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?