the complete review Quarterly
Volume IV, Issue 1   --   February, 2003

State of the Site - page 3

Annual Report for
complete review - 2002

page 1 | page 2

III. Critical and Popular Response

        i. General

       The response to the complete review continues to be positive. The increase in traffic and what customer-feedback we receive suggests general satisfaction with what is on offer.

       There were more media mentions of the complete review in 2002, most notably a write-up in the "incredibly useful sites"-column in the ultimate issue of Yahoo ! Internet Life. Unfortunately, by ultimate we mean last -- the August issue was the final one, and they never even bothered to put that issue online (where readers surely would have been more likely to click over and have a look at the complete review). Still, we were thrilled to find ourselves mentioned in a magazine that, at the time, had a circulation of over a million (and an estimated readership of four million -- all of which was still not enough to make it a viable publication) -- and it did lead a few more visitors to our site. Still, the piece had almost no impact on overall traffic (less than five percent in July and August, by even the most generous estimate).
       Other 2002 media mentions came in a 16 July M.J.Rose article at Wired, and there was also a nice site-review in the August issue of the French-language Lire. Neither of these boosted traffic at all -- in fact there were only a trivial 76 click-throughs from the Lire-write up for the entire year (not that we don't appreciate every new user sent our way ...).

       User-feedback remained relatively limited, the mix of hate-mail and positive comments much as in previous years. Somewhat to our surprise, no reviews proved particularly objectionable to more than individual complainants, and what new harsh reviews we have were almost all greeted warmly, with almost no defenders making the case that we had misjudged specific titles.

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        ii. the Literary Saloon

       The Literary Saloon weblog was only added to the site on 11 August, but it was quickly and enthusiastically greeted by at least a small part of our audience.
       Comments and mentions of the Literary Saloon included:
       "A scrumptious daily weblog for literature addicts. Yum." - Flak Magazine's We like it-column

       "While the site itself is more concerned with the latest in, say, avante-garde French fiction, the weblog is more focused on literary happenings and is a lot more fun." - Brandon University Library

       "The Complete Review has started an excellent literary weblog, The Literary Saloon. The postings are considered, germaine, and written with real knowledge and love of literature." - Booksurfer (entry of 11 September)
       Despite the relatively small traffic to the Literary Saloon (less, on an average day, than each of several of the most popular reviews rack up by themselves), there is considerable user-feedback regarding the postings. The weblog seems to engage readers more than our review-coverage -- and users often also provide additional information, insights, and links (all of which are always welcome).

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IV. Other

       i. 'Blurbs'

       To our knowledge only one title used a quote from the complete review as a blurb in 2002: the paperback edition of Joan Acocella's Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism.

       ii. Links

       Dead and changed links remain a problem at the site, as we are often not aware of them (and because fixing links is an often arduous and time-consuming task). Some webmasters (and a few users) do make us aware of changed or obsolete links -- for we which we are very grateful ! -- but the upkeep of our many links continues to be distracting, annoying, and labour-intensive.
       2002 was a bad year for some major link-sources: the New Statesman put practically it's entire archive of reviews out of free reach, making almost all our links to them obsolete. (To add to the annoyance, a small percentage apparently weren't flushed from their system and remain accessible -- meaning we have to check each individually rather than just erasing any New Statesman-link we come across.) Many links to reviews at The Washington Post have also been lost, as they have walled off their reviews (also not entirely effectively), and The Los Angeles Times poses similar problems. (May they all rot in hell, these sites that require registration (and/or more) !)
       The Evening Standard's book review coverage remains (or is once again) readily accessible -- but all the review-links have been changed. And so on and so on.

       iii. User Inquiries

       Users continue to contact the complete review for a variety of reasons -- though compared with the amount of spam we get, user e-mail is almost negligible (generally only between one and five contacts daily).
       Unlike in previous years, requests by users that we review specific titles (usually the supplicant's very own) completely dominate the day-to-day e-mail we receive. (While we're always open to suggestions, we note that the vast majority of the titles offered to us are completely inappropriate for the site.)

       There are still users who expect us to put them in touch with specific authors, review a book on demand, and do other, more outlandish, stuff, but on the whole most inquiries in 2002 were more reasonable than in years past. Now if we could just stop those relatives of former African dictators writing to us about those great money-making opportunities if we help them with their off-shore bank accounts .....

       iv. Finances

       The financial situation at the complete review remains precarious (if fundamentally secure). Extensive cost-control measures -- i.e. our refusal to spend money on practically anything except the most vital necessities (hosting services, domain registration, a few literary magazine subscriptions) -- has kept expenses in check, and the site's continued viability remains assured: we do make more than we spend (though in both cases the amounts are trivial).
       Our only source of revenue remains our links and the commissions we receive for purchases made by users there (thanks to you all who click-through ...).
       Advertising (other than for remains an unappealing option, and there are few other forms of income generation that are feasible.

       When we launched the Literary Saloon we did add a page appealing for support for the site. We note with some amusement that while hundreds of people have consulted that page (more, over the same period of time, than wanted to know about the site or read our Editorial Policy) not a single person has contributed anything. Not a penny.

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V. Outlook

       More of the same is what we propose to offer in 2003. We like the way things are going, and so we'll continue down the same path.

       One specific ambition is to add more titles by authors already under review (or multiple titles by new authors), building up a core of authors. To a certain extent we have already achieved this: at year's end the 37 authors with their own author pages accounted for 267 of 934 titles under review (an average of over seven titles per author, and almost 29 percent of all reviews). In addition, numerous authors who don't (yet) have author pages are also extensively reviewed at the site (including Dennis Potter, Simon Gray, Alan Ayckbourn, and Paul Feyerabend) Still, we feel there is room for considerable growth here (or rather: that this is a way we should expand the site).
       We also hope to make the offerings on the site even more diverse: certainly more international, and -- we desperately hope -- including more older titles (especially more from before 1900).

       The targets for 2003 are to add 166 reviews (to reach the nice round total of 1100) and eight author pages (for a total of 45) to the complete review.

       The complete review Quarterly continues to serve a useful function, though we are disappointed that we have not had more outside contributions to it. There were very few submissions in 2002, and we hope more people will offer appropriate material in 2003.

       complete review Fiction (cr Fiction) did not expand quite as rapidly as hoped for in 2002, and growth will likely not be much greater in 2003. As it is meant as a long-term project we're not concerned about it: slow and steady seems good enough.
       At this time it is unclear whether new narrative projects will be initiated in 2003; for now it seems unlikely.

       The Literary Saloon seems to have won over a core audience, though the extent of its appeal looks to be rather limited and it seems unlikely to win over a much bigger audience in 2003. Still, it has proven to be a valuable addition to the site, filling a niche in offering day-to-day information and commentary.
       The mix of links and commentary found at the Literary Saloon is one that we're fairly comfortable with and it -- and the type of information on offer -- will likely remain much the same in 2003.

       Our guesses, in last year's survey, as to possible break-out titles weren't even close. Several relatively new titles from 2002, however, look to establish themselves firmly among the most popular reviews in 2003, notably: Ian McEwan's Atonement, Michael Crichton's Prey and Donna Tartt's The Little Friend. Also established -- indeed resurgent in paperback -- is Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. And we can't believe Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia won't grab hold (and if there's a Broadway run it's a surefire top-ten review).
       As to brand-new reviews -- well, we're not sure what we'll be covering, so we can't even guess. Tackling the latest blockbusters (the new Grisham ! the new Stephen King !) would probably make for guaranteed success (of traffic-number sorts), but that's something we're fairly certain we'll avoid. A few of the year's biggest books might be hard for even us to resist, but unlike in 2002 we think we're going to stay away from most of them and concentrate on what we like best.

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© 2003 the complete review