the complete review Quarterly
Volume VIII, Issue 1   --   February, 2007

State of the Site

Annual Report for
complete review - 2006

  1. Overview:
    1. The Site
    2. Traffic
    3. Search Engines
    4. Review Copies
  2. Popularity and Interest:
    1. Links to Amazon
      1. - US
      2. - UK
      3. - Canada
      4. - France
      5. - Germany
    2. Other pages at the Complete Review
  3. Critical and Popular Response
  4. 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 2006:

Books under Review
Month Total
December, 2000 529
December, 2001 750
December, 2002 934
December, 2003 1128
December, 2004 1331
December, 2005 1548
January, 2006 1571
February 1590
March 1605
April 1626
May 1642
June 1659
July 1676
August 1694
September 1714
October 1736
November 1760
December 1774

       The target of adding 200 reviews (to make a total of 1748 reviews available by the end of 2006) was exceeded by 13 percent, as 226 reviews were added, the most since 2000.

       Only two author pages were added over the course of the year -- four short of the target we set ourselves --, bringing the total to 49 at the end of 2006.

       The overall development of the site continued much as previously, and while there are always many regrets about books missed and areas we should have done more in, we can't really complain too much. As usual, coverage has focussed on international fiction (with notably less English-language fiction coverage than in previous years), and there's only so much we manage toget to over the course of a year (with many, many regrets as to what we can't get to ...). 2006 saw decent advances is a number of areas, though the increase in our coverage of Arabic literature was probably the only stand-out. (Even there, success is relative: we still have a long way to go !)

       It's hard to come up with a list of review highlights (books we are especially pleased to have reviewed (especially those which were not widely reviewed elsewhere)) because we were very pleased with what we got to day in and day out in 2006. But among the titles worth singling out -- not necessarily the best or most important titles we covered, but the ones we're glad we were able to get to -- are:        A fair number of the year's most prominent and discussed books were also covered at the complete review, including:        The Literary Saloon continued to enjoy decent growth. It remains a popular literary weblog, though traffic to the Literary Saloon continues to account for only a small part of total traffic to the site.

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        ii. Traffic

       Traffic to the complete review continued to increase in 2006, though not at as great a rate as in previous years.        Among outside measures of total site-popularity:        Among outside measures of popularity for the Literary Saloon:

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        iii. Search Engines

       As always, Google was the most common means by which users found their way to the site. We probably shouldn't complain about the positioning of our webpages at Google, and it probably is more consistent than ever before, but there are still strange results, leading to under-exposure for some reviews. This phenomenon is most -- though not exclusively -- notable with regard to our older reviews of untranslated titles, once the books come out in English. 2006's case in point was Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World. Despite long having the most extensive English-language coverage of the title, Google search results along the lines of 'Measuring the World Daniel Kehlmann' would often not return the review page (often even showing other Kehlmann-review pages on our site, but not the relevant one), or else bury the resultsomewhere 50th or 60th down the line.

       While search-engine coverage of what was available at the site at other search engines continues to be very good, these also remain, for allintents and purposes, irrelevant, bringing only a tiny fraction of total traffic to the site.

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        iv. Review Copies

       We've pretty much given up on controlling the inflow of review copies. While we still encourage publishers not to send unsolicited review copies, our address is too widely known to prevent 'helpful' publicists form inundating us. (Well, actually we're (relatively) far from being inundated, but we do now get a lot that isn't appropriate.) While most review-sites (and certainly the newspapers) apparently get many, many more books than we do, we certainly get more than we can handle.
       Submissions in recent years break down as follows:

Review Copies
Year Total List value
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

       Note that the 'List value' is probably considerably higher (probably by over $ 1000.00 in 2006) 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).

       While the percentage of submitted titles reviewed was only slightly higher in 2006 (114 out of 348 reviewed by mid-January 2007) than in 2005 (95 out of 299 titles reviewed by mid-January 2006) the number (114 books) was significantly higher. Nevertheless, close to half of all books reviewed were titles indepednently acquired by us -- a percentage that we still find striking (though some of that has to do with our interest in and coverage of older (i.e. not readily available from publishers) titles).

       Publishers continue to be generous and generally fast-acting when we make review-requests -- with a few exceptions. For the mostpart, we have been able to review the titles we wanted to (though not always as soon as we'd have liked to).
      There has also been considerably more publisher-initiative in trying to get us to take a look at their books, though interestingly much of that is directed at the Literary Saloon. While perhaps fairly prominent among the literary weblogs, the Literary Saloon nevertheless remains a fairly small part of the site, and it is the reviews that the vast majority of our users turn to (and which have the more lasting impact). Buth, then, the Literary Saloon and the review part of the site aren't really separate, so there's no real harm done.

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II. Popularity and Interest

        i. Links to Amazon

       Users still follow our links to the pages for the books under review (and, where available, the British, Canadian, German, and French pages), though the traffic increases (both in click-throughs and purchases) have not been nearly as dramatic as at the site as a whole.
       The closest any individual title got to being dominant was Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, which was among the most clicked-through titles at all five Amazons.

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               1. - US

       Sales at remained solid in 2006, with over 100 reviewed titles selling more than 4 copies each. Stand-outs included Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, in whole and in its three parts, which sold by far the most copies of any title, as well as the five volumes of Cao Xueqin's The Story of The Stone which, in sum, made for the only title to challenge the Stoppard.
       The Top Rated-standards continue to do very well; apparently we do influence some purchasing decisions.
       And for once, no book we really panned did astonishingly well (as has happened practically every year to date).

       The most purchased titles among reviewed books were:
  1. The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard
  2. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  3. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton
  4. Proof, David Auburn
  5. King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild
  6. Snow, Orhan Pamuk
  7. The Aesthetics of Resistance, Peter Weiss
  8. Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris
  9. The Real Thing, Tom Stoppard
  10. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser

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               2. - UK sales remained solid in 2006.
       The Shadow of the Wind was again the top-seller (32 copies sold), but it was nice to see other titles, including The Anatomy of Melancholy, achieve double-digit sales.
       Among the oddities: the most clicked-through title -- topping even The Shadow of the Wind -- was Michael Frayn's Spies (though only two copies were sold).

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               3. - Canada (Canada) performed better than previously, but user-interest remaions limited. Interestingly, two of the top three titles sold were French-language editions -- Irene Nemirovsky's David Golder, and Shan Sa's La joueuse de go.

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               4. - France

       Internet book-sales may be picking up in France, but continues not to impress. A couple of copies of L'Ombre du vent was pretty much the highlight, and while toital sales were at acceptable levels, no other individual titles stood out.

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               5. - Germany

       With even fewer sales than in France, results were uninspiring. Some user-interest, as measured by click-throughs, but no titles that really attracted lots of buyers.

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        ii. Other pages at the Complete Review

       Somewhat surprisingly, the most popular reviews remain much the same, year in and year out. The most popular review in 2006 was Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, though David Hare's Stuff Happens (number two for the year) had the most impressive one-month showing. Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind placed third and fourth for the year.

       Among the complete review's Author Pages the one for Murakami Haruki continued to be the runaway most popular one, with Amélie Nothomb remaining a solid and consistent runner-up.

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III. Critical and Popular Response

       Media interest and mentions continued apace, but without any major traffic-causing links of the sort found last in 2005 (most notably by Time's 50 Coolest Websites 2005 mention -- a link that still brings a decent flow of traffic in early 2007). Indeed, few 2006-mentions mention caused more than a ripple in traffic.

       As far as user-interest goes, it certainly seems to be there (and it remains as unpredictable in its tatses as ever, too).

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IV. Outlook

       All we want to do is cover more books. On the one hand it's cheering to have added so many in 2006, and the target for 2007 (likely, yet again, to be exceeded, so it's only a soft target) is to add another 200 reviews. But no matter how many we get to, it always feels like it's far too few
       Then there's the ambition of more 'serious' coverage -- paying more attention to more important titles, not wasting our (and your) time with pop or fringe works. But, then again, there's some value in some coverage of those too ....

       Well, we'll see. Meanwhile, we'll continue pretty much as usual.

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© 2007 the complete review Quarterly
© 2007 the complete review