the complete review Quarterly
Volume VI, Issue 1   --   February, 2005

State of the Site

Annual Report for
complete review - 2004

  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. 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 2004:

Books under Review
Month Total
December, 2000 529
December, 2001 750
December, 2002 934
December, 2003 1128
January, 2004 1141
February 1161
March 1176
April 1194
May 1210
June 1228
July 1252
August 1273
September 1285
October 1300
November 1318
December 1331

       The target of adding 172 reviews (to make a total of 1300 reviews available by the end of 2004) was exceeded by almost 17 percent (201 reviews were added) -- almost exactly the same percentage we missed by last year.

       Only two author pages were added over the course of the year -- four short of the target we set ourselves --, bringing the total to 46 at the end of 2004.

       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 (though occasionally visitors do).

       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 (and 2003's and what promise to be 2005'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:        As literary weblogging continues to thrive and expand on the Internet, the Literary Saloon enjoyed decent growth -- and quite a bit of press attention. It remains a popular literary weblog, with what appears to be a devoted audience; nevertheless, 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 steadily in 2004. The increase in unique daily visitors was roughly 50 per cent.        Among outside measure of site-popularity, the complete review crossed the 100,000 mark at Alexa early in the year, with the three-month average reaching an all-time low (i.e. high) of 53,104 on 19 December. If an accurate reflection of actual Internet-popularity (a big if), it suggests the complete review reaches a larger audience than any similar (i.e. amateur or semi-pro) exclusively book-focussed site (in large part, of course, simply because there is more content available here than at most other sites).

       Among outside measures of popularity, the Literary Saloon reached its highest positions as measured at Blogstreet with a rank of 3068/110181 (2003: 9017/143,599) on 6 November, and a BIQ of 2651 (2003: 5416) on 8 November. The highs at Blogshares were a per share price of 1,558.30 (2003: 585.00) on 26 December.

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        iii. Search Engines

       Google was by far (far, far, far !) the most common means by which users found their way to the site. For most of the year our reviews enjoyed very good rankings (i.e. search queries involving book title and author name of books under review generally pointed to our reviews in the top ten results); when that changed in mid-December it led to a considerable drop in traffic.

       Search-engine coverage of what was available at the site at other search engines (such as All the Web and Search MSN) was also excellent -- in some cases superior to Google -- but, since practically no one seems to use them, had no appreciable effect on traffic.

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        iv. Review Copies

       One of the benefits of running a book review site is that we receive review copies from publishers. Unfortunately, even after all these years, fundamental problems with this process remain. Specifically: publishers not sending us books we request, and sending us books we don't request.
       Not wanting to be inundated with titles that we are unlikely to review, we tell anybody who cares to listen (and most don't) that we strongly discourage unsolicited submissions. We appreciate being made aware of titles via e-mail queries and publishers' catalogues, but prefer not to receive a book unless we request it. Nevertheless, more and more unsolicited titles come our way. Submissions in recent years break down as follows:

Review Copies
Year Total Unsolicited List value
2004 179 60 $ 3378.83
2003 131 28 $ 2673.16
2002 127 15 $ 2710.27
2001 134 34 $ 2559.14
2000 136 29 $ 3257.72

       In 2000 and 2001 the unsolicited books included numerous books that we would have asked for, had we known about them; by 2004 this was rarely the case. (A rare exception is, for example, the publisher sending us a proof of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas before we had a chance to request it.) As is, only four unsolicited titles received in 2004 have to date (31 January 2005) been reviewed.
       (Note also that many of the not-unsolicited review copies are books which we asked for only in response to an author's or publisher's query.)

       We're actually quite surprised how few review copies we get -- not that we want that many more ! But we would like to get the ones we specifically ask for -- and it is these, requested without prompting from publishers or authors, that also stand by far the greatest chance of actually getting reviewed.
       Nevertheless, out of about 70 non-catalogue requests (i.e. excluding those where we receive a form from the publisher asking us to check off what books we'd like to receive) we made in 2004 more than half went unmet. These were generally requests made to large publishers, with many of whom we've even had long-standing relationships of sorts. (Our favourite -- and far too common -- result is when our request is ignored but three months later we receive a book of no interest whatsoever from the same publisher.)
       This inability to review titles of interest is particularly frustrating. If we hound a publisher enough, we eventually are almost certain to get a title of interest, but there are few books which we are so desperate to get our hands on that we'll do that. Still, we're surprised we don't carry a bit more weight -- as far as audience-reach goes the complete review is a significant site (in the tiny literary-webworld) -- and that so many publishers aren't more attentive to our requests. (It should be noted that a handful are exemplary in being quick, helpful, and providing us with all we ask for (and no more !) -- which is much appreciated. Among those we deal with: Dalkey Archive Press, New Directions, Vertical, and Suhrkamp all handle things in an exemplary manner; everybody else: not so much.)

       Since our focus is not exclusively on new books, it is not entirely surprising that publishers aren't able to meet all our review-title needs (it generally being unrealistic to expect them to provide older titles); nevertheless, it is surprising how few of the titles we end up covering are actually provided to us by publishers (and, occasionally, authors). To date (31 January 2005) the breakdown of books reviewed received from publishers is as follows (keeping in mind that it often takes months -- and sometimes years -- before we get to a book):

Reviewed titles
Year Total Total from
# of these
2004 201 179 84
2003 194 131 71
2002 184 127 76
2001 221 134 71
2000 245 136 75

       (Note that it can take months (or, occasionally, years) until we get around to a book, so the 2004 totals for books-from-publishers-we've-reviewed will certainly eventually be considerably higher (and the earlier years' totals slightly higher).)
       It is surprising -- to us, at least -- that considerably more than fifty per cent of the books we review do not come to us from publishers. Some foreign titles and out of print choices can account for some of this, but nowhere near the total; indeed, a significant percentage is made up of new titles which came into our hands by other means (including -- ughhh ! -- our buying them (though certainly never at anywhere close to retail prices)).

       On the whole, and with a few bright exceptions, we are disappointed by the inefficient and cumbersome review copy process. Occasionally we are tempted to just open the floodgates, and say: 'Send us what you've got', but given the volume of useless (to us) junk that especially the largest publishers offer, we don't think we can handle it. It is disappointing, however, how many titles that we likely would review never make it to our door (though we also suspect a few do and are ... re-routed from there by 'interested' neighbours).

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II. Popularity and Interest

        i. Links to Amazon

       Our links to the pages for the books under review (and, where available, the British, Canadian, German, and French pages) continue to be fairly popular, though they do not generate an extraordinary amount of sales. and seem to be of particular use; the others, less so.

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               1. - US

       The most purchased titles among reviewed book were:
  1. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton
  2. "A Problem from Hell", Samantha Power
  3. Proof, David Auburn
  4. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  5. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
  6. The Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch
  7. Boy Gets Girl, Renbecca Gilman
  8. Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
  9. 'Art', Yasmina Reza
  10. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  11. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  12. 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, Melissa P.
  13. The Real Thing, Tom Stoppard
  14. The Golden Days, the first volume of The Story of the Stone, Cao Xueqin
  15. Snow, Orhan Pamuk
       It was nice to see that The Anatomy of Melancholy remains immensely popular -- and "A Problem from Hell" was a worthy if surprising number two. New title The Shadow of the Wind was a surprisingly strong finisher (and, a Richard & Judy's Book Club selection, looks to rank high on the 2005 list), while we're embarrassed that 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed found so many takers.

       Notable disappointments include our very popular review of Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint (2 copies sold) and Nobel laureate Imre Kertesz's Liquidation (6 copies sold).

       The titles that were the most clicked-through to but went unpurchased were Jean de Sponde's Sonnets of Love & Death (633 people checked out the page, but then decided against buying it) and then Dai Sijie's very popular Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (559).

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               2. - UK

       The Anatomy of Melancholy was again the most-bought title via Other titles managing double figure sales included Murakami Haruki's Norwegian Wood, Donna Tartt 's The Little Friend, and -- depressingly -- 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed,

       The reviews that users clicked-through to most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together.)
  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Big Women, Fay Weldon
  3. Blue Remembered Hills, Dennis Potter
  4. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton
  5. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
  6. Norwegian Wood, Murakami Haruki
  7. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
  8. Feeding Frenzy, Will Self
  9. Essays in Love, Alain de Botton
  10. 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, Melissa P.
  11. 'Art', Yasmina Reza
  12. The Great Fire of London, Jacques Roubaud
  13. Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss
  14. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Murakami Haruki
  15. Atomised, Michel Houellebecq

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               3. - Canada (Canada) continues not to be a very popular place for our visitors to purchase books. While a decent number do click on the links, the percentage that actually purchase books is by far the lowest of all our Amazon-links.

       The reviews that users clicked-through to most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together.)
  1. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
  2. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  3. Boy Gets Girl, Renbecca Gilman
  4. King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild
  5. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton
  6. Big Girls don't Cry, Fay Weldon
  7. The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick
  8. Essays in Love, Alain de Botton
  9. Norwegian Wood, Murakami Haruki
  10. Marie Antoinette, Evelyne Lever
  11. Lolita, Richard Corliss
  12. Sonnets of Love & Death, Jean de Sponde
  13. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  14. Unrequited Love, Gregory Dart
  15. The Social Construction of What ?, Ian Hacking

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               4. - France

       The reviews that users clicked-through to most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together.)
  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Stupeur et Tremblements, Amélie Nothomb
  3. Art, Yasmina Reza
  4. Cosmétique de l'ennemi, Amélie Nothomb
  5. Mercure, Amélie Nothomb
  6. Le Sabotage amoureux, Amélie Nothomb
  7. Zazie dans le métro, Raymond Queneau
  8. La Place, Annie Ernaux
  9. Les empereurs du Fast-Food, Eric Schlosser
  10. Antéchrista, Amélie Nothomb
  11. Robert des noms propres, Amélie Nothomb
  12. Anatomie de la mélancolie, Robert Burton
  13. Métaphysique des tubes, Amélie Nothomb
  14. Les Particules élémentaires, Michel Houellebecq
  15. Persépolis (vol. 3), Marjane Satrapi
       Not much of a change from last year, with Amélie Nothomb continuing to assert herself.

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               5. - Germany

       The reviews that users clicked-through to most frequently were:
       (For purposes of this list all click-throughs for separate editions of the same title have been lumped together.)
  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee, Thomas Brussig
  3. Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner, Bertolt Brecht
  4. Anatomie der Melancholie, Robert Burton
  5. Kunst, Yasmina Reza
  6. Die Unvollendete Geschichte und ihr Ende, Volker Braun
  7. Fast Food Gesellschaft, Eric Schlosser
  8. Träumer, Gilbert Adair
  9. Naokos Lächeln, Murakami Haruki
  10. Die Situation, Peter Weiss
  11. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  12. Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, Peter Weiss
  13. Die Physiker, Friedrich Dürrenmatt
  14. Meine Freundin, der Guru und Ich, William Sutcliffe
  15. Helden wie wir, Thomas Brussig
       Quite a few changes from last year's top 15.

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        ii. Other pages at the Complete Review

       The most popular review -- by far -- was, once again Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, with Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita a strong second.

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

       The newly added index of Erotic, Pornographic, and Sex-related books quickly became by far the most popular index-page referred to at the site. Biography and Memoirs also remained popular.

       The most popular article at the cr Quarterly in 2004 was, once again, our Literary Weblogs - An Overview . Also attracting considerable interest were our articles in the first issue of 2004, on James Laine's Shivaji.

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III. Critical and Popular Response

       User satisfaction with and interest in the offerings of the complete review continues to seem relatively high, insofar as we can gauge from the feedback we receive.

       Print media interest in literary weblogging lead to numerous mentions of the complete review and/or our Literary Saloon weblog. The most high-profile mentions included:

       - David Sexton's 20 January article, Comfort of strangers, in The Scotsman (no longer freely accessible on the Internet), describing the Literary Saloon as: "One of the most conscientious, if humourless" literary weblogs.

       - The 19-26 February issue of Time Out NY, where Maureen Shelly writes that the Literary Saloon is: "especially useful for finding information on foreign releases before they're available in the U.S., or even translated into English."

       - David Orr's 3 October article, Where to Find Digital Lit in The New York Times Book Review, in which he concludes:
Though The Complete Review sometimes seems never to read a book without perusing a work, it remains one of the best literary destinations on the Web.
       And about our weblog he notes:
The anonymous site owners also write an appealingly cranky blog that is notable for its erudition, its passionate advocacy of literature in translation and its passive-aggressive wooing of the comely young author Nell Freudenberger.
       While we enjoy the praise and attention, most of it translates into few new and additional visitors to the site. Even the biggest of these media-mentions -- the NYTBR piece -- generated far fewer direct referrals from the time of publication through the end of the year (less than 4000) than the site gets visitors on any given day. (Certainly, more visitors came to the site via the print edition of the piece -- typing in the URL -- but the surge in user interest was fairly brief and far from overwhelming.)

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IV. Other

       i. 'Blurbs'

       Once again, to our knowledge there were no titles published in 2004 that used a quote from the complete review as a blurb.

       ii. Links

       As always, linking to reviews at other sites, especially the Internet sites of print-media publications, continues to be an enormous pain, as numerous publications walled themselves off from direct-linking or changed link-URLs.
       There have been a few bright spots: Die Welt appears to have reconsidered its ridiculous registration policy, and reviews are again freely available, and reviews at The Times have become far more accessible again. We also added many review-links to reviews in the archive at The New York Times; while other articles require user-registration, the archived reviews are freely accessible.
       A number of new review-sources also appeared in 2004, but overall the change from 2003 wasn't too great.

       iii. User Inquiries

       User-inquiries to the complete review in 2004 consisted almost entirely of author-requests for reviews.

       iv. Finances

       The financial situation at the complete review remains precarious, but revenues continue to outpace expenditures (in large part due to the fact that we refuse to spend money on almost anything).
       Our primary source of revenue remained our links and the commissions we receive for purchases made by users there. Commissions were higher than ever before.
       Advertising, as part of the Google AdSense programme, also provided a limited amount of income. While there has been growth in this area, it is still relatively insignificant.
       We did receive several generous contributions in response to our appeal for support for the site in 2004 (much appreciated !). These have been very helpful in facilitating the running of the site.

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V. Outlook

       There are no major changes planned at the site in 2005.

       The targets for 2005 are to add 180 reviews (to reach the total of 1511) and four author pages (for a total of 50) to the complete review.

       There are certain areas we would like to expand our review-coverage in: classical works, especially, as well as more foreign titles (yes, even more) -- but planning this sort of thing ahead has not worked out well in previous years, so we prefer not to try to be too specific.

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