the complete review Quarterly
Volume II, Issue 1   --   February, 2001

Reviewing Popularity

Examining the Bestseller Lists

       The complete review tracks the number of page views for all reviews on the site, compiling a monthly bestseller list of the most popular reviews. The number of page-views would seem to be a good indication of the relative interest in the titles under review; that is why we present this information.
       The complete review also links each title directly to the respective page (where possible) -- as well as to the respective pages at the British (where possible) and German and French (where the book was originally written in those languages) Amazon-affiliates. We therefore also have a record of the "click-through" rate to the books at, telling us how many people seek out additional information about the book at This seems to be a fairly good indicator of true interest in any title.
       Only a fraction of users click through to the page about the book in question -- ten percent is unusual, anything above that extremely rare (though the most popular title as measured by click-throughs, Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone, had a rate of over fifteen percent). Nevertheless, many titles from the complete review do register 100s of click-throughs at alone. (Traffic sent to is about three times as large as that sent to British counterpart, while traffic at and is essentially negligible. In large part this is due to the number of titles from these branches that we link to: in the case of and the complete review only links to a handful of titles directly.)

       For purposes of this analysis we only examined the click-throughs to in 2000. There are numerous factors that must also be taken into account regarding these results. Foremost is that not all available titles at the complete review are available at Numerous British titles, foreign titles, as well as out of print books are, in fact, not, and thus automatically excluded from consideration. (Note, however that all of the "bestselling" titles were available at
       Our links to are fairly uniformly presented, except that in some cases we do also depict the cover -- perhaps an added incentive to click through to Some titles are also listed in more than one edition -- both mass-market and trade paperback, for example -- and people do apparently check out both using our links, padding their totals. (For purposes of this survey we have not counted click-throughs to different editions separately but rather added them all up under each title).
       A comparison of the top-30 most popular reviews (as measured by page-views) and the 30 titles that readers clicked-through to most frequently is illuminating -- and surprising. Below are the two top-30 lists:

       Ia. - Most Popular Reviews - 2000
complete review rank / title / author / ( rank)

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (2)
  2. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard (5)
  3. Big Girls don't Cry, Fay Weldon (4)
  4. King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild (9)
  5. 'Art', Yasmina Reza (3)
  6. On Love, Alain de Botton (10)
  7. The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester (41)
  8. Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss (21)
  9. An Equal Music, Vikram Seth (30)
  10. The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard (12)
  11. Amsterdam, Ian McEwan (72)
  12. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson (-)
  13. The Social Construction of What ?, Ian Hacking (34)
  14. King, John Berger (77)
  15. The Cannibal Galaxy, Cynthia Ozick (69)
  16. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski (17)
  17. The Story of the Stone, Cao Xueqin (1)
  18. An Erotic Beyond: Sade, Octavio Paz (6)
  19. Footsucker, Geoff Nicholson (8)
  20. The Flight of Icarus, Raymond Queneau (7)
  21. The Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch (38)
  22. The Unexpected Man, Yasmina Reza (15)
  23. England, England, Julian Barnes (52)
  24. Fear and Trembling, Amélie Nothomb (-)
  25. Loving Sabotage, Amélie Nothomb (81)
  26. The Food Chain, Geoff Nicholson (27)
  27. The Mourning of John Lennon, Anthony Elliott (14)
  28. For and Against Method, I. Lakatos/P.Feyerabend (16)
  29. The Assault, Harry Mulisch (22)
  30. Zazie in the Metro, Raymond Queneau (37)

       I.b - Most Popular Reviews - 2000 rank / title / author / (complete review rank)

  1. The Story of the Stone, Cao Xueqin (17)
  2. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1)
  3. 'Art', Yasmina Reza (5)
  4. Big Girls don't Cry, Fay Weldon (3)
  5. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard (2)
  6. An Erotic Beyond: Sade, Octavio Paz (18)
  7. The Flight of Icarus, Raymond Queneau (20)
  8. Footsucker, Geoff Nicholson (19)
  9. King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild (4)
  10. On Love, Alain de Botton (6)
  11. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (32)
  12. The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard (10)
  13. Via Dolorosa, David Hare (53)
  14. The Mourning of John Lennon, Anthony Elliott (27)
  15. The Unexpected Man, Yasmina Reza (22)
  16. For and Against Method, I. Lakatos/P.Feyerabend (28)
  17. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski (16)
  18. Conversations with Stoppard, Tom Stoppard/Mel Gussow (41)
  19. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, (trans. Edward FitzGerald) (69)
  20. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges (59)
  21. Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss (8)
  22. The Assault, Harry Mulisch (29)
  23. The Real Thing, Tom Stoppard (48)
  24. New & Collected Poems, Geoffrey Hill (99)
  25. The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick (132)
  26. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (50)
  27. The Food Chain, Geoff Nicholson (26)
  28. A Man's Place, Annie Ernaux (40)
  29. Death and the Dervish, Mesa Selimovic (49)
  30. An Equal Music, Vikram Seth (9)

       There is considerable overlap -- almost two-thirds of the titles make both lists -- but the differences are also striking.
       Among the biggest surprises is the top showing by Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone as the title the most users went to for. Note that this high ranking is achieved by the first volume of the five-volume book alone (the complete review's review links to the other four volumes as well, but each was counted separately -- with the others showing respectable totals as well). While the review itself was also popular, ranking 17th in total page-views, it was far behind the most popular reviews.
       Another stunner was the lack of interest in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. The perennial bestseller again proved to be among the most popular reviews, ranking 12th in page views, but the number of click-throughs, though not negligible, was comparatively small. It finished outside the top-100, with books such as Stephenson's own Snow Crash (ranking 42nd in popularity), John Preston's Feyerabend (146th), and Steve Aylett's Toxicology (185th) easily topping it. A likely explanation here is that a large percentage of the interested readers had already actually read or purchased the book and were only interested in the complete review's review. We anticipated that a number of reviews would be used by consumers as a sort of baseline against which to judge the site as a whole, and possibly Cryptonomicon is one of those. (Of course, one of the titles we most expected to be used to judge the site was John Irving's immensely popular A Prayer for Owen Meany -- but that one is also one of the titles with the most click-throughs. Go figure.)
       Some recent British fiction did not fare too well in terms of click-throughs -- Ian McEwan's Amsterdam and John Berger's King. These titles did not receive high marks from the complete review, possibly explaining the lack of further interest. (Generally, however, there seemed little correlation between our opinion of the titles and user's interest in them.)
       The only other titles from the bestseller list that did not fare very well were Amélie Nothomb's, due mainly to the fact that they were not available in English for most of year (Loving Sabotage appeared in November, while Fear and Trembling is only due out in March, 2001). Nevertheless, Loving Sabotage did have an impressive showing for the final quarter of the year, breaking into the top-30 in terms of click-throughs).

       A number of less popular titles (in terms of page-views) did receive an inordinate amount of click-throughs, as the second table shows. Many were texts that the complete review expressed a positive opinion about, but not all. Our review of David Hare's Via Dolorosa was decidedly ambivalent; nevertheless it had an exceptionally high click-through rate.

       The actual number of purchases at -- a measure of true interest in a title -- were not significant enough to be statistically useful. More than half of purchases were, in fact, of titles not under review at the complete review (i.e. people clicked through from our site to but went on to purchase other titles). Additionally, individual orders skew results -- so, for example, one customer's purchase of a dozen copies of a book not under review, The Cost of Discipleship (more than even fairly successful titles manage over the course of the entire year). Drama again dominated the sales lists: The Unexpected Man, Via Dolorosa, and Tom Stoppard's plays were the most popular titles.

       The British ( results do differ from the American ( ones. For one thing, A Prayer for Owen Meany doesn't have quite the same following. The British results also tend more towards fiction (and, generally, more serious literary fiction).

       Given that the complete review's bestseller list tracks all page-views, while click-throughs to (and its affiliated companies) are limited to available titles, the bestseller list still seems the best way of tracking book popularity and user interest. Nevertheless, the results provide useful additional information, shedding further light on the interests of the complete review's users.

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© 2001 the complete review Quarterly
© 2001 the complete review