By Scott Kirsner, Globe Columnist
Roger Ebert may be endangered, Entertainment Weekly on its way to
extinction. Have you noticed how many no-name critics are suddenly
serving up pithy opinions about movies, books, music, and video games
on the Net?
Amazon.com may have been one of the first sites, in the mid-1990s, to
allow its users to share their thoughts about a book, just below the
venerable Publishers Weekly or Booklist write-up. Now, such sites as
Blogcritics.org collect reviews written by bloggers, and Apple's
iTunes Music Store allows users to share their iMixes -- lists of
favorite songs on a particular theme, like ''NJ Best," a selection
from Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and other musicians with roots in
the Garden State.
"The cultural influencers are changing," says Brian Kalinowski,
chief operating officer of Lycos, the Waltham Internet portal.
"Expert opinion in the media used to drive culture. Now, it's peer
Already, consumers can sample a broader range of critical opinion on
the Internet -- some of it relevant and thoughtful, covering products
that wouldn't ordinarily be reviewed by the mainstream media, and some
of it biased or one-dimensional. ('This game rocks!' ) And marketers,
such as movie studios and book publishers, are trying to figure out
how Internet tastemakers figure into their relationship with their
This year, for instance, movie studios have chosen to forgo advance
critics' screenings for more new movies than they did during the same
period of last year. The supernatural thriller 'Silent Hill' wasn't
shown to critics before it opened on April 21 -- some of the first
reviews showed up on the website AintItCoolNews.com that morning --
and yet the movie was last weekend's best box office performer.
And publishers such as Boston's Beacon Press are noticing that some
niche titles, such as a recent collection of writings about Iranian
culture, can attract more critical attention online than off.
Publicity director Pamela McColl says that Beacon is still trying to
assemble lists of influential book blogs -- "there are a lot of blogs
out there," she says -- but that the firm already provides review
copies to some critics who write solely for the Net. Not surprisingly,
McColl says that online reviews seem to be more influential among
At press events where video game companies introduce products, Greg
Kasavin has started to notice more non-journalists in the audience.