Volume I, Issue 1 -- February, 2000
State of the Site
Annual Report for
the complete review - 1999
The Site | Traffic and Search Engines | Popularity and Interest
Critical and Popular Response | Outlook | Summary
I. Overviewi. The site
The complete review went online, at www.complete-review.com, on March 31, 1999. The first set of reviews (44 of them) were posted April 4-5. Growth of the site increased rapidly and steadily over the course of the year:
The original goal of making 250 reviews available by the end of 1999 was exceeded by a surprising 13.6 percent.
Books under Review Month Total
April, 1999 84 May 112 June 154 July 172 August 195 September 211 October 237 November 267 December 284
Nine author pages were also added over the course of the year.
Access to the site was available throughout the year with minimal disruptions. The only major break in service was for a total of about 7 hours on December 6, 1999, when the site server was moved to a new location.
ii. Traffic and Search Engines
Traffic to the site was initially very small, increasing rapidly once the complete review's reviews began being listed on various search engines. Word of mouth (and presumably e-mail) and a growing presence on an increasing number of search engines powered continuous growth for most of the year. Temporary setbacks occurred with the removal of almost all of the site's pages first from Alta Vista in the course of their restructuring in late October, and then from Infoseek (for reasons unknown) in mid-November. These were, however, more than offset by the listing of the complete review on other search engines, the Yahoo directory (at the end of August) as well as the Open Directory, portal to almost all the other directories on the Web.
The complete review relied solely on search-engine coverage and word of mouth in publicizing the site, to the extent one can call it that. The complete review is an information resource and finds advertising inappropriate and unseemly for this (or, actually, any site). The complete review prefers to invest its limited resources in improving and expanding coverage. Advertising might increase traffic to the site more quickly than search engine coverage and word of mouth, but it is not a bandwagon the complete review is eager to jump on. Those in search of the information provided by the complete review are as likely to find it without the help of mindless banner ads strategically placed on other sites.
Search-engine coverage varied throughout the year. The status of the complete review at various search engines at the end of 1999 was as follows:
When the complete review first submitted pages to search engines, AltaVista and Infoseek were heads and shoulders above the rest. Submissions were posted within a day or two, making for high consumer satisfaction and ease of use. Both radically restyled their submission procedure, with Infoseek acknowledging that it would take 60 days to post pages (a nightmare in terms of providing access to timely information). AltaVista claimed to post submissions quicker, but at the end of 1999 submissions were taking as long as seven weeks.
- Alta Vista - 280+ pages available, good coverage for almost all of the year
- Excite - ca. 40 pages, minimal coverage throughout the year
- FAST - no coverage
- Google - ca. 260 pages, slow in initially posting pages
- HotBot - no coverage, intermittent coverage throughout the year
- Infoseek - 1 page, excellent (and timely) coverage until the end of October, then all pages except cover page delisted
- Lycos - ca. 80 pages, decent coverage
- Northern Lights - ca. 175 pages, good initial coverage, slow in updating
By year's end Google had assumed the mantle of most user-friendly search-engine, easily providing the best coverage. Northern Lights coverage was also excellent, but they did not spider frequently enough to guarantee inclusion of the most up-to-date pages. (Possibly a problem for Google as well.)
Inktomi-based search engines proved to be a singular nightmare, apparently choosing which pages to accept by some randomized process (and taking months to do so). MSN provided good coverage when AltaVista was their partner; having reverted to Inktomi at the end of 1999 results were again much worse.
Directories were a useful additional venue for the complete review. Only the main page and the author pages were submitted. Getting listed remained a consistently mysterious process. The site was submitted to Yahoo (in the "Book Review" category) four times before being accepted. Almost all the author pages were submitted several times each, but at year's end only Geoff Nicholson and Zbigniew Herbert had been accepted at Yahoo.
The Open Directory generally proved much more efficient, though not all author pages were listed by the end of the year. (In particular, the listing page regarding "Poets - H" (appropriate for the complete review's pages on Herbert, Hill and Holub) was not updated in the period between August and December, 1999.) The Open Directory is in turn the basis of the directories at a number of the other search engines (Lycos, AltaVista, etc.). These, however, take much longer in updating their directories and there seems no possible reason whatsoever to rely on or use them when the Open Directory is so obviously superior.
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II. Popularity and InterestThe thirty most popular review at the complete review in 1999:
Most Popular Reviews - 1999
The bestseller list for the year is naturally slightly misleading in that it only reflects the total number of page-views for each review. As some reviews were up as early as April while others continued to be added throughout the year the totals do not necessarily reflect popularity as measured on a daily basis. Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, for example, was added two months after his three other titles, explaining why it ranks third in popularity among his titles even though it consistently rakes in more page views than the others on a daily basis. (Though in fact his The Diamond Age does continue to hold the single day record for most page views, with 104.) Even on a per day basis, however, the top positions are likely to be unchanged, as is also reflected in the high positions A Prayer for Owen Meany and the other leading books had month in and month out on the monthly bestseller lists (see monthly bestseller lists for 1999).
- A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
- An Erotic Beyond: Sade, Octavio Paz
- An Equal Music, Vikram Seth
- Shaking a Leg, Angela Carter
- Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
- The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson
- Death and the Dervish, Mesa Selimovic
- Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
- Snowcrash, Neal Stephenson
- Eucalyptus, Murray Bail
- De toekomst van gisteren, Harry Mulisch
- The Cannibal Galaxy, Cynthia Ozick
- Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
- Zodiac, Neal Stephenson
- The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester
- On Love, Alain de Botton
- King, John Berger
- King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild
- Fording the Stream of Consciousness, Dubravka Ugresic
- Slow Chocolate Autopsy, Iain Sinclair
- The Assault, Harry Mulisch
- England, England, Julian Barnes
- In the Jaws of Life, Dubravka Ugresic
- The Mirror of Ideas, Michel Tournier
- The Death of the Author, Gilbert Adair
- The Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch
- American Tabloid, James Ellroy
- Le sabotage amoureux, Amélie Nothomb
- Babel Tower, A.S.Byatt
- The Crystal Frontier, Carlos Fuentes
There are a number of surprising success stories. Neal Stephenson was clearly the most popular author, with all four titles under review in the top 14. Harry Mulisch managed three in the top 26, including the highest ranked foreign title (at an amazing number 11). However, though John Irving dominated the list for most of the year with A Prayer for Owen Meany his two other titles under review finished a disappointing 60th (A Son of the Circus) and 63rd (Trying to Save Piggy Sneed).
A number of unlikely books were highly ranked, including those by Angela Carter, Mesa Selimovic, and Dubravka Ugresic.
A number of titles disappointed greatly. Particularly surprising was Martin Amis, whose most popular review (Night Train) came in at a woeful 172. Another flop was Salman Rushdie's The Ground beneath her Feet -- despite being added as early as the beginning of June it was only the 59th most popular review.
Fiction naturally dominates the list (though a Tom Stoppard play did make the top 10 and diverse non-fiction titles also figure prominently). The highest ranked books in other categories were:
Other notable books ranked as follows:
- Poetry: Edward FitzGerald's version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (38).
- Modern poetry: Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love (47)
- Philosophy: Lakatos/Feyerabend For and Against Method (36)
- Science: Freeman Dyson's The Sun, the Genome and the Internet (74)
- Pia Pera's controversial (and, in the US, critically shredded) Lo's Diary (33)
- Juan Goytisolo's highly rated The Marx Family Saga (44)
- Imre Lakatos' Proofs and Refutations (78)
- Alan Sokal's Fashionable Nonsense (116)
- The first review -- Nicholson Baker's The Everlasting Story of Nory (145)
- The bizarrest book ? Ed Wood Jr.'s Death of a Transvestite (180)
- The lowest rated book -- Astro Teller's Exegesis (194)
- The obscurest book ? I.K.McEwen's Socrates' Ancestor (234)
A number of well-represented authors did not attract a great deal of attention:
Despite a popular author page no single title by Geoff Nicholson did particularly well, while other well-known authors such as Jeanette Winterson fared even more poorly. (Only Steve Aylett's showing is understandable, given that two of his books were only added late in the year (as was his author page).)
diverse Authors - 1999 Author Books
Steve Aylett 5 199 Jonathan Coe 5 46 Zbigniew Herbert 5 84 Geoffrey Hill 8 47 Miroslav Holub 7 69 Geoff Nicholson 10 79 Cees Nooteboom 5 127 Patrick White 9 32 Jeanette Winterson 5 139
Overall, however, the bestseller list can be seen as validation of the editorial direction of the complete review. The varied selection seems to have met with great success, and for every predictable bestselling author such as Neal Stephenson there is a lesser-known quantity such as Harry Mulisch or Mesa Selimovic.
Among the site's main pages the Links page was surprisingly popular, and the page devoted to the New additions to the site surprisingly unpopular. Among the secondary pages the Editors' Choice was of greatest interest, with significant interest also being shown for the current Bestseller list
Author page views increased dramatically with their listing on several of the directories. The most popular of these pages were those for Iain Sinclair and Patrick White.
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III. Critical and Popular ResponseFeedback from publishers, editors, writers, and users has been very positive. Inquiries asking to submit titles for review and suggestions for titles and authors that should be reviewed were by far the most frequent form of direct feedback. Criticism of reviews and disagreement with the views of the complete review was surprisingly limited. Several reviewed authors did contact the complete review (though such contact did not influence coverage of their titles).
Surprisingly (and disappointingly) the only link-suggestions during the entire year were commercial in nature. The complete review makes every effort to link to as many other reviews of all titles under review, but no other review forum suggested that their reviews be linked on the pages of the complete review. This is certainly the greatest failure of the site, and an effort will be made to more actively solicit links to other opinions and views in the future.
Links to individual reviews at the complete review were established by other sites, though these remain relatively few. Where appropriate the complete review contacted other sites (specifically other pages devoted to authors whose works are also under review at the complete review) and suggested links to reviews. None of these suggestions were taken up.
The complete review is associated with loss-leader Amazon.com and its British and German counterparts, with a multitude of links to those sites. This affiliation does ultimately seem to offer sufficient advantages (including additional information about the books under review and the convenience of purchasing the books in question with a minimum of effort) to users to warrant the affiliation. Customer satisfaction with (and use of) these links is relatively high.
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IV. Outlook 2000The complete review plans to continue adding reviews at about the same rate as in 1999. The target is to reach 500 reviews by the end of 2000. The majority of new reviews will again be devoted to literary works, and the complete review hopes to expand its coverage of foreign-language titles (as well as of international literature generally). It is expected that about one-third of the reviews added will be of new titles, the remainder being backlist (or out of print) titles.
The complete review intends to increase coverage of the following authors who are already under review:
Authors not yet under review who are expected to be widely reviewed include:
- Angela Carter
- Paul K. Feyerabend
- William Gaddis
- David Hare
- Georges Perec
The new complete review Quarterly will provide an additional forum for users, offering broader analyses than the individual book and author reviews at the complete review permit.
- David Bohm
- Jorge Luis Borges
- Anthony Burgess
- Raymond Chandler
- Julio Cortázar
- Guy Davenport
- Steve Erickson
- William Faulkner
- Alasdair Gray
- Ivan Klíma
- Harry Mathews
- Manuel Puig
- Antonio Tabucchi
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V. SummaryThe complete review has established itself as a useful internet resource. It is the major source of information about a number of books and authors on the internet, including authors as diverse as Patrick White, Iain Sinclair, Steve Aylett, and Amélie Nothomb.
The seemingly obvious practice of linking to other reviews and information about books and authors remains, in fact, surprisingly rare on other sites. The complete review's coverage of backlist titles and foreign literature also sets it apart from most book review sites.
In the first nine months of its existence, to the close of 1999, the complete review achieved most of its initial goals. It has a significant public following and generous critical support. The year was, in almost all respects, a success.
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