But at the same time, Amazon.com has made it possible for some folks to become professional readers. Amazon sells books, among other things, and one way they persuade people to buy books is by offering "reader reviews." Not reviews from literary or other magazines, mind you, although they do put those online, too. No, if you're willing to express your opinion of a work, Amazon.com gives you a forum. And because they track and evaluate reviews and reviewers, Amazon knows who their "top reviewers" are.
According to an article on this topic in Slate, sent to me by My Helpful Friend, Amazon's formula relies heavily on the little buttons that say "I found this review helpful: yes/no." Reviewers who post a lot a reviews are evaluated in terms of whether or not other web users click the Yes button. As the article points out, this system is pretty easy to hack. All it takes is a lot of friends willing to click a little button.
The Slate article was titled "Who Is Grady Harp? Amazon's Top Reviewers and the fate of the literary amateur." Garth Risk Hallberg is a writer who noticed that Grady Harp had written a nice review of his book. Some of the warm fuzzy feeling from that evaporated when he discovered his publicist had in fact, solicited the review from Grady Harp, a 66-year-old retired surgeon, because he was considered a "top reviewer."
Apparently, top reviewers get sent countless free books, and even other merchandise, making them in one sense at least, not amateurs. The most famous or infamous is Harriet Klausner, who this article credits (or discredits) with writing 45 reviews a week for five years. Amazingly enough, it seems an incredibly competitive "field" in that many folks are reading and reviewing like mad to get into the top ten. Some say they can't read what they want because they have to keep up with their workload!
Here's the closing paragraph, a good summation:
Like celebrity bloggers and Wikipedia "Gnomes," then, the Top Amazon Reviewer heralds the arrival of a curious hybrid: part customer, part employee. This feels like a loss. But perhaps it means that in the coming age, every writer will be a salesman: up past dark, sifting through the data stream for evidence that somewhere, some honest soul is buying.