when it comes to internet advertising and Machine Learning. In the book Hwang goes through how many ads on the internet are blocked, many are unseen and people have become immune to ads and just ignore them. He points out that many keyword ads bought on Google are just for people searching for Ebay or Amazon or something similar. Hwang makes the point that internet ads often wind up succeeding with people who have already decided to buy something. Hwang also points out that it is suggested that targeting ads using all the ML Google can use only increases advertising performance by a few percentage points. It is really an antidote to those who worry greatly that commercial ML is greatly influencing us. If targeted advertising is barely better than normal then it’s hard to believe that ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ is that big a threat. Hwang pushes the idea that there is a bubble in Internet advertising spending that is comparable to the Housing Bubble in the US that burst from 2008 onwards. This case is weaker. Hwang himself even cites the well known Wanamaker quote on advertising ‘I Know that half my Spending on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half’ that shows that advertising spending has always lacked rigorous empirical support. Hwang doesn’t investigate if advertising spending on TV, radio and print was worse value for money than digital spending. Spending on advertising is growing faster than global GDP which could indicate some future problems but Hwang doesn’t examine this. It does seem possible that there could be a reduction in spending on internet advertising as Hwang suggests which could potentially cause issues for advertising supported services, but it’s hard to say that this is as likely as Hwang suggests. Hwangs attempt to make parallels between the 2008 global financial crisis and advertising tends mostly towards described the issues with US housing at the time. Subprime Attention Crisis is an interesting read. It’s well worth finding up just how flakey the alleged precision of internet advertising is and how it is likely to be far less effective than touted. However, the case for the similarity between the US housing crisis and internet advertising isn’t nearly as well made.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Leonardo

    I would like to thank NetGalley and the author Tim Hwang for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. The book goes over the fascinating relationship between financial markets and the advertising marketplace. Specifically the relationship between the finance industry and the evolution of the modern programmatic advertising ecosystem. The author believes that the financial foundations of the web are perhaps shakier than we imagine, maybe even leading to a so-called “subprime” crisis I would like to thank NetGalley and the author Tim Hwang for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. The book goes over the fascinating relationship between financial markets and the advertising marketplace. Specifically the relationship between the finance industry and the evolution of the modern programmatic advertising ecosystem. The author believes that the financial foundations of the web are perhaps shakier than we imagine, maybe even leading to a so-called “subprime” crisis such as the one that hit the global economy in 2008. He questions whether the web as we know it will endure. As digital advertising grows and disrupts traditional advertising channels, the latter wither and shrink, thus reducing advertising alternatives and further driving dollars into digital. In the Advertising marketplace, marketing agencies and the marketplace itself have systematic incentives to oversell the value and price of advertising inventory regardless of issues like fraud, declining attention, and ad blocking. The author proposes that rather than fearing a collapse of the global digital advertising markets we should used it as an opportunity to use alternative business models and for the internet itself to take a different shape as well. At the same it's suggested that it will be all around better and less painful to proactively create a controlled implosion than to just let things fall apart on their own. The triggering of the controlled disruption of the programmatic advertising market will depend on a crisis of confidence in it. This in turn can be driven by reducing confidence in the measurability and effectiveness of the market. Another element deemed necessary by the writer would be the implementation of mandatory disclosure laws in the market. Overall, the book presents an interesting premise. As the author himself admits, at the time off publication Oct 2020, everything looks pretty great in the programmatic advertising markets and for its participants. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years to the author's predictions. The book is relatively short and clearly written. The reader just has to decide whether or not to buy into the ideas presented.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kohoutek

    Another short, quick read, in which I learned all sorts of things that were brand-new to me! Like the mechanics of what happens when an ad loads on the Internet (a fully automated bidding system happens almost instantaneously, deciding what ad gets the chance to vie for your attention) and the fact that "click-throughs" onto ads have gone down almost 100% since they first showed up on the Internet (and that many of the clicks they do get are the result of organized fraud). Otherwise, most people Another short, quick read, in which I learned all sorts of things that were brand-new to me! Like the mechanics of what happens when an ad loads on the Internet (a fully automated bidding system happens almost instantaneously, deciding what ad gets the chance to vie for your attention) and the fact that "click-throughs" onto ads have gone down almost 100% since they first showed up on the Internet (and that many of the clicks they do get are the result of organized fraud). Otherwise, most people only click on ads by mistake (which I've done), or because they are already customers or fans of what the ad's about. The problem the author is exploring gets to the roots of how the Internet's explosion into ubiquity has been subsidized by advertising, which operates more like an unstable financial market than traditional advertising, and that there are many already-existing concerns with the system that could cause the bubble to burst. If that happens, it could have a dramatic effect on the services we have come to rely on in our daily lives, even though the opacity of the process means that users may be unaware of any problems until it's too late. Lots of food for thought in a quick read, including the reminder that the current state of the Internet is, like our financial systems, not inevitable, but the product of choices made in the past, and that are being made now. There's a side note for example, about how monetization requires standardization, and designing the Internet experience for the needs of advertisers has narrowed its possibilities, both for how we use the technology, and potentially influencing society at large. He mentions Facebook as a platform that presses everyone into the same mold, something I have always noticed in contrast to the more free-wheeling, customizable days of MySpace. The model of Facebook or Twitter makes it easier to get at the information advertisers want, even if, as more research shows, the kind of algorithm-based, privacy-invading targeted marketing we're used to may not even be effective at its job.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave Lee

    Hwang is convincing in telling us that the internet, and the business that underpins much of it, is a bubble ready to pop. Services like Google Maps, Gmail, Facebook and others -- all free to end users like you and me -- will one day have the carpet pulled from under them once the fallacies of online ads are laid bare. The effects will be to the internet what the subprime mortgage crisis was to the financial system. The core thesis is that the grand players in the advertising chain are charging m Hwang is convincing in telling us that the internet, and the business that underpins much of it, is a bubble ready to pop. Services like Google Maps, Gmail, Facebook and others -- all free to end users like you and me -- will one day have the carpet pulled from under them once the fallacies of online ads are laid bare. The effects will be to the internet what the subprime mortgage crisis was to the financial system. The core thesis is that the grand players in the advertising chain are charging more and more for what they know is a commodity decreasing in value: our attention. This is possible through fuzzy levels of transparency. Hwang draws upon what we've all surely felt when browsing the internet, the sense that the ads we see are irritating, irrelevant, absurd or, most significantly, totally ignorable and ineffective. Like the banks in the run up to the financial crisis, the online advertising industry lacks the collective incentive to faithfully examine (publicly) the value of what it is selling, for fear of upsetting one of the modern era's most golden of geese. Those familiar with the mechanics of the online advertising industry may feel Hwang takes too long going over the basics of programmatic selling and the mix of demand and supply-side selling platforms. But for those with only a passing knowledge in how it all really works, Hwang lays it out succinctly and clearly. His conclusions should not be ignored.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Talha

    An argument that programmatic advertising is bullshit and that when the bubble pops, it’ll be very bad for the economy. The author draws parallels to the 2008 housing crisis (hence the title). Digital advertising is very opaque, doesn’t work so well, and the folks involved are incentivized to keep the scam going. If you’re paranoid about surveillance capitalism, it’s probably annoying to realize that the invasiveness isn’t even really worth it for the people paying for it. (It’s also a little sa An argument that programmatic advertising is bullshit and that when the bubble pops, it’ll be very bad for the economy. The author draws parallels to the 2008 housing crisis (hence the title). Digital advertising is very opaque, doesn’t work so well, and the folks involved are incentivized to keep the scam going. If you’re paranoid about surveillance capitalism, it’s probably annoying to realize that the invasiveness isn’t even really worth it for the people paying for it. (It’s also a little sad how end users generally put up with it—a mildly dystopian feature of life in our utopia of rules). The part of the book that didn’t grab me is Hwang’s argument that the bubble popping would be bad. (He compares advertising to subprime mortgages but the mortgage industry is orders of magnitudes bigger than digital advertising. I concede that that might not mean much in our spaghetti economy.) Megacap companies like Google and Facebook make a lot of money off of digital advertising. I read recently that Amazon probably makes more money off of ads than AWS. These companies are also involved in endeavors that are slightly better for humanity. If they are subsidized by bullshit and the jig is eventually up, technological progress elsewhere might falter. I’m not convinced that’s true and even if it is, it might be worth the cost of being free of all of this crap.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Igor Shilov

    To my great regret, the book failed to thoroughly research a truly fascinating question it asked. Or, at least, it failed to convince me that it did. I expected stern yet meticulous look into the digital advertising market, exposing the next big bubble. What I got instead is a bunch of far-fetched parallels with the financial crisis of 2008 with very little insights into the actual ads market mechanics. The book seem to be stuck in early 2010s - most of the problems author lists as the potential To my great regret, the book failed to thoroughly research a truly fascinating question it asked. Or, at least, it failed to convince me that it did. I expected stern yet meticulous look into the digital advertising market, exposing the next big bubble. What I got instead is a bunch of far-fetched parallels with the financial crisis of 2008 with very little insights into the actual ads market mechanics. The book seem to be stuck in early 2010s - most of the problems author lists as the potential indicators for the presence of a bubble has been addressed by the industry in the last decade. For instance, while not impossible, it's much harder to find yourself overestimating the real value of the ads you buy when you pay per conversion not click - model not even mentioned in the book. Same goes for fraudulent clicks and non-visible impressions - we know how to work with it here in 2021. The book has a fascinating and engaging premise, but barely scratches the surface of exploring the real depth of the problem. NB: The cover deserves full 5 start though.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Simon Riley

    The author offers a novel and intriguing take on the role of programmatic advertising in shaping the internet, the failures manifest in the market as it is currently structured, and the potential implications of these failures on the broader economy if they remain unchecked. The argument underlying the work's overarching thesis - that online advertising is headed toward, if not already in the midst of, a potentially broadly destabilizing bubble fueled by falling asset values, a lack of transpare The author offers a novel and intriguing take on the role of programmatic advertising in shaping the internet, the failures manifest in the market as it is currently structured, and the potential implications of these failures on the broader economy if they remain unchecked. The argument underlying the work's overarching thesis - that online advertising is headed toward, if not already in the midst of, a potentially broadly destabilizing bubble fueled by falling asset values, a lack of transparency and the conflicted interests of powerful actors - is coherently structured and clearly articulated. Ultimately, however, the the empirical evidence marshalled in support of these claims, the level of nuance in the analysis itself, and the recommendations for addressing the problem are regrettably thin, at times almost superficial, such that upon finishing the book one is convinced that a compelling argument could be made for the author's position, but not that one has been.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Thanks to FSG and NetGalley for an ARC of this title. This is one of four books being published as part of an FSGxLogic magazine series on issues affecting Silicon Valley and the modern internet. This was a fascinating primer on how internet advertising used to work and presently works, and why there are increasing similarities between the "attention" economy and the financial crisis from 2008 in terms of valuation and actual value. I enjoyed this, but I would have love something calibrated one st Thanks to FSG and NetGalley for an ARC of this title. This is one of four books being published as part of an FSGxLogic magazine series on issues affecting Silicon Valley and the modern internet. This was a fascinating primer on how internet advertising used to work and presently works, and why there are increasing similarities between the "attention" economy and the financial crisis from 2008 in terms of valuation and actual value. I enjoyed this, but I would have love something calibrated one step more towards the "layman" side. I'm techy, but this took a LOT of focus at times to catch what Tim Hwang was saying. This is a great topic that deserves further explanation, but I might have needed the boil-down that would appear like something like Wired magazine instead of this in-depth breakdown.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Stanton

    Hwang draws an interesting analogy between the mortgage securities industry pre-2008 and the current ad tech industry. That's it. That's the book. He develops the analogy well, and I even felt that I learned something about the 2008 crisis reading the book, but he never moves beyond analogizing. When the time comes to offer substantive policy recommendations, Hwang only manages some tepid suggestions for regulation mirroring that of the financial markets. These suggestions ring particularly holl Hwang draws an interesting analogy between the mortgage securities industry pre-2008 and the current ad tech industry. That's it. That's the book. He develops the analogy well, and I even felt that I learned something about the 2008 crisis reading the book, but he never moves beyond analogizing. When the time comes to offer substantive policy recommendations, Hwang only manages some tepid suggestions for regulation mirroring that of the financial markets. These suggestions ring particularly hollow when one remembers that the U.S. government has been attempting to regulate financial markets since the Securities Act and yet bubbles and crashes persist. The subprime mortgage crisis may well be a useful example to understand the ailments of the programmatic advertising market, but I find little reason to believe that it is a similarly useful model for potential policy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ravi Mehta

    This book offers a great comparison between financial markets and the online advertising market with quite a few eery resemblances. It interestingly outlines how the internet is underwritten by the revenue generated from online ads and how this attention marketplace and in turn the “free” internet is moving towards a point of implosion. A scary but wonderful narrative - one that I myself have been a strong believer of over the last few years. Time shall tell what we do with this knowledge and hi This book offers a great comparison between financial markets and the online advertising market with quite a few eery resemblances. It interestingly outlines how the internet is underwritten by the revenue generated from online ads and how this attention marketplace and in turn the “free” internet is moving towards a point of implosion. A scary but wonderful narrative - one that I myself have been a strong believer of over the last few years. Time shall tell what we do with this knowledge and historical foresight in similar situations (read 2008 mortgage crisis). I would have loved to see the author explore the possibility of fierce competition among tech giants impacting this marketplace (the likes of Apple vs Facebook and Social Tracking). A 4-star instead of 5, due to a slightly repetitive narrative in many places, but otherwise an absolutely phenomenal book for marketers.

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