I’m not writing an obituary for the professional critic

I’m a huge fan of some of my friends’ blogsmulti platform blogs, and websites that rely on the wisdom of their users.

As many blogs and community sites feature reviews, some say the professional critic is dying.  For example, in The New York Times, Professor Randall Stross writes:

“Like others, I used to rely on professional critics for guidance in many domains — restaurants, movies, books……sites that welcome customer reviews have evolved significantly….dedicated reviewers produce work that, in quantity and quality, increasingly approaches that of their professional forebears….”

I certainly agree with Professor Stross that professionals will never produce the same quantity of content as a community.  Wikipedia has millions more entries than other encyclopedias.  And having some reviews available for the local sandwich shop is better than none, so there is value in quantity.

But the increasing availability of great content online does not mean the decline of the professional critic.

Before the internet, how many people were reading Ruth Reichl’s restaurant reviews in the New York Times print edition, and how many are now reading Frank Bruni’s print reviews and online blog?  How many people used to read or watch Siskel and Ebert, and how many now read or watch or post online to Ebert?

If anything, I’d bet these professional critics’ audiences have grown.  Distribution costs for their content are nearly $0.00 on the internet.  And customer acquisition has gotten cheaper as sites like rottentomatoes and even many blogs become echo chambers.

Instead of professional critics dying:

1) New content is being delivered to new markets.  The Times’ cites “geometrically” expanding traffic as evidence of Yelp’s success over Zagat.  But reviews of local hairdressers are not stealing share from critics of restaurants.

2) Select bloggers have earned the right to be professional critics. Staff writers at TechCrunch or Gawker are paid tens of thousands of dollars to write to audiences in the hundreds of thousands.   These punchy writers are the new professional critics.

I’m curious to know what you think.  Is professional critic a short lived profession?  How do you define a professional critic?

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  • http://moseskagan.com Moses Kagan

    Great blog – love the design (v. clean) and am interested by the content already. I’d aim for slightly more descriptive and provocative titles in order to start to build an audience. And, I’d go to popular blogs about topics that interest you and begin to leave comments with links back here. You’ll be surprised by how durable the traffic is from old comment links.

    Best of luck!

  • http://www.computersexy.com/blog cs@hbs

    Totally agree with Moses, there’s nothing like leaving comments in other blogs to generate traffic to yours :)

    Seriously, good luck Phil and I’m sure the blog will be interesting. You’re hereby added to my feeds list…

  • http://www.greentaxi.com Conor Neu

    Great points about professional critics within content these days. I do not think we have lost them at all, however who they are is shifting. The reader has more power to decide who are the best because there are more amatuer content providers competing to be at the top. It’s just an improvement of evolution in content where Nielsen ratings are being replaced by pageviews in a survival of the fittest on who are the best content providers decision making test.

  • http://www.sustainableink.org Ben Grossman

    I’m glad you wrote about this. Although there has been an explosion of content and “user-generated reviews” online, professional reviews still hold much more sway over markets. Once a new author gets a positive review in the NYTimes Book Review, it can make their career and help their sales numbers explode. Likewise, a positive review of a music album in Rolling Stone can really add credibility to a new artist and help them gain a mainstream following.

    On the other hand, a lot of people don’t like being told what to do by an “authority” in an office, but rather want to get advice from their peers, whether that’s a fellow foodie through Zagat, or learn about new products from their friends on Facebook, etc.

    The positions of authority are certainly moving, from traditional magazines, radio shows, etc, to sites like TechCrunch or, relevant to my blog and the green business world, TreeHugger and GreenBiz.

    It will be interesting to see what happens down the line, but my sense is that as Conor writes, pageviews will be the new measuring stick for online media. As blogs gain a following, they become an authority. And as they become seen as an authority, they gain an even greater following. It’s definitely the case of network effects.