the complete review Quarterly
Volume I, Issue 2   --   May, 2000

The complete review's Survey
of Book Review Sites
(page 3)

Review Index:

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The Los Angeles Times

Site:   The Los Angeles Times
Reviews per Week:   About 20 books reviewed, with some reviews covering multiple books
Total:   About 100 freely accessible, 1000s on pay-per-view basis
Types of Books reviewed:   All -- but mainly new releases
Registration:   Not necessary
Cookies:   Yes
      Number:   2
citysearch_addresses from
atf from
      Max. Duration:   1/1/2035
Advertising:   Lots, reducing articles to a thin column overwhelmed by commercials
Archive:   Yes -- but only most recent five weeks worth of Sunday reviews freely available. Everything else (archive extends back to 1990), beyond glimpse of articles, is available only on a pay-per-view basis.
Search capability:   Yes -- good
Index:   None
User Friendliness:   Fairly high
Reviews:   Fairly good, though vary -- from serious to quite light
Links in reviews:   No
Additional Features:   
  - First Chapters (book excerpts)
  - Book and publishing news
  - rest of The Los Angeles Times site

Overall Grade:   B-


  Pros:      Cons:      Overall:   The Los Angeles Times provides decent and fairly extensive reviews -- but by limiting its openly accessible archive to only the past few weeks (some 75-100 books under review at any given time) it becomes a very limited resource. Worth checking for the newest publications, it offers relatively little beyond that. The pay-per-view archive is a resource for the desperate, but it is hard to imagine any review that is worth the exorbitant costs charged by The Los Angeles Times.

    Note: we are not fundamentally opposed to the idea of pay-per-view for data of any sort on the Internet. However, users would be foolish to pay any site, be it peddling pornography or "literary" reviews, unreasonable sums of money for data. In the case of the book reviews available at The Los Angeles Times pennies per page would seem an appropriate amount. (Remember how cheaply you can get them elsewhere !) The sixty cents to two dollars they charge seems more than excessive.

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The New York Review of Books

Site:   The New York Review of Books
Reviews per Week:   4-10 (appears bi/triweekly, and not all reviews from the print edition are immediately available on the site)
Total:   1000s -- eventually
Types of Books reviewed:   All -- including some foreign titles and some older titles. Literary and serious.
Registration:   Not necessary
Cookies:   Occasional, but not on main page
Advertising:   Yes -- banner ads, but not too obtrusive
Archive:   Yes -- currently all articles from 11/1996 on (but planning to add all, back to first issue (1963)). Currently free but there has been some talk of charging for access to articles in the future.
Search capability:   Yes -- excellent
Index:   None
User Friendliness:   High
Reviews:   Excellent, in depth. Also: long -- some stretch out over several pages.
Links in reviews:   No
Additional Features:   
  - Essays
  - Poetry

Overall Grade:   B+ (but will improve as archive grows -- as long as it remains free (Unfortunately, it did not remain largely free (going pay-per-view 11/2001 -- see Update, below) and so the grade would now be considerably lower))


  Pros:      Cons:      Overall:   The New York Review of Books offers excellent reviews of a wide variety of books, with an emphasis on serious literature. A simple site, it provides great content -- most of which is easy to find using their search engine. The archive is still relatively small in size, but as more reviews are included the site will become an invaluable resource, rivalling The New York Times as the best of the web. (Unless, of course, they decide to make their archive pay-per-view, in which case the site will become fairly useless.)

    (UPDATE - December, 2001: The horror has come to pass. A number of articles from the archive remain freely accessible, but for the vast majority it is time to pay per view. They are now demanding $ 65 a year for access to the entire archive ($ 20 if you subscribe to the print edition of the NYRB) -- or $ 4 per article. It's a grand archive, but at prices like these .....
    The site has now gone from a valuable resource to an only occasionally useful one, and we would now revise our grade downwards several notches. Too bad. This could have been one of the great on-line resources. Now it is -- but only for the select few who are willing and able to pay for the privilege.)

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The New York Times

Site:   The New York Times (The NY Times and The NY Times Book Review)
Reviews per Week:    30 to 50 (5 in daily edition, plus 15-30 full-length reviews, about 10 "Books in Brief" reviews, and occasional surveys of Crime, Science Fiction, and Children's books (each covering about 4-10 books) in the weekly Book Review section)
Total:   over 50,000
Types of Books reviewed:   All. Excellent coverage of new American publications.
Registration:   YES
Cookies:   Yes
      Number:   5 (just on the first page -- more appear for each link)
NYT-S from
RDB from
Apache from (lasting until 2037)
PreferencesID from (lasting until 2010)
id from (lasting until 2030)
Advertising:   Yes -- banner ads, mildly irritating
Archive:   Yes -- superb
Search capability:   Very good, though it has a few kinks
Index:   None
User Friendliness:   Very high
Reviews:   Excellent. Good, varied reviewers (lots of big names), quality high
Links in reviews:   No
Additional Features:   
  - Publishing news
  - Articles about authors and events
  - Expanded bestseller lists
  - First Chapters (book excerpts)
  - Book Forums (speak your mind !)
  - Editor's Choice lists

Overall Grade:   A


  Pros:      Cons:      Overall:   No question that The New York Times site is hands down the best book review resource on the Internet. A huge archive, easily accessible, covers most of the books one might be interested in published since 1980 (though there are surprising omissions). The reviews are generally of fairly high quality.
    The only downside to this fabulous site is that you have to register to use it, and that it spits out cookies at a prodigious rate. This downside is, unfortunately, a major problem: registration is unconscionable, cookies are an enormous, intrusive bother, and it makes using the site decidedly unpleasant. The temptation to use this great resource will probably be too large to resist, but remember: tread warily.

    (NOTE: Following the 25 June 2001 Supreme Court decision in Tasini v. The New York Times the newspaper restricted archival searches to the period from 1996 onwards, no longer allowing access to the older reviews (1980-1995). This greatly diminishes the worth and utility of the site, and if we were revising our original evaluation we would give the site a lower grade. See this article in the cr Quarterly.)

    A few helpful suggestions: always lie about any and all personal data when registering at information sites such as this one. Skew those demographics ! If at all possible, register anew each time you use the site, providing different data each time. (It's a pain to do, but any little bit you can do to help undermine these offensive marketeering tactics is worthwhile.)

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Site:   Salon
Reviews per Week:   6-10
Total:   100s
Types of Books reviewed:   All -- focus on new publications
Registration:   Not necessary
Cookies:   Yes
      Number:   5
SalonMonth -
id -
SB_ID - (twice)
AA02 -
      Max. Duration:   9/11/2030 (, of course)
Advertising:   Yes -- fairly annoying
Archive:   Yes -- somewhat cumbersome to navigate
Search capability:   Yes -- excellent
Index:   Yes -- arranged by date, author's last name, reviewer's name, title, publisher (really) -- not by subject or genre. Note that the indices -- arranged alphabetically -- are, in places, not in entirely accurate alphabetical order
User Friendliness:   High
Reviews:   Of varying quality, generally not quite up to the standards of the bigger print venues
Links in reviews:   Yes, to related subjects and other Salon articles
Additional Features:   
  - Table Talk (message boards)
  - Author interviews
  - Lists of the best and most overrated books of the year
  - Other publishing and book news

Overall Grade:   B+


  Pros:      Cons:      Overall:   Salon has a relatively large archive of book reviews, most of which are fairly accessible (though their plodding indices can be a pain to navigate). An attractive site, with lots of content, books get a good share of coverage and attention. The quality of the reviews careens wildly -- though the general standard has improved markedly since the early days.
    Salon, of course, only incidentally provides content, seeing and selling itself as paradigm and model of commercial Internet enterprises. What they're about is selling their users (and showing others how it is done) -- so the site is a hornet's nest of cookies, a major irritant to the casual user who doesn't want to be snared in this particularly unappealing web.

    (UPDATE - December, 2001: The Salon archive remains an impressive (and -- hurrah ! -- freely accessible) one. As Salon's stock has tanked during 2000 and 2001 book coverage has been cut back -- there are no longer as many reviews being published, which is disappointing. It is unclear how much longer the site can survive, but as long as it does it remains a fairly useful resource.)

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The Times - The Sunday Times

Site:   The Times and The Sunday Times
Reviews per Week:   15 - 30 (some brief reviews)
Total:   100s
Types of Books reviewed:   All -- focus on recent British publications
Registration:   Theoretically
Cookies:   None
Advertising:   Some -- banner ads, and in margins
Archive:   Yes -- reviews from January 1998 onwards
Search capability:   Yes
Index:   Alphabetical by title and author. Somewhat cumbersome and slow
User Friendliness:   Okay -- not the easiest site to navigate
Reviews:   Good, though too many too brief
Links in reviews:   No
Additional Features:   
  - Rest of The Times site

Overall Grade:   B


  Pros:      Cons:      Overall:   A large archive of good reviews makes The Times a fairly valuable resource. Getting around, especially to the book reviews, is a bit harder than it should be. The indices (slow to load) are useful, but the Author index does not list the titles of an author's books if s/he is reviewed more than once -- three different reviews of three different Martin Amis books would simply be listed "Martin Amis - Martin Amis - Martin Amis". Not ideal.

    (UPDATE - December, 2001: The indices are gone, as both versions of the Times have gone through numerous redesigns -- generally not for the best. Both sites take much too long to load, and The Sunday Times, which used to have a decent design, has gone completely minimalist in appearance (making it considerably harder to use, because it is unclear what books are hidden behind the review-headlines). But worst of all: the splendid archives are now pay-per-view. They have a more creative pricing plan than most -- pay £ 2000 for 20,000 downloads and the per article price is only 10p ! -- but that doesn't make it much better than any of these other plans. Given that the site now essentially only makes current reviews accessible we would have to lower our grade several notches.)

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The Washington Post

Site:   The Washington Post
Reviews per Week:   10-15
Total:   no more than 30 freely accessible (but 1000s in a pay-per-view archive)
Types of Books reviewed:   All -- focus on recent US publications
Registration:   Not necessary
Cookies:   Yes
      Number:   6
      Type:   id -- (sent six times)
      Max. Duration:   9/11/2030
Advertising:   Yes -- fairly intrusive
Archive:   Yes -- articles from previous two weeks free, all others (from 1977 onwards) pay-per-view
Search capability:   Yes -- very good
Index:   None
User Friendliness:   Not impressive
Reviews:   Good quality
Links in reviews:   No
Additional Features:   
  - Chapter One (book excerpts)
  - The Washington Post Book Club
  - Literary Calendar
  - Literary news

Overall Grade:   C-


  Pros:      Cons:      Overall:   The Washington Post offers much of the content one would want from a book review site. Their reviews are decent, the selection of books reviewed broad and fairly interesting. Unfortunately, this site does its best to obscure, hide, and keep that content out of any user's hands. From the pathetic front page -- giving the useless article titles, but not revealing what books are being reviewed -- to the fact that only the most recent two weeks of articles are freely accessible this is as pretty much as user-unfriendly a site as one can conceive.
    The Washington Post's pay-per-view archive costs 2.95 dollars per article weekdays 6AM to 6PM EST, 1.50 dollars per article at all other times. It is unclear why anyone would use (or indeed whether anyone has ever used) this "service".

    (UPDATE - December, 2001: The site is now a bit more user friendly, but still far from exemplary in presentation. And the archive is still pay-per-view -- though the (obscene) prices haven't changed.)

    A final cookie note: the cookie on offer here was foisted on us six times when visiting the site. If consumers are meant to have the choice of accepting or rejecting these intrusions then a single attempt to deposit one should suffice. It is common courtesy to accept rejection gracefully. The people at (and the many other companies of that ilk) are, of course, anything but courteous, knowing that repeated attempts are more likely to get you to swallow the poisonous cookies on offer. Don't stand for it.

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