the complete review Quarterly
Volume III, Issue 1   --   February, 2002


State of the Site - page 2

Annual Report for
the
complete review - 2001

  1. Overview:
    1. The Site
    2. Traffic, Search Engines, Search Queries
    3. Links from Other Sites
  2. Popularity and Interest:
    1. Reviews
    2. Links to Amazon
      1. Amazon.com - US
      2. Amazon.com.uk - UK
      3. Amazon.fr - France
      4. Amazon.de - Germany
    3. Indices
    4. Author Pages
    5. Articles from the complete review Quarterly
    6. Other Information-pages at the Complete Review
  3. Critical and Popular Response
  4. Other
  5. Outlook



II. Popularity and Interest


        i. Reviews

       The book/review of the year -- hands down, no question -- was the unlikeliest of tomes: Robert Burton's 17th century classic, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Among the most popular reviews, it was also the title most often purchased by users through Amazon.com -- and at Amazon.co.uk. (Runner-up: Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which also proved immensely popular and was one of our most-linked-to reviews -- though very few people bought it via the site.) It was also the year of Lolita, as our whole load of Nabokovian variations shot up the charts.

       The main focus of the site remains the coverage of individual titles, and it is these reviews that attracted the bulk of user-interest. The thirty most popular reviews at the complete review in 2001 were:

       (2000 ranking in brackets, with "-" meaning review was not in the top 150 and "n.a." meaning review was added in 2001)
  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (32)
  2. Big Women, Fay Weldon (3)
  3. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1)
  4. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard (2)
  5. The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard (10)
  6. King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild (4)
  7. Lolita, Richard Corliss (147)
  8. 'Art', Yasmina Reza (5)
  9. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (n.a.)
  10. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (n.a.)
  11. The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester (7)
  12. The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin (114)
  13. Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss (8)
  14. The Flight of Icarus, Raymond Queneau (20)
  15. The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick (132)
  16. The Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch (21)
  17. The Story of the Stone, Cao Xueqin (17)
  18. Zazie in the Metro, Raymond Queneau (29)
  19. Footsucker, Geoff Nicholson (19)
  20. Lolita: A Screenplay, Vladimir Nabokov (-)
  21. Proof, David Auburn (n.a.)
  22. Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges (81)
  23. Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee, Thomas Brussig (-)
  24. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges (59)
  25. Amsterdam, Ian McEwan (11)
  26. Fear and Trembling, Amélie Nothomb (24)
  27. Spinning into Butter, Rebecca Gilman (-)
  28. The Sopranos, Alan Warner (39)
  29. The Triple Helix, Richard Lewontin (-)
  30. The Real Thing, Tom Stoppard (48)
       The list shows some striking shifts from that of the previous year. While last year's five most popular reviews held their ground (finishing in the top eight this year), there were two brand new titles that amazingly broke into the top ten. (Because of the time it takes for a page to appear on search engines there is usually a lag of several months after a page has appeared on the site until it receives any appreciable traffic.)
       A number of reviews also made significant jumps in popularity. Nine of the top thirty hadn't finished in the top fifty last year (in addition to the three new titles that made the list this year)

       Lolita and Big Women were far and away the most popular reviews. Amazingly, Nabokov only beat out Weldon by a total of six page-views -- a number both easily rack up every hour or two.
       Dramas again fared well -- especially recent ones (Weiss' Marat/Sade being a rare older play to do very well). Only one foreign-language title made the top-30 (Brussig's Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee), and no poetry collection came close.

       The deaths of otherwise relatively obscure authors in 2001 also boosted traffic to reviews of their works, with both Gellu Naum and Juan José Arreola attracting considerable attention around the times of their deaths. The review of Arreola's Confabulario even made it onto the December bestseller list of most accessed reviews -- and finished 50th for the year. (Naum, however, only got a very brief boost, with reviews of his Zenobia and My Tired Father among the top-10 reviews in the week of his death, but finishing 474th and 498th respectively for the year as a whole. Which still ain't bad for a Romanian surrealist.)

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        ii. Links to Amazon

       A considerable number of users used the links provided at the complete review to the Amazon.com page for the books under review (and, where available, the British Amazon.co.uk, German Amazon.de, and French Amazon.fr pages). A small percentage also purchased titles via these (and the other Amazon.com) links on the site.
       Only at Amazon.com (in the United States) were there a meaningful number of purchases.

       There are far fewer links to both the French and German Amazon.com than to the English-language ones at the complete review. Originally we only linked to the foreign Amazon.com pages where the book was originally written in that language -- for Annie Ernaux's titles, for example, we would link to the relevant pages at Amazon.fr (France). In 2001 we began to revise this policy, linking to both Amazon.fr and Amazon.de for any books available there that were not originally written in English. This means there are now considerably more links -- though still only a fraction of those linking to Amazon.com in the US or UK.
       The most consistently clicked-through title across the four Amazon.com's was Yasmina Reza's 'Art', which was among the top ten most clicked-through titles at all four sites.

       (Note that many titles under review are out of print, or unavailable at one, several, or all of the Amazon.com sites, meaning they could not be clicked-through to nor purchased through Amazon.com. This does not mean that there was no interest in these titles, nor that users were unable to purchase them by other means.)

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               1. Amazon.com - US

       Of the Amazon sites the American one, Amazon.com, received the greatest amount of traffic from the complete review -- tens of thousands of click-throughs. The most popular books that users clicked through to were, not surprisingly, the Lolita-variations. Only a few copies of these titles were, however, bought (much as John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is always popular and much clicked-through to but almost never bought).

       Overall, users only purchased 2.23 percent of the titles they clicked onto. Still, a considerable number of titles managed double-digit unit sales. The most purchased titles were:
       (Rank of review-popularity of title in brackets)
  1. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (9)
  2. The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard (5)
  3. Proof, David Auburn (21)
  4. 'Art', Yasmina Reza (8)
  5. Death and the Dervish, Mesa Selimovic (48)
  6. Spinning into Butter, Rebecca Gilman (27)
  7. Tom Stoppard - Plays 5 (includes Arcadia (4) and The Real Thing (30))
  8. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges (24)
  9. The Unexpected Man, Yasmina Reza (51)
  10. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard (4)
       Playscripts were the most popular purchases -- a stunning seven of the top ten titles. Still, The Anatomy of Melancholy's performance is the most remarkable: a massive (1300+ page) and expensive (about twenty dollar) paperback, and it managed to be the runaway bestseller (as it was at Amazon.co.uk.) Also noteworthy, however, is the impressive performance by Mesa Selimovic -- not just Death and the Dervish (the 5th best selling title) but also The Fortress -- 201st in review-popularity but a top-15 bestseller (way ahead of, for example, all the Lolita-titles).

       The list of what people actually bought also stands in considerable contrast to what they clicked-through to. The reviews that users clicked-through to Amazon.com most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together. Rank of review-popularity of title in brackets.)
  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1)
  2. Big Girls Don't Cry, Fay Weldon (2)
  3. The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin (12)
  4. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (9)
  5. Lolita, Richard Corliss (7)
  6. 'Art', Yasmina Reza (8)
  7. The Flight of Icarus, Raymond Queneau (14)
  8. The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard (5)
  9. The Golden Days - the first volume of The Story of the Stone (17)
  10. King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild (6)
  11. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard (4)
  12. The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick (15)
  13. Footsucker, Geoff Nicholson (19)
  14. The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester (11)
  15. Lolita: A Screenplay, Vladimir Nabokov (20)
       The list of most clicked-through titles is much closer to that of the most popular titles. Most of the most clicked-through titles were, however, purchased by users only in very small numbers -- the plays and The Anatomy of Melancholy being the sole exceptions. Less than one percent of click-throughs resulted in sales for the Lolita-titles, for example, while about five percent resulted in sales for the Stoppard plays and The Anatomy of Melancholy. The standout among the bigger sellers was Death and the Dervish -- just over ten percent who clicked through to the title also purchased it.

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               2. Amazon.co.uk - UK

       While several hundred titles were also purchased through Amazon.co.uk, only The Anatomy of Melancholy truly stood out. Only a handful of other titles were purchased more than twice (including, oddly, Iain Sinclair's Lud Heat -- 209th in review popularity -- of which four copies were purchased)
       People were considerably more reluctant to purchase titles via Amazon.co.uk than Amazon.com -- only 1.70 percent of click-throughs resulted in a sale (compared to 2.23 at Amazon.com).

       The reviews that users clicked-through to Amazon.co.uk most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together. Rank of review-popularity of title in brackets.)
  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1)
  2. Lolita, Richard Corliss (7)
  3. Big Women, Fay Weldon (2)
  4. Lolita, Stephen Schiff (63)
  5. Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss (13)
  6. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (9)
  7. Blue Remembered Hills, Dennis Potter (106)
  8. Death and the Dervish, Mesa Selimovic (48)
  9. 'Art', Yasmina Reza (8)
  10. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (3)
  11. Zazie in the Metro, Raymond Queneau (18)
  12. Voss, Patrick White (40)
  13. The Surgeon of Crowthorne, Simon Winchester (11)
  14. The Death of the Author, Gilbert Adair (62)
  15. The Singing Detective, Dennis Potter (110)
       Notable differences with American interests include the absence of Darwin and the surprising popularity of Dennis Potter. There was also an even greater Lolitan focus.

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               3. Amazon.fr - France

       There are still far fewer links to Amazon.fr than to the English-language Amazon.coms, but there was still a considerable amount of click-through traffic. People were, however, very reluctant to purchase titles via Amazon.fr -- only 0.78 percent of click-throughs resulted in a sale, by far the lowest of any of the Amazon.coms we link to. Total sales only amounted to a few dozen books, and only a handful of titles sold more than a single copy.

       The reviews that users clicked-through to Amazon.fr most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together. Rank of review-popularity of title in brackets.)
  1. Stupeur et Tremblements, Amélie Nothomb (26)
  2. Zazie dans le métro, Raymond Queneau (18)
  3. La Place, Annie Ernaux (53)
  4. Mercure, Amélie Nothomb (80)
  5. Le Sabotage amoureux, Amélie Nothomb (31)
  6. Les Catilinaires, Amélie Nothomb (142)
  7. Art, Yasmina Reza (8)
  8. Un barbare en Asie, Henri Michaux (84)
  9. La Petite Marchande de prose, Daniel Pennac (255)
  10. Le Vol d'Icare, Raymond Queneau (14)
  11. Péplum, Amélie Nothomb (151)
  12. Au bonheur des ogres, Daniel Pennac (359)
  13. Passion simple, Annie Ernaux (146)
  14. Métaphysique des tubes, Amélie Nothomb (122)
  15. Marie-Antoinette : La dernière reine, Evelyne Lever (191)
       Not surprisingly, books originally written in French had the greatest number of click-throughs: there weren't that many other books that had links to Amazon.fr. Still, there were surprises: Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles (UK title: Atomised) was a very popular review -- 38th overall -- but only the 21st most popular book clicked through to at Amazon.fr. Yasmina Reza's showing was also far less impressive than at the English-language Amazon.coms.
       Among books not originally written in French, the most clicked through to were David Bellos' biography of Georges Perec (33rd, and 205th most popular review overall), and Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven (41st; and 16th most popular review) (Recall that as a matter of policy we generally do not provide links to the Amazon.fr site for books originally written in English; David Bellos' title is a rare exception (provided for obvious reasons).)

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               4. Amazon.de - Germany

       There are -- by far -- the fewest links to Amazon.de, and click-through traffic was consequently the lowest of all four Amazon.coms. Users, however, showed the least reluctance to purchase titles via Amazon.de: 2.74 percent of click-throughs resulted in sales, and so, despite having less than half the click-through volume of Amazon.fr some 50 percent more titles were purchased via Amazon.de than the French site.

       The reviews that users clicked-through to Amazon.de most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together. Rank of review-popularity of title in brackets.)
  1. Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee, Thomas Brussig (23)
  2. Die Ermittlung, Peter Weiss (96)
  3. Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner, Bertolt Brecht (249)
  4. Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats, Peter Weiss (13)
  5. Abschied von den Eltern, Peter Weiss (465)
  6. Unvollendete Geschichte und ihr Ende, Volker Braun (263)
  7. Die ństhetik des Widerstands, Peter Weiss (66)
  8. Die Situation, Peter Weiss (469)
  9. Helden wie wir, Thomas Brussig (72)
  10. Kunst, Yasmina Reza (8)
  11. Paul Feyerabend, Hans Albert Briefwechsel (257)
  12. Zazie in der Metro, Raymond Queneau (18)
  13. Mit Staunen und Zittern, Amélie Nothomb (26)
  14. Avantgarde Film, Peter Weiss (339)
  15. Die Entdeckung des Himmels, Harry Mulisch (16)
       The list is, of course, dominated by titles originally written in German, with Peter Weiss making a particularly strong showing. Surprisingly, Weiss' The Investigation easily topped his Marat/Sade, though everywhere else it is the latter title that proved far more popular.
        (Recall that as a matter of policy we do not provide links to the Amazon.de site for books originally written in English; this accounts for the absence of English-language titles among the most clicked-through ones.)

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        iii. Indices

       The most popular indices at the complete review of books under review -- suggesting what users were looking for (and not necessarily what the site could provide) -- were:
       (Note that this list only includes genre/nationality/language indices -- and not those listing the most popular, underrated, worst books etc. -- or indices for author pages and other non-review pages.)
  1. Biography and Memoirs
  2. French Literature
  3. Contemporary British Fiction
  4. Literary Essays
  5. Poetry
  6. Contemporary American Fiction
  7. Drama
  8. Foreign titles (not yet translated into English)
  9. Eastern European Literature
  10. Latin and South American Literature
       Interest in biographical works was apparently the greatest -- by far: more than twice as many visitors sought out the Biography-index as did the next genre-index, French literature. It is noteworthy that there is little correlation between the strength or extent of coverage at the complete review and user-interest as indicated by these results. (Drama, for example, appears to be the most popular genre (as suggested by the popularity of various drama titles), but the index isn't even consulted as often as the poetry index is.)

       A site interested in boosting traffic and user satisfaction would no doubt take these results and focus its energies for the coming year on these categories (and in roughly this order of priority). Rest assured, the complete review is not such a site.

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        iv. Author Pages

       The complete review's Author Pages continued to be very popular, with many achieving page-view totals nearly as great as that of the most popular reviews.
       The top ten (of twenty-seven) in 2001 were (2000 ranking in parentheses):
  1. Amélie Nothomb (2)
  2. Harry Mulisch (9)
  3. Patrick White (4)
  4. Annie Ernaux (3)
  5. Zbigniew Herbert (1)
  6. Cynthia Ozick (7)
  7. Antonio Tabucchi (14)
  8. Iain Sinclair (5)
  9. Geoffrey Hill (8)
  10. Cees Nooteboom (17)
       There were no remarkable shifts: overall page views rose significantly for almost all the available pages. Those that showed the greatest jump in popularity -- Tabucchi and Nooteboom -- were both only added to the site in mid-2000 and their poorer positions that year merely reflect that fact.

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        v. Articles from the complete review Quarterly

       The cr Quarterly grew nicely in 2001, and several controversial articles garnered very large audiences. A number of links at other sites made users aware of several of these, but only one -- from the Chronicle of Higher Education -- had a major (though short term) impact (i.e. brought in significant traffic).

       The most popular articles in 2001 were:
  1. Borges under Review - Critical Responses to the Collected Fictions
  2. Withering Reviews - an editorial wondering Where have all the book reviews gone ?
  3. Survey of Book Review Sites - the cr Quarterly surveys twelve leading book review sites
  4. Harry Who ? - the complete review takes on Harry Potter ?
  5. Whoa Nelly ! - Real Life, Lucky Girls, and Advances in Non-Fiction -- a Literary Saloon dialogue
  6. Bellowing and Braying - the titles of the Ravelstein reviews
  7. Facts and Fakes - Considering Eliot Weinberger's Genuine Fakes
  8. May a Hundred Million Books Bloom - a Literary Saloon dialogue In Praise of Slush
  9. Socialist Magical Realism - a review of Irmtraud Morgner's East German classic, Trobadora Beatrice
  10. Dyer Interest - Looking for Geoff Dyer on the Internet
       The Borges-piece was by far the most popular, with more than twice as many page-views as the next piece. People also apparently actually read it: it is a two-page piece, and the drop-off in readership from the first to the second page was less than fifty percent.
       The somewhat dated Survey of Book Review Sites has been resurgent. By the winter of 2001 it was the most popular of the available articles.
       Surprisingly unpopular ? Our annual surveys of the site. No one seems much interested in all this information.

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        vi. Other Information-pages at the Complete Review

       The complete review also offers a number of pages that provide additional information about the site, including listing the best, worst, most unusual, most popular, etc. reviews. Many of these pages received a large volume of page views. In 2001 the most popular were:
  1. The top rated books under review
  2. Editors' Choice
  3. The most underrated books under review
  4. Current bestseller list
  5. Recent publications under review
  6. Recent bestseller list
  7. About the Reviews
  8. The lowest rated books under review
  9. To contact us
  10. Bestseller list for 1999
       The list of top rated books and the monthly Editors' Choice list were by far the most popular. Quality and popularity attracted users -- much more so than the pages that, for example, provide additional information about the site itself.
       The least popular -- by a considerable margin -- of these supplemental information pages was the Amazon.com-generated Amazon.com recommends page (listing book suggestions based on the purchasing habits of complete review-users who bought books at Amazon.com). It was one of the few pages that could be termed a true dud, arousing only the mildest interest from users (and also driving practically no traffic on to Amazon.com). Not their most brilliant innovation.

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