the complete review Quarterly
Volume XIII, Issue 1   --   February, 2012

State of the Site

Annual Report for
complete review - 2011

  1. Overview:
  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 continues to increase by roughly the same amount, year in and year out:

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
December, 2009 2377
December, 2010 2598
January, 2011 2618
February 2636
March 2652
April 2673
May 2687
June 2703
July 2720
August 2737
September 2750
October 2768
November 2792
December 2810

       a. General review data

       Totals: 212 books were reviewed in 2011, down slightly from 2010's 221 but slightly above the soft target of 200.

       Length: The 212 reviews totaled 163,841 words (2010: 179,843), an average of 772.83 words per review (down slightly from an average of 813.77 in 2010).

       Languages: Books originally written in 31 different languages were reviewed, the most represented languages being:        Country of origin: Books were written by authors from 51 different nations, the most represented being:        Sex: Embarrassingly the trend of male-dominance continues:        Year of writing/publication: The overwhelming majority of books under reviewed were written/first published in the past five years. (Year of writing/first publication is not of the first English-language publication, which would make the list even more current-heavy.):        Year by year, for the seven most recent years:        Genre: Fiction dominated coverage even more than usual, with novels alone accounting for more than four-fifths of all titles reviewed.
       Reviews were of books in the following genres:
       Grades: Only one book was graded 'A+' in 2011, while none got a 'D' or 'F'; overall grades skewed slightly lower than in 2010. The number of reviews with the following grades were:        b. Most popular reviews

       The full list of the most popular reviews, for the year and month for month, can be found here.
       The 25 reviews receiving the most page-views in 2011 were:
  1. The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
  2. Disgrace, J.M.Coetzee
  3. Atonement, Ian McEwan
  4. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  5. 1Q84, Murakami Haruki
  6. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
  7. Mygale (Tarantula), Thierry Jonquet
  8. Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones
  9. Q & A, Vikas Swarup
  10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  11. Norwegian Wood, Murakami Haruki
  12. Mildred Pierce, James M. Cain
  13. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  14. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  15. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  16. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid
  17. Decolonising the Mind, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
  18. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
  19. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
  20. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
  21. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Murakami Haruki
  22. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
  23. Kafka on the Shore, Murakami Haruki
  24. Snow, Orhan Pamuk
  25. Salmonella Men on Planet Porno, Tsutsui Yasutaka

       c. Other pages - most popular

       The 10 most popular author pages in 2011 were:
  1. Murakami Haruki
  2. Amélie Nothomb
  3. Patrick White
  4. Amos Oz
  5. Herta Müller
  6. Mario Vargas Llosa
  7. Hilary Mantel
  8. Antonio Tabucchi
  9. Juan Goytisolo
  10. Geoff Dyer
       The index pages receiving the most page-views in 2011 were:
  1. Books Written Before 1900
  2. Eastern European literature
  3. Books Written Between 1900 and 1945
  4. Erotic, Pornographic, and Sex-related books
  5. French literature
  6. Contemporary British fiction
  7. Far East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) literature
  8. Mysteries and Thrillers
  9. Latin and South American literature
  10. Contemporary American fiction

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        ii. Traffic

       Traffic to the complete review was battered by Google's re-jigging of their search algorithm (see, for example, here for their 'explanation' of what they were trying to do), which led to pages from the site coming up much, much lower on Google searches (still by far the major source of traffic to the site). While traffic was at record levels for the first two months of the year, it began to sink after the black day of 24 February, and for the year as a whole the number of visitors was down 25.44% from 2010, the number of page-views 25.63%.
       Traffic was hardest hit from the major English-speaking countries, down 31.04% from the US, 21.66% from the UK, and 34.31% from Canada.

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

       On 1 April a Facebook 'like-button' was placed on several main pages, and on all new reviews. As someone who doesn't use Facebook, I don't really know what this means, but:        Several reviews are also much 'liked' -- with Decolonising the Mind by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o apparently leading the way with 69 'likes'.

       On 8 June 'Google +1' buttons were added on several main pages, and on all new reviews. 'Google +1' does not seem to be very popular: the site's main page registered a year-end total of 6, the Literary Saloon 4.

       According to Google Analytics, visitors from 220 countries and territories visited the site in 2011. An average of at least 10 visitors per day came from 48 different countries (51 in 2010), and an average of at least one visitor per day came from 106 countries (105 in 2010).
       Among the few countries and territories that could be identified as having sent no visitors were: Chad, American Samoa, Christmas Island, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, North Korea, Norfolk Island, San Marino, and Tuvalu.

       The twenty nations sending the most traffic to the complete review were:
  1. United States - 37.82% of all visits
  2. United Kingdom - 11.63%
  3. Canada - 6.45%
  4. India - 4.06%
  5. Australia - 3.92%
  6. Germany - 3.58%
  7. the Netherlands - 2.00%
  8. France - 1.77%
  9. the Philippines - 1.47%
  10. Italy - 1.44%
  11. Spain
  12. Belgium
  13. Sweden
  14. Ireland
  15. Switzerland
  16. Poland
  17. South Africa
  18. Japan
  19. New Zealand
  20. Russia
       India overtook Australia for fourth place, while Ireland dropped several places (another Google casualty).

       The ten cities sending the most traffic to the complete review were:
  1. New York - 3.15% of all visits
  2. London - 2.92%
  3. Melbourne - 1.28%
  4. Sydney
  5. Toronto
  6. Los Angeles
  7. Chicago
  8. New Delhi
  9. Dublin
  10. Paris

       While the vast majority of visitors read the complete review on their computers, there has been an increase in readers who read it on mobile devices -- with more than 1 in every 20 visits in 2011 via a number of platforms:
  1. iPhone - 1.94 % of all visits (and 36.57% of all mobile visits)
  2. iPad - 1.66 %
  3. Android - .89 %
  4. iPod - .42 %
  5. BlackBerry - .21 %

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        iii. How users find our material

       While the majority of visitors to the complete review reached it via search engines (i.e. specific queries) in 2011, the Google-mess lowered the total from 80.35% to 75.84% of all traffic
       And, despite it being much worse at pointing visitors to the complete review, Google continues to be by far the most popular one leading visitors to the site:
  1. Google - accounting for 89.38% of all searches (down just slightly from 92.10% in 2010) of all search-engine queries leading visitors to the site
  2. Bing - 4.32% (a big jump from 2.63%)
  3. Yahoo - 3.97% (up from 3.12%)
  4. Search - 1.29%
  5. Ask - 0.46%
       (Clearly, Google is still the only search engine that matters, at least in getting users to the complete review.)

       The fifteen most popular specific search query phrases in 2011 -- each asked at least one thousand times -- were:
  1. complete review
  2. literary saloon
  3. porno
  4. book review sites
  5. the complete review
  6. mygale
  7. haruki murakami
  8. the elegance of the hedgehog
  9. the literary saloon
  10. mildred pierce novel
  11. kafka on the shore
  12. the white tiger
  13. my name is red
  14. disgrace coetzee
  15. amelie nothomb
       The twenty-five sites referring the most traffic to the complete review via static links to the site (or the Literary Saloon) in general (of the blogroll sort, for example) or linking to specific reviews or blog-posts were:
  10. (The Book Bench weblog)
  14. (Three Percent weblog)
       Since 15 May 2009 it has been possible to get the Literary Saloon on Kindle. A (small) number of readers do subscribe to it.

       M.A.Orthofer -- the complete review himself -- began posting on Twitter, too, and at the end of the year had 2,089 followers (compared to 1,151 at the end of 2010).

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        iv. Review Copies

       In 2011 the complete review received significantly more review copies than in 2010; much of this can be attributed to my being a judge for the Best Translated Book Award, where we were better able to convince publishers to send books to us than in previous years.

       Submissions to the complete review in recent years break down as follows:

Review Copies
Year Total List value
2011 484 $ 7653.52
2010 413 $ 6664.87
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).)

       127 of the 484 titles submitted in 2011 were reviewed by the end of January 2012, similar to last year's percentage. Still, publisher- (or author-) submitted titles continue to make up only slightly more than half of all reviewed titles -- the rest still being ones I purchase privately, or borrow from a library.
       (Review copies are often not reviewed immediately; the longest-delayed review in 2011 was of Ludvig Holberg's The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground, where the review was posted 2309 days after the book was received from the publisher -- far off the 3607 day record, but still .....)

       The electronic form has still not taken off at the complete review -- I find it hard to work with, and prefer, wherever possible, to avoid it --, but in 2011 three titles submitted electronically were reviewed.

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       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, French,, and the newly-added-in-2011 Spanish 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).
       Unfortunately, the decline in overall traffic at the site also impacted Amazon click-throughs and sales, leading to dramatic across-the-board declines.

Amazon click-throughs and sales, 2011
Amazon Click-throughs
(change 2011/2010)
(change 2011/2010)
US -31.03% -30.91%
UK -36.38% -23.86%
Canada -53.64% -57.08%
France -53.44% -38.07%
Germany -40.69% -17.79%

       Needless to say, this has had a major impact on revenue at the site, which dropped precipitously. While advertising income was actually up slightly in 2011 over 2010, this could not compensate for the diminished income stream from the Amazons. While not a threat to the site's survival -- as long as revenues cover costs the site will remain up -- it does impact the sustainability of the current model (and the current rate at which books are reviewed). Given the increase in the number of titles covered at the site, the decline is all the more alarming, though it remains to be seen whether this is a long term trend or an aberration.

       Even the number of sales of Kindle-devices was down -- 9 were sold in 2011, compared to 11 in 2010 -- and purchases of Kindle (i.e. electronic) titles remain limited; users of the site clearly prefer their books in print.

       In addition to links to the Amazons, the complete review began adding affiliate links to Indian bookseller Flipkart on 2 March 2011. While there have been some sales -- the first of which was, predictably enough, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- and the number of click-throughs was fast closing in on those at by the end of the year, revenue so far has been minimal.

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III. Critical and Popular Response

       For the most part, there was just the usual notice and mention of the site, but it was nice to see foreign coverage include two interviews, Aby se o knihách mluvilo: Rozhovor s Michaelem A. Orthoferem by Jiří G. Růžička at A2 (3/2011), and "Persian literature still a strong and active literary culture" at the Iran Book News Agency (Persian) (10 December 2011).

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IV. General Observations

       The Literary Saloon once again offered 365 days of posts in 2011 (with a few slight hiccups, as posting was slightly delayed on several days).

       While coverage remains on a level similar to that found in previous years, Google's refigured algorithm had a devastating effect on traffic to the site. Reviews -- especially newly posted ones of popular titles -- tended to fare very poorly on Google title/author searches, as results now seem to favor new weblog-reviews. (Once reviews have been up for a while they do tend to 'drift' up the search results, but cracking the top ten -- which is all most people seem to search for -- remains a rarity.)
       Google's new algorithm -- reducing it from a second- to third-rate search engine -- has also made it more difficult to find other reviews to link to, and while I have tried and true methods, it has made the process considerably more time-consuming and labor intensive (and a whole lot more annoying). Other search sites consistently provide better search-results -- notably, for title/author searches, Bing and DuckDuckGo -- but also have weaknesses that makes it impossible to rely solely on them (as one was able to on Google during its brief run as a first-rate search engine for a couple of years in the 2000s).
       Search inadequacy remains a big and frustrating problem -- by far the biggest one the site has to deal with.

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V. Outlook

       Yet again: more of the same, is what the outlook amounts to. Yet again, 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 the usual emphasis on fiction in translation.

       Plans/hopes for a facelift/redesign/overhaul (bringing the code slightly up-to-date, while keeping the site as ... sleek ? and fast as always) remain, though it'll probably still be a while. Otherwise, we just hope to continue doing what we always do.

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© 2012 the complete review Quarterly
© 2012 the complete review