Jill Lepore wrote an article in The New Yorker, "Dickens in Eden"; where she talked a lot about Charles Dickens, and a little about Dickens Camp in Santa Cruz.
I skimmed this article, largely because, although I've performed that Dickens Fair, I'm not interested in Dickens Camp. However, I was intrigued by the article's statement that Dickens felt oppressed by his readers. The article explains that book reviewing began in the 18th century as a response to a large number of books being published. However, as literacy improved and the cost of books decreased "a democracy of readers rose up against an aristocracy of critics".
I think the book industry is again at a crossroad of change. The issues may be somewhat different and I think in particular they include the idea of gatekeeper. People have claimed that with the advent of e-books the need of gatekeepers has decreased. People can make their own decisions about what is good or not, and that allows someone who is fond of an unpopular genre to continue to find books they might like to read. An intriguing concept, especially when anyone can read a sample of someone's work before buying.
Yet, I find the current maturity of the publishing industry not yet sufficient to support this idea. Samples can indicate that an author has mastered line-level writing, demonstrate their voice, and showcase a couple scenes. It can't indicate the ability of the author to develop character arcs, weave a story into a satisfying ending, or even necessarily give you an idea whether the author kills off characters.
This new publishing world has social networks such as Goodreads, and even the online bookstores provide reviews. Yet, they aren't what drives me to read a book, or at least consider sampling it. Recommendations by people I know, and articles on blogs are the typical way I hear about stories.
I guess what I'm left feeling with after all of this is that we may have a democracy where readers choose who is the effective victors, but we come from an environment where someone -- traditional publishing, an algorithm on booksellers website or social network -- picks our candidates. What I'm interested in is what drives the grassroots. To me a democracy of readers means the readers must be involved in the early stages as well, at least if we're going to remove gatekeepers.