the complete review Quarterly
Volume X, Issue 1   --   February, 2009

State of the Site

Annual Report for
complete review - 2008

  1. Overview:
    1. The Site
    2. Traffic
    3. Search Engines
    4. Review Copies
  2. Popularity and Interest:
    1. Links to Amazon
      1. - US
      2. The other Amazons
    2. Other pages at the Complete Review
  3. Critical and Popular Response
  4. General Observations
  5. Outlook

I. Overview

       i. The site

       The complete review went online, at, on 31 March 1999. Growth of the site has increased fairly steadily over the course of the past years, and in 2008:

Books under Review
Month Total
December, 2000 529
December, 2001 750
December, 2002 934
December, 2003 1128
December, 2004 1331
December, 2005 1548
December, 2006 1774
December, 2007 1986
January, 2008 2008
February 2024
March 2044
April 2064
May 2080
June 2096
July 2111
August 2129
September 2143
October 2159
November 2182
December 2205

       We again set a (soft) target of adding 200 reviews in 2008, and exceeded that by almost ten per cent, as 219 reviews were added.
       In addition to our regular review coverage we began adding 'review-overviews' in 2007 -- all the links and review-quotes we usually provide, but without our own review. We hoped to add about one a week but that now seems unrealistic, and we added only 16 over the course of 2008.

       No author pages were added over the course of the year.

       As always the breadth of coverage (at least as far as fiction goes) should be fairly satisfying, but it never seems quite enough.

       It's hard to come up with a list of review highlights (books we are especially pleased to have reviewed (especially those which were not widely reviewed elsewhere)) because we were very pleased with what we got to day in and day out in 2008. But among the titles worth singling out -- not necessarily the best or most important titles we covered, but the ones we're glad we were able to get to -- are:        A fair number of the year's most prominent and discussed books were also covered at the complete review, including:        We reviewed multiple (3+) titles by a number of authors, including notably Roberto Bolaño, Emmanuel Bove, Deon Meyer, and Wolf Haas.

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        ii. Traffic

       Traffic to the complete review did increase in 2008, but once again hardly faster than the site itself (which grew just over 10 per cent in terms of reviews available).

       Among outside measures of total site-popularity:        Among outside measures of popularity for the Literary Saloon:        The great increase in the number Google-feed subscribers can, in part, be traced to our making it easier to link to the feeds, though obviously the popularity of the Google Reader itself also has played a significant role.

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        iii. Search Engines

       As always, Google was the most common means by which users found their way to the site. While pages from the complete review generally are ranked very highly at Google -- a search for title and author of any title under review will generally point to that review as one of the top search results -- there are wild and largely inexplicable inconsistencies. Some searches for title and author bring up search results pointing to our reviews of other titles by the same author, but not the review of the title queried for (even when that review is then listed under 'More results from'). This seems to occur most frequently when our review-pages include foreign-language text (review-quotes in other languages, title and author information in, for example, Arabic, etc.), but there is no consistent indicator as to whether or not a review will come up as a search result. Still, it suggests there are still quite a few kinks in Google's algorithms.

       Media-mentions of the site contributed to small surges of interest, but no one article or link provided significant increases in traffic.
       RSS-feed readers and news aggregators seem to have become popular ways of following the site, but we have no indications of just how popular they are and how much readers rely on them.

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        iv. Review Copies

       The inflow/flood of review copies continues, registering another big increase in 2008.
       Submissions in recent years break down as follows:

Review Copies
Year Total List value
2008 476 $ 7699.84
2007 387 $ 6133.38
2006 348 $ 5775.44
2005 299 $ 5321.78
2004 179 $ 3378.83
2003 131 $ 2673.16
2002 127 $ 2710.27
2001 134 $ 2559.14
2000 136 $ 3257.72

       (The 'List value' is probably considerably higher because titles are only counted once and a significant number now arrive first in proof form (entered at a zero value list price) and then in final print form (at which point we do not record them again).)

       The percentage of submitted titles reviewed declined again, even as the total number remained about the same: 109 of the 476 titles submitted were reviewed by mid-January of the new year (compared to 100/387 in 2007 and 114/348 in 2006).
       This total -- that slightly more than half of the books we review are those originally submitted to us by publishers -- seems to be fairly consistent now, though we're surprised that such a large percentage of reviewed titles still come from elsewhere (we buy them, borrow them from libraries, etc.). Some of this can be attributed to our interest in older titles (often no longer readily available from publishers), but it still seems very high.

       Publishers continue to be generous and generally fast-acting when we make review-requests -- though we continue to be surprised by a few hold-outs, from whom getting books is harder than pulling teeth ..... Except for foreign and foreign-language titles, for the most part we have been able to review the titles we wanted to (though not always as soon as we'd have liked to).

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II. Popularity and Interest

        i. Links to Amazon

       We greatly appreciate that many users follow our links to the pages for the books under review (and, where available, the British, Canadian, German, and French pages), and often go on to make purchases (for which we do receive a commission, which does make up by far the greatest share of our operating budget). Once again, however, traffic increases (both in click-throughs and purchases) have not been nearly as dramatic as at the site as a whole.
       Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind was again the most clicked-through -- and bought -- title across the five Amazons.

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               1. - US

       Sales at were decent in 2008. The most popular title, by a considerable margin, was Roberto Bolaño's 2666, with sales almost evenly split vetween the hardcover and the three-volume paperback edition; there were even seven sales of the Spanish-language edition.
       There were double-digit sales of twenty-three titles.

       As always, many of our users head off to Amazon via one of the links on our page and then go on to buy completely unrelated products (which we appreciate, by the way -- the commissions are most helpful). Among the oddities purchased by visitors to the complete review in 2008 -- and note we mean no disrespect here whatsoever, and we appreciate being the indirect beneficiaries of your shopping-decisions -- are:

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               2. The other Amazons sales remained fairly stable in 2008 (though the decline in the value of the pound hurt), and The Shadow of the Wind was yet again the top-seller.

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        ii. Other pages at the Complete Review

       David Hare's Stuff Happens continued its run as most popular review well into 2008, only to be superseded by the rather unlikely title by Tom Stoppard, Enter a Free Man.
       Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger began a hugely successful run with its Man Booker win, while all the publicity surrounding Roberto Bolaño's 2666 made it a very popular year-end review. And then there's Tsutsui Yasutaka's Salmonella Men on Planet Porno -- the popularity of which can largely be ascribed to the appearance of the word 'porno' in the title.

       Among the complete review's Author Pages the one for Murakami Haruki is yet again the runaway most popular one, with Amélie Nothomb remaining a solid and consistent runner-up.

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III. Critical and Popular Response

       As in previous years: both the complete review and our Literary Saloon-weblog continue to get occasional media-mentions in articles about literary coverage on the Internet, but none generated a great deal of additional traffic to the site in 2008.
       Online mentions and links are also frequent -- generally at other weblogs -- but these, too, do not have much effect on traffic, which seems to be driven largely by search-engine traffic as well as by what is by now a relatively large group of repeat visitors who regularly check in on the site.

       October was the most successful month at the complete review, and in particular our Nobel Prize coverage garnered considerable attention.

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IV. General Observations

       While hardly running on empty, little has changed at the complete review as we approach our tenth anniversary in the spring of 2009. The complete review Quarterly is one of the more neglected parts of the site, but the areas of greatest interest to readers -- the reviews, and the daily weblog -- are as robust as ever, and that is also where attention will be focussed in the coming year(s).

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V. Outlook

       It's always all about the books and the literary coverage. The (soft) target is once again for 200 reviews for the year, and the hope is to be able to present the usual mix, with books in translation making up about 70 per cent of reviews. There are certain languages (and authors) we'd particularly like to get to, but much remains haphazard, dependent on what we can get our hands on (and when).

       All in all, the site seems to be in fairly good shape -- and we hope to continue doing the best we can.

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© 2009 the complete review Quarterly
© 2009 the complete review