Volume II, Issue 1 -- February, 2001
State of the Site
- page 2
Annual Report for
the complete review - 2000
The Site | Traffic and Search Engines | Popularity and Interest
Critical and Popular Response | Other | Outlook | Summary
III. Critical and Popular ResponsePublic reception of the complete review has generally been very positive. A base of users returns to the site frequently, and many others stray across it looking for information about specific titles. The number of users has risen dramatically over the past year (increasing more than four-fold from December, 1999 to December, 2000) and visitor satisfaction seems relatively high.
There has been relatively little notice of the complete review in the press, though it has received a few mentions. Among the notable ones were a nice write-up in The Bangkok Post ("Among websites devoted to serious modern literature, the Complete Review continues to be among the best.") and a discussion of our Harry Mulisch coverage in the Dutch Het Parool.
The complete review also found very positive mention in a number of weblogs. The popular Robot Wisdom noted our "Interesting bk-rev info-design". Follow Me Here in turn found: "This book review site (...) really gets the point about being web-enabled."
User complaints generally focussed only on why certain authors and titles were not available. Additionally, many authors (generally of "e-books") expressed everything from disappointment to outrage that their books were not reviewed on the site.
There is relatively little relevant feedback from users, with most queries and "letters to the editor" addressing issues outside our ambit. Frequent requests include:
Needless to say (well, apparently it does need to be said ...): the complete review can't really be of help with these questions. What you see on the site is all the information we have.
- How can I contact this author ?
- Where can I get more information about this author/book/topic ?
- Where can I buy this book ?
Numerous often talented reviewers have offered their services to the complete review; we have had to decline all these offers.
Several authors of books under review have also gotten in touch with the complete review, and several have been able to provide some useful input regarding additional links, as well as in correcting errors.
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IV. Otheri. 'Blurbs'
The complete review doesn't quite carry the same weight as the Times Literary Supplement yet, but at least one review was quoted and used as a blurb on a book -- on the back cover of the new English translation of longtime favourite, Loving Sabotage, by Amélie Nothomb.
ii. Affecting change
Most of the rants (and raves) at the complete review come to naught, but we apparently helped open editor Eliot Weinberger's eyes regarding the inadequate index that was appended to the marvelous collection of Selected Non-Fictions (UK title: The Total Library) by Jorge Luis Borges. He managed to convince publishers Viking to redo the index and after seeing to it himself (the second version apparently wasn't much of an improvement at first) the paperback now has a more useful and comprehenisve index. (Mr. Weinberger also corrected one small error we had pointed out.)
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but some times it hits too close to home. One of the reasons the complete review links to Amazon.com is because of the additional information about the books provided there -- including the often useful Customer Reviews. Occasionally we check specific titles at Amazon.com to see how they are selling, and in mid-December, 2000 we checked out Irmtraud Morgner's The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura, a book we had been very enthusiastic about but which had received no critical attention anywhere else. We were surprised and pleased to find a Customer Review at Amazon.com, rating it with five stars (the highest rating). We were still surprised and a bit less pleased when we read the title of the review -- "A Fantasy, A Fugue and A Fairy Tale" -- which had a slightly too familiar ring. The review, as it turned out, was a slightly edited and minimally altered version of the one found at the complete review -- but published under the name of an Amazon.com Customer Reviewer (a Top Ten reviewer, no less -- nr. 6, with some 440 odd reviews to her "credit"). The complete review at no time gave permission to publish these reviews in this form, and the person who signed their names to these reviews is in no way associated with the site.
Looking over some of the other reviews posted at Amazon.com by this reviewer we discovered several more that had been misappropriated from our site -- as well as reviews that had been taken from The New Criterion and The New York Times Book Review. We notified Amazon.com, and they were quite efficient in responding, examining the reviews and concurring in our judgement as to the wholesale copyright infringement by this particular customer in a considerable number of her reviews. The reviews were removed relatively quickly.
Unfortunately, much of the damage was not undone. Amazon.com never publicly acknowledged that the material posted on their site had been ours (and The New York Times Book Review's, etc.) and made no effort to inform site-users of this fact. We contacted a dozen other Amazon.com Customer Reviewers (from among those who made their e-mails available) -- specifically those who listed the reviewer in question as a favourite, as well as other top reviewers. Response was muted, to say the least, and though some expressed some interest and sympathy most couldn't care less -- and some were enthusiastically defensive of the misappropriator, doubting our claims completely (without, apparently, bothering to check them out). Amazon.com also requested that we not contact others who provided their e-mail on the Amazon.com site, and while we then stopped doing so we disagree emphatically with their belief that this issue is not of concern to all the reviewers and customers at Amazon.com
The issue was also raised on Amazon.com's discussion boards on several occasions, but these discussions were generally removed within a relatively short period of time (as Amazon.com considered it an inappropriate subject for the discussion boards).
The situation was ultimately resolved to our general satisfaction, though we are still disappointed by Amazon.com's shroud of silence in not properly attributing the true sources of the reviews. Users were misled by the false attribution, a situation that should have been rectified but was not.
Amazon.com is, of course, in a difficult position regarding its customer reviews, as it is relatively easy to submit plagiarized material. We notified numerous other publications of the situation, and Salon reported that they found Salon-reviews had illegally been submitted as Customer Reviews by another Amazon.com reviewer in the same period. As Amazon.com "owns" any submitted material they assume a certain responsibility for the material -- though apparently not very much. While they seem to act with admirable speed once notified of any material that has been misappropriated from elsewhere, they do not seem to have adequate safeguards to prevent such situations arising. (We understand that they might not catch a review copied from the complete review right away, but submissions copying reviews from The New York Times should be more obvious -- they certainly stuck out like sore thumbs to us when we examined various Customer Reviews.) This could, potentially, be a larger problem for Amazon.com; it will be interesting to see how they handle the Customer Reviews in the future.
Note that we are quite big fans of the Customer Reviews, and we are often astounded by the high quality of some of the comments. There are a lot which are of lesser quality, too, but many are surprisingly useful, offering unusual perspectives that mainstream reviews -- and even ours -- often miss.
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V. OutlookWhat next for the complete review ? For better or worse: more of the same.
Despite some calls to make the site more populist (and thus, potentially, more popular) the complete review's editorial standards will remain unchanged. The complete review is a literary saloon, and though it can get rowdy here the literary standards will always be maintained.
The issue of how quickly the site should expand is a difficult one. The complete review was a profitable enterprise during all of 2000: earnings (though minimal) were greater than costs. More rapid expansion would entail greater investment and would, in all likelihood, not be rewarded with adequate increases in earnings. So it probably won't happen.
(As most everyone has realized by now, content doesn't sell on the Internet. (Actually, lots of content doesn't sell in the 'real world' either -- think of all those money-losing magazines, remaindered books, and Hollywood flops .....) It's not impossible for a content site to make a buck -- we manage -- but it is damned hard. Slow, measured growth is the only way the complete review can survive, so that is the plan for now.)
The growth target for 2001 is to add another 200 titles (bring the total to 729 by year-end). In addition, we hope to add at least six more author pages.
The complete review also intends to add some features that allow more user-input. In 2001 this will probably be limited to surveys or polls, though the editors are exploring the idea of adding a message board or allowing users to express their opinions in some other fashion.
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VI. Summary2000 was a banner year for the complete review. Interest in the site grew much faster than anticipated (as did the trickle of revenue from the site). The public has responded positively to the site, and publishers and authors are eager to have their wares considered here.
The relative success and failure of various reviews remains fairly difficult to explain, but the mix of reviews on the site seems to be one that attracts a fair amount of attention, and most users seem fairly satisfied with what they find.
The complete review Quarterly is one facet of the site that has performed more poorly than expected. While a few articles have reached very large audiences, interest remains relatively limited, with an average of less than five percent of users visiting these pages.
Overall, however, the complete review has done very well. We hope it continues to be a site that readers feel they can and want to turn to.
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