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Markets for Attention: Will Postage for Email Help?


  • Shyam NMI Sunder

    () (School of Management)

  • Matthew A. Cronin

    () (Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA))

  • Robert E. Kraut

    () (Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA))

  • James Morris

    () (School of Computer Science)

  • Rahul Telang

    () (H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management)


Balancing the needs of information distributors and their audiences has grown harder in the age of the Internet. While the demand for attention continues to increase rapidly with the volume of information and communication, the supply of human attention is relatively fixed. Markets are a social institution for efficiently balancing supply and demand of scarce resources. Charging a price for sending messages may help discipline senders from demanding more attention than they are willing to pay for. Price may also help recipients estimate the value of a message before reading it. We report the results of two laboratory experiments to explore the consequences of a pricing system for electronic mail. Charging postage for email causes senders to be more selective and send fewer messages. However, recipients did not use the postage paid by senders as a signal of importance. These studies suggest markets for attention have potential, but their design needs more work.

Suggested Citation

  • Shyam NMI Sunder & Matthew A. Cronin & Robert E. Kraut & James Morris & Rahul Telang, 2002. "Markets for Attention: Will Postage for Email Help?," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm301, Yale School of Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:ysm:somwrk:ysm301

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Kai-Lung Hui & I.P.L. Png, 2005. "The Economics of Privacy," Industrial Organization 0505007, EconWPA, revised 29 Aug 2005.
    2. Oleg V. Pavlov & Nigel Melville, 2005. "Mitigating the Tragedy of the Digital Commons: the Case of Unsolicited Commercial Email," Computing in Economics and Finance 2005 231, Society for Computational Economics.
    3. Karim Jamal & Michael Maier & Shyam Sunder, 2003. "Privacy in E-Commerce: Development of Reporting Standards, Disclosure, and Assurance Services in an Unregulated Market," Journal of Accounting Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 285-309, May.
    4. Justin M. Rao & David H. Reiley, 2012. "The Economics of Spam," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 87-110, Summer.
    5. Falkinger, Josef, 2007. "Attention economies," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 133(1), pages 266-294, March.
    6. Agnès Festré & Pierre Garrouste, 2012. "The ‘Economics of Attention’: A New Avenue of Research in Cognitive Economics," GREDEG Working Papers 2012-12, Groupe de REcherche en Droit, Economie, Gestion (GREDEG CNRS), University of Nice Sophia Antipolis.
    7. Josef Falkinger, 2008. "Limited Attention as a Scarce Resource in Information-Rich Economies," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(532), pages 1596-1620, October.
    8. Falkinger, Josef, 2005. "Limited Attention as the Scarce Resource in an Information-Rich Economy," IZA Discussion Papers 1538, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item


    Computer Mediated Communication; Electronic Mail; Empirical Studies; Economics; Markets; Social Impact; Spam;

    JEL classification:

    • L86 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Information and Internet Services; Computer Software
    • L96 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Telecommunications
    • M21 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Economics - - - Business Economics
    • D40 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - General


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