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As writers migrate to the Internet, reviewers follow suit

By Mei Jia (China Daily)

08:39, June 13, 2012

An online survey shows 80 percent of readers select what they read based on book reviews. Provided to China Daily

Earning 1 million yuan ($157,000) a year is a faraway dream for most Chinese book critics, as low pay tends to come with the career.

But a new platform may make it possible.

Cloudary Corp, which runs several online literature websites, is recruiting up to 100 contracted critics as full-time writers.

Their reviews will be posted online, and they will be paid according to the number of clicks on their writings. The most popular critics are expected to reach 1 million yuan.

Critics and authors welcome the idea but are suspicious of the objectivity of book reviews created in this money-driven way.

Cloudary, which is based in Shanghai, has run the same platform for a decade with authors, 29 of whom earn about 1 million yuan a year.

"This experiment might fill the gap between traditional book critics and online reviewers," Chinese National Academy of Arts critic Wu Zuolai says.

"It's the first of its kind in China."

Cloudary has conducted a survey that found 80 percent of its registered readers select what to read based on book reviews.

Most of the reviews are written by ordinary readers. Online writers, such as Yan Jiu, interact with the reviewers and update their writing according to the feedback.

But in a parallel world, established book critics review works by established writers and get published in traditional journals, newspapers and magazines. They rarely notice online writers' works, even though these authors are becoming more popular and some of their works are being adapted into TV series and movies.

"Readers crave quality writing, whether it's online or not," Wu says.

"It's the right time to have independent critics."

Some critics and writers are unsure that Cloudary's new efforts will produce independent critics. But they say critics now can hardly support themselves by writing book reviews.

"It's not cost-effective," says critic Li Yong, who has written more than 100 reviews under the penname Shinian Kancai.

Xing An, critic and chief editor of the publisher Phoenix-Power, agrees.

He says he found it too tough to work as a self-employed critic.

Xing says the highest payment for book reviews in the country is 100 yuan for 1,000 words, but he knows some 2,000-word art reviews earn 40,000 yuan.

"My photo exhibition review gets 10,000 yuan," he says. "How can I be independent, and even great critic, when I can barely sustain myself?"

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