the complete review Quarterly
Volume V, Issue 1   --   February, 2004

State of the Site

Annual Report for
complete review - 2003

  1. Overview:
    1. The Site
    2. Traffic
    3. Search Engines and Search Queries
    4. Links from Other Sites
  2. Popularity and Interest:
    1. Reviews
    2. Links to Amazon
      1. - US
      2. - UK
      3. - France
      4. - 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
    1. i. General
    2. ii. the Literary Saloon
  4. Other
  5. Outlook

I. Overview

       i. The site

       The complete review went online, at, on 31 March 1999. Growth of the site has increased fairly steadily over the course of the past years, and in 2003:

Books under Review
Month Total
December, 2000 529
December, 2001 750
December, 2002 934
January, 2003 947
February 960
March 977
April 998
May 1016
June 1035
July 1053
August 1070
September 1086
October 1100
November 1116
December 1128

       The target of adding 166 reviews (to make a total of 1100 reviews available by the end of 2003) was exceeded by almost 17 percent (196 reviews were added).
       (How many reviews we can and do add is always a complicated issue. On the one hand, we would like to add as many reviews as possible -- but given our extremely limited resources we would probably do better to limit the number of reviews added and concentrate on making these as useful and informative as possible. Realistically, we are probably able to effectively present 160 to 175 reviews a year; anything beyond that probably leads to some erosion in quality.)

       Seven author pages were also added over the course of the year, bringing the total to 44 at the end of 2003.

       Among the major successes in 2003 was our continued focus on reviewing multiple books by individual authors, something we would like to continue to do. While we are generally pleased with the emphasis on fiction at the site, we feel we did fall short in some non-fiction areas which we have previously devoted considerable attention to (especially science and philosophy). It was also a relatively poor year for poetry coverage.

       Review highlights (books we are especially pleased to have reviewed (especially those which were not widely reviewed elsewhere) -- though these were not necessarily our most useful reviews) include:        A fair number of the year's most discussed (and even best-selling) books were also covered at the complete review (and these certainly were among our most useful reviews), including:        The Literary Saloon appears to have established itself as a literary weblog of some interest for those who interested in this sort of thing, and enjoyed steadily growing popularity over the course of the year. Two stories attracted particular attention: a Metafilter mention of what we thought might be the Most depressing cover of the year ? generated the most referrals to a single page at the site all year, and a Salon mention of our on-going Nell Freudenberger coverage (the link there was only to the main site page, but many users did find their way to our Literary Saloon coverage of Freudenberger (whose book, Lucky Girls, we only reviewed towards the end of the year)) also generated considerable traffic and interest.

       The summer 2003 blackout in the American Northeast did not disrupt service, and there were no extended periods of service-disruptions at the site (other than some occasional delays in posting and/or updating information). A major annoyance -- though one that did not affect user-enjoyment of the site -- was the Sobig e-mail virus, which flooded our e-mailboxes and was an enormously time-consuming irritant.

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        ii. Traffic

       Traffic to the complete review continued to increase steadily in 2003. The increase in unique daily visitors was a solid 54 per cent (admittedly not as impressive as in 2002, when it was up over 93 percent over 2001).        Traffic at the site again followed the predictable pattern: slight growth from the beginning of the year to a peak in May, then a reasonably steady flow of summer traffic before a period of rapid growth from September through mid-December, when user-interest plummets over the Christmas-New Years holiday.
       Among outside measure of site-popularity, the complete review generally hovered just outside the 100,000 mark at Alexa, with a few spikes into five-digit territory.

       The Literary Saloon weblog was the part of the site that showed the most impressive gains, though traffic increased in steps, rather than gradually. There was considerably more linking to the Literary Saloon and specific stories reported there in 2003, and the weblog easily and consistently averaged several hundred readers daily by the end of the year. Nevertheless, the Literary Saloon still only accounts for a very small part (less than ten per cent) of total traffic to the site.
       Among outside measures of popularity, the Literary Saloon reached its highest positions as measured at Blogstreet with a rank of 9017/143,599 (in October) and BIQ of 5416 (in July) (though note that both highs were then quickly eclipsed in early January 2004)-- and lows of 17,464/136,479 and BIQ of 13,282 (both in May). The highs at Blogshares were roughly a per share price of 585.00

       New single-day highs were set in several page-view categories -- though, surprisingly, not among author pages, the most popular one averaging a high total, but doing so with remarkable consistency (and no brief blips or surges of interest). The best single-day totals in the following categories were:

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        iii. Search Engines and Search Queries

       Google and its many international variations continued to be far and away the single dominant source of traffic to the complete review. The almost complete reliance on it by users has now become a matter of some concern: if the Google algorithm suddenly doesn't find our reviews as appealing any more and bumps them down a few dozen places on their results list, traffic to the site would fall precipitously. Mentions at Metafilter and Salon did produce significant traffic for very short periods (a matter of days), but otherwise Google was far and away the most dominant provider of traffic.

       Search-engine coverage of what was available at the site was good throughout the year, but the only search engine that mattered was Google. Excellent coverage at, for example, All the Web proved utterly irrelevant; more users arrived at the complete review via even Google Finland (most popular searches: "James M. Cain", "kurd problem armenia", and "vorkuta perished") than All the Web. Fortunately, coverage at Google remains very good, with new reviews being added in a fairly timely fashion (in previous years there was a considerable lag between our posting reviews and Google picking up on them).
       Also noteworthy is the immense popularity of the "Translate this page" option for Google search results (as well as the use of other search engines where similar features are available -- though, again, non-Google searches were dwarfed by Google searches). It suggests a considerable non-English speaking audience interested in our review pages. But there is also widespread use of this feature by English-speaking users, apparently seeking translations of the foreign-language quotes from reviews we include with many our reviews.

       The most popular search engine queries that led users to the complete review were:

  1. fast food nation
  2. lolita
  3. proof david auburn and proof by david auburn
  4. a prayer for owen meany
  5. eucalyptus
  6. king leopold's ghost
  7. life x 3
  8. arcadia tom stoppard
  9. blue remembered hills
  10. the professor and the madman

  1. haruki murakami and murakami haruki
  2. amelie nothomb and amélie nothomb
  3. yasmina reza
  4. harry mulisch
  5. cynthia ozick
  6. david auburn
  7. jonathan coe
  8. geoff dyer
  9. patrick white
  10. marjane satrapi
       Note that because of the many variations in how requests are formulated and made (there were literally 100,000s of different requests made via search engines leading users to pages on the site) it is difficult to determine precisely what people were looking for. The above, however, were the single most popular requests -- as formulated.

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        iv. Links from Other Sites

       The number of links to pages at the complete review continues to increase, but the only area of the site where there has been a significant increase has been in links to our Literary Saloon weblog. Both the weblog itself, and specific stories posted there, have received considerable attention. While there also has been an increase in links to specific reviews (especially from weblogs), we find it somewhat surprising that the reviews don't attract more link-attention -- not so much because our reviews are of any interest, but because of the convenient review-summaries and links found along with our reviews.

       The single-mention links that sent the most traffic to the complete review in 2003 were:
  1. MetaFilter (over 5000 referrals), regarding the Most depressing cover of the year ?
  2. Salon (over 3000 referrals), regarding our continuing Nell Freudenberger coverage
  3. Rediff Guide to the Net: Between the Covers (regarding literary weblogs)
  4. Eric Alterman's Altercation-weblog, regarding our review of his book, What Liberal Media ?
  5. Information about the Bertolucci film, The Dreamers
       There was considerably more incidental linkage to complete review-pages in the online versions of the print media, though it rarely generated much traffic. A link at an interview with Iain Sinclair in The Guardian (admittedly from 2002) brought in 33 viewers, an ORF feature on Daniel Kehlmann just over 40 -- and this piece in the Telegraph a measly ten. Even a nice mention in the ultimate issue of Book generated just over a hundred referrals. Still: there were a lot of mentions, and it does add up: around three hundred referrals each from Le Monde on Marjane Satrapi, Slate on Michel Houellebecq, the BBC on Augusto Monterroso, and so on. (We're particularly pleased by the international reach.)

       General links -- including from directories, or in the side-bars to various sites -- that sent the most traffic to the complete review in 2003 were:
  1. Arts & Letters Daily
  2. Yahoo ! Book Review directory
  3. BiblioReview
       No other directory or general-site link sent over 500 referrals in 2003.

       There were also mixed-mention results from many weblogs and a few other sites, many of which have both a general link to the complete review and, over the course of the year, link to specific stories or pages. Most of these were weblogs, but there were some which are more difficult to categorise. Danny Yee's review of Snow Crash generated some 600 referrals, for example, but other pages on his site -- including his weblog -- generated hundreds more.
       The links from weblogs (multiple mention and fixed link not differentiated here) that sent the most traffic to the complete review in 2003 were:
  1. Neil Gaiman (only a few mentions, but they brought a lot of traffic)
  2. MobyLives
  3. Blog of a Bookslut
  4. splinters
  5. Gawker
  6. Open Brackets
  7. The Major Fall/The Minor Lift
  8. Maud Newton
  10. wood s lot
       With a surge in literary weblogging starting in the fall of 2003 there have been numerous sites which have begun to deliver a steady drip of traffic, especially to the Literary Saloon.

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© 2004 the complete review Quarterly
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