the complete review Quarterly
Volume XI, Issue 1   --   February, 2010

State of the Site

Annual Report for
complete review - 2009

  1. Overview:
    1. The Site
    2. Traffic
    3. How users find our material
    4. Review Copies
    1. Links to Amazon
      1. - US
      2. The other Amazons
  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. Yes, in 2009 we celebrated our tenth anniversary online.

       Growth of the site has increased fairly steadily over the course of the past years:

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
December, 2008 2205
January, 2009 2222
February 2234
March 2248
April 2264
May 2279
June 2287
July 2301
August 2313
September 2330
October 2346
November 2360
December 2377

       Only 172 books were reviewed in 2009, the lowest yearly total to date, and well below the expected 200.
       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. Twenty-six review-overviews were added in 2009 (up from 16 in 2008).

       Two author pages were added in 2009, for Herta Müller and Roberto Bolaño.

       The breadth of coverage in 2009 was fairly satisfying, but, as always, there seems far too much we didn't or couldn't get to.

       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)), 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, notably Dag Solstad and Roberto Bolaño

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        ii. Traffic

       Traffic to the complete review increased slightly in 2009, but again hardly faster than the site itself (which grew 7.8 per cent in terms of reviews available).

       Among outside measures of total site-popularity:        Among outside measures of popularity for the Literary Saloon:

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        iii. How users find our material

       The majority of visitors to the site -- over eighty per cent -- reach it via search engines (i.e. specific queries). Google continues to be by far the most common means by which users find their way to the complete review.
       The new Bing search engine only provided a small percentage of total traffic; even by the end of 2009 rarely more than 2 per cent.

       There were occasional surges of interest in some reviews and Literary Saloon-items, but only our Nobel Prize-coverage attracted a significantly larger-than-usual volume of traffic. By calling the winner two days before the official announcement, and setting up a Herta Müller-page in preparation for the announcement, we were able to provide information unavailable elsewhere, and that proved very popular. Considerable media attention also contributed to the increase in traffic.

       RSS-feed readers and news aggregators have clearly become very popular ways of following the site, but we have no indications of just how popular they are and how much readers rely (solely or largely) on them.

       Since 15 May 2009 it has been possible to get the Literary Saloon on Kindle. As 1 January 2010 there were only 3 subscribers.

       M.A.Orthofer -- the complete review himself -- began posting on Twitter, too, and as of 1 January 2010 had 504 followers. Traffic to the site via Twitter (mentions of stories and reviews, with links) remains negligible.

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        iv. Review Copies

       Among the slight disappointments in 2009 was that the inflow/flood of review copies abated in 2009, as only a few more trickled in than in 2008 (as opposed to the large increases in previous years).
       Submissions to the complete review in recent years break down as follows:

Review Copies
Year Total List value
2009 483 $ 7092.94
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 actual 'List value' is probably considerably higher than recorded 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 decline in the 2009 total value suggests we received (considerably) more ARCs than in 2008.)

       Surprisingly, the percentage of submitted titles reviewed declined yet again, as only 96 of the 483 titles submitted in 2009 were reviewed by mid-January of 2010 (compared to 109/476 in 2008, 100/387 in 2007, and 114/348 in 2006). [Titles received in previous years do not necessarily fall by the wayside: 8 additional titles first received in 2008 were reviewed in 2009, for example, bringing the total from the 2008-received titles to 117.]
       Nevertheless, the 96 titles that were submitted by publishers and authors and that we reviewed represent a higher percentage of all books reviewed than in any previous year: counting review-copies received in previous years and finally reviewed in 2009, well over 60 per cent of the titles reviewed at the complete review in 2009 came to us as review copies, well above the historic average (of about 50 per cent). (The remainder are titles independently obtained by us: purchased, borrowed from libraries, etc.)

       While the numbers might suggest review copies flowed as freely in 2009 as they did in 2008 this is not the case. While many publishers (generously) supply us with books of obvious interest, it often proved much more difficult than in previous years to elicit copies from a larger number of (generally larger) publishers. While many review-copy requests continue to be quickly acted upon, we have had much greater trouble obtaining many books of interest (in particular more prominent titles that are widely reviewed elsewhere); there were at least a dozen major 2009 titles that we were unable to consider for review because we were unable to obtain review copies.
       Economic considerations may play a role in publishers' decisions who to provide review copies to (and there have also been some obvious logistical stumbling blocks, as some publicity departments clearly were in some disarray in 2009); nevertheless, given how well-established the complete review is (now in its eleventh year online ...) and the (relatively) large audience it reaches, it seems surprising that publishers don't try a bit harder (especially when we specifically request a title).
       It will be interesting to see how this situation develops.

       A small number (a half a dozen or so) review copies came to us in electronic form in 2009. Unfortunately, we did not review any of these -- despite our best intentions. Without an e-reader it simply did not prove feasible to read the books; reading on a computer screen proved too unpleasant. Nevertheless, the number of submissions -- actual and potential -- in e-form, and the advantages (of not having yet more piles of books, etc.) make it very tempting to move towards reviewing e-books too, and we have seriously considered purchasing a device simply for this purpose. So far, however, a combination of too-high prices and limited e-reader capabilities have prevented us from doing so. When that bare-bones device that can also display pdf and ePub material becomes available for, say, under $150.00 we'll probably give it a shot.

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        i. Links to Amazon

       As always, 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). Both click-throughs and purchases did not, however, increase appreciably in 2009.
       Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind was again the most clicked-through -- and bought -- title across the five Amazons, while Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the other across-the-board popular title.

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               1. - US

       Sales were relatively flat at in 2009.
       There were double-digit sales of only fifteen titles (down from twenty-three in 2008)

       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 2009 -- and note we mean no disrespect here whatsoever, and we appreciate being the indirect beneficiaries of your shopping-decisions -- are:        While there have been some sales of Kindle e-books (for which we do not receive a commission) the total number is still very small, and remains negligible compared to the total number of books sold.

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               2. The other Amazons

       UK: sales were markedly better than in 2008. There were 201 items of which 2 or more copies were sold.

       Canada: posted much better results than in previous years. There were 26 items of which 2 or more copies were sold.

       France: continues to have the poorest performance: despite more than twice as many click-throughs as, purchases were considerably less than those at There were only 12 items of which 2 or more copies were sold.

       Germany: had a very solid year, despite (relatively) few click-throughs. There were 19 items of which 2 or more copies were sold.

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III. Critical and Popular Response

       While various reviews and weblog-posts are frequently linked to by other sites, few of these generate much traffic. This year, the Nobel coverage at the complete review and our Literary Saloon did attract a great deal of press and web attention -- a surprising amount of it in non-English media. However, no single source was responsible for a significant percentage of the referrals.

       Quotes from reviews at the complete review were again found more often as blurbs on books published in 2009 (after a lull in 2008). As usual, these were mainly foreign works of fiction finally being translated into English.
       There has also been a significant increase in the use of complete review-blurbs in online publicity material at publishers' websites.

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IV. General Observations

       While there were fewer reviews than usual at the complete review, the Literary Saloon was busy year-round. Astonishingly, there were 365 uninterrupted days of posts in 2009 (a total of 1347 posts for the year, an average of some 3.7 per day). It is unlikely that this can be repeated in 2010.

       A Wikipedia entry for the complete review was added in 2009 (after ten years, apparently we are now adequately established).

       In 2009 I (M.A.Orthofer) well and truly gave up on relying on any outside assistance with any part of the site, and all the words -- reviews and blog posts -- were my own -- as they likely will be in the year(s) to come.

       While literary sites (and especially weblogs) continue to proliferate, it sometimes feels like we've reached a saturation point: user-interest continues to increase slightly, but barely keeps pace with the growth of the site itself (i.e. the amount of material available) -- which seems to be the case for several of the other long-established literary sites. Nevertheless, there won't be any changes here, either in the eclectic selection of books covered, or in the literary news presented.

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V. Outlook

       More of the same, is what the outlook amounts to. The (soft) target is once again for 200 reviews for the year, and the hope is to be able to present the usual mix.

       After ten years, the site still seems to be in fairly good shape (well, that redesign/overhaul is long overdue, but that's another issue ...) -- and we hope to continue doing the best we can.

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© 2010 the complete review