the complete review Quarterly
Volume IX, Issue 1   --   February, 2008

State of the Site

Annual Report for
complete review - 2007

  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. General Observations
  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 2007:

Books under Review
Month Total
December, 2000 529
December, 2001 750
December, 2002 934
December, 2003 1128
December, 2004 1331
December, 2005 1548
December, 2006 1774
January, 2007 1800
February 1817
March 1832
April 1847
May 1855
June 1869
July 1883
August 1899
September 1920
October 1939
November 1960
December 1986

       We again set a (soft) target of adding 200 reviews in 2007, and exceeded that slightly, as 212 reviews were added.
       In addition to our regular review coverage we began adding 'review-overviews' in 2007 -- all the links and review-quotes we usually provide, but without our own review. We expected to add about one a week and roughly met that target, adding 22 over the course of the year (with two graduating to full-fledged reviews at a later time).

       No author pages were added over the course of the year.

       A (personal) computer collapse in May left us unable to update the site for about a week, one of the longer interruptions we've had at the site. Moving house in June led to additional logistical complications, some of the consequences of which lingered through the rest of year. Nevertheless, the disruptions had little discernible effect on the site itself.

       As usual, there are more regrets than there is any sense of accomplishment: we did review over two hundred titles, but there are many more we would have liked to cover. Certainly, the breadth of coverage (at least as far as fiction goes) should be fairly satisfying, but it never seems quite enough.

       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 2007. 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:        Interest in the Literary Saloon also continued to grow, and it seems to have a solid core of repeat-users.

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        ii. Traffic

       Traffic to the complete review did increase in 2007, but hardly faster than the site itself (which grew just over 10 per cent in terms of reviews available).

       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. While pages from the complete review generally are ranked very highly at Google -- a search for title and author of any title under review will generally point to that review as one of the top search results -- there are wild and largely inexplicable inconsistencies. Some searches for title and author bring up search results pointing to our reviews of other titles by the same author, but not the review of the title queried for (even when that review is then listed under 'More results from'). This seems to occur most frequently when our review-pages include foreign-language text (review-quotes in other languages, title and author information in, for example, Arabic, etc.), but there is no consistent indicator as to whether or not a review will come up as a search result. Still, it suggests there are still quite a few kinks in Google's algorithms.

       Media-mentions of the site contributed to small surges of interest, but no one article or link provided significant increases in traffic.
       RSS-feed readers and news aggregators seem to have become popular ways of following the site, but we have no indications of just how popular they are and how much readers rely on them.

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        iv. Review Copies

       The inflow/flood of review copies continues, and even a change of address didn't do much to stem the tide in 2007.
       Submissions in recent years break down as follows:

Review Copies
Year Total List value
2007 387 $ 6133.38
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

       (The 'List value' is probably considerably higher 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).)

       The percentage of submitted titles reviewed declined considerably in 2007 over 2006 -- 100 titles out of 387 submitted in 2007 reviewed by mid-January 2008, compared to 114 out of 348 in 2006 --, but this is mainly attributable to the increase in undesirable and unrequested books reaching us.
       This total -- that slightly more than half of the books we review are those originally submitted to us by publishers -- seems to be fairly consistent now, though we're surprised that such a large percentage of reviewed titles still come from elsewhere (we buy them, borrow them from libraries, etc.). Some of this can be attributed to our interest in older titles (often no longer readily available from publishers), but it still seems very high.

       Publishers continue to be generous and generally fast-acting when we make review-requests -- though we continue to be surprised by a few hold-outs, from whom getting books is harder than pulling teeth ..... Except for foreign and foreign-language titles, for the most part we have been able to review the titles we wanted to (though not always as soon as we'd have liked to).

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II. Popularity and Interest

        i. Links to Amazon

       We greatly appreciate that many users follow our links to the pages for the books under review (and, where available, the British, Canadian, German, and French pages), and often go on to make purchases (for which we do receive a commission, which does make up by far the greatest share of our operating budget). Once again, however, traffic increases (both in click-throughs and purchases) have not been nearly as dramatic as at the site as a whole.
       Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind was again the most clicked-through -- and bought -- title across the five Amazons.

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               1. - US

       Sales at were good in 2007, though hardly much better than in 2006. The most popular title, by a considerable margin, was Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind: various editions (including the audio and the original Spanish version) sold a total of 92 copies -- close to two a week. The various volumes of Cao Xueqin's The Story of The Stone again added up to the number two spot, while the Tom Stoppard plays that were performed in New York, The Coast of Utopia (in whole and in its three parts) and Rock 'n' Roll were also very popular.
       The movie version of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis made the various editions of those books a top-ten seller, but while Ian McEwan's Atonement was one of our most popular reviews it did not -- despite a movie version of its own -- sell particularly well.
        Other top sellers include perennial favourite The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power, Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, and the still-popular King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild .
       It's particularly gratifying to see that titles from our Top Rated-list continue to do very well, including several that received little media attention but are deserving of a wider audience. Even more than in previous years, the most-sold titles were also titles that we rated fairly highly; no book we panned did particularly well.

       The most clicked-through title that no one bought a copy of in 2007 was Michael Maar's The Two Lolitas: 879 visitors checked out the page, but none bought the book.
       And ten visitors purchased Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which we do not have under review, and barely mentioned over the course of the year) after heading to from our site.

       Many of our users head off to Amazon via one of the links on our page and then go on to buy completely unrelated products (which we appreciate, by the way -- the commissions are most helpful). Among the oddities purchased by visitors to the complete review in 2007 -- and note we mean no disrespect here whatsoever, and we appreciate being the indirect beneficiaries of your shopping-decisions -- are:

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               2. - UK sales remained stable in 2007, with the The Shadow of the Wind again the top-seller (and again selling just about the same number of copies as in 2006). Persepolis was a close second, and in quite a surprise Irène Némirovsky's David Golder was a strong third.
       Other top ten titles included Robert Harris' The Ghost, J.M.Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year, Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, and, very surprisingly, Hjalmar Söderberg's Doctor Glas.
       Also rather surprising: two of the four titles with the most click-throughs to which did not result in any sales for the year were Murakamai Haruki titles -- Norwegian Wood (334) and Kafka on the Shore (328).

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               3. - Canada (Canada) sales have improved dramatically; Irene Nemirovsky's David Golder was again the most popular title, but in 2007 sales were evenly divided between the French and the English edition.

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               4. - France

       Click-throughs to suggest there's a lot of interest -- there were considerably more than to, for example, -- but hardly anyone winds up making a purchase, making for by far the worst yield rate of all our Amazon links. Nevertheless, things were better than in 2006, and there were 17 titles of which more than 1 copy was bought.

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               5. - Germany continues to lag (really lag) in both click-throughs and sales. There were only seven titles of which more than 1 copy was bought in 2007.

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        ii. Other pages at the Complete Review

       In 2007 David Hare's Stuff Happens was, by far, the most popular review, with tens of thousands of page-views most months (whereas other top fifteen reviews generally only get a few thousand page-views in a month). As usual, old standards dominate the list; one of the only 'new' titles to make a mark being, in fact, an old review -- Michael Frayn's Spies, whose popularity we still can't explain. The other new title to rank in the top fifteen for the year was, far less surprisingly, Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll.

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

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III. Critical and Popular Response

       Both the complete review and our Literary Saloon-weblog continue to get occasional media-mentions in articles about literary coverage on the Internet, but none generated a great deal of additional traffic to the site in 2007.
       Online mentions and links are also frequent -- generally at other weblogs -- but these, too, do not have much effect on traffic, which seems to be driven largely by search-engine traffic as well as by what is by now a relatively large group of repeat visitors who regularly check in on the site.

       Interestingly -- though this is hardly something new -- more often than not it's not the stories you expect that attract the most interest (and links), with several pieces that we thought were major gets finding practically no takers or readers, while some stories that were added as little more than filler suddenly catch on. Hence the approach of reporting on whatever is of interest to us, without worrying about whether readers will care, seems the safest (and, over the long term, most successful) way to go.

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IV. General Observations

       More than ever -- or perhaps: once again ? -- the site has (d)evolved into a personal site, the fiefdom of M.A.Orthofer who was, with isolated exceptions at the Literary Saloon, responsible for all new content at the site in 2007. Efforts to create and maintain a separate 'complete review'-identity have, for the time being, foundered. In some respects, that's a relief, since it makes the direction of the site even clearer: what I say goes (and I don't have to worry about anyone else's feelings/opinions/etc.), and there is no need for any compromises regarding my vision (or delusion, if you prefer). But there are also considerable drawbacks, including limitations on the what can be accomplished -- there's only so much one man can do -- as well as the danger of an increasingly limited perspective.
       For now, this is the way things will be. We'll see if eventually we can again embrace a more expansive, communal approach .....

       A trickle-down effect of how the complete review has become an established literary site is that I've found myself in greater demand. Beside the now almost usual blogger-related panels, and, for example, hosting a reading-group at the Words without Borders site, in 2007 I participated in the PEN World Voices Festival (the questioner in an author Q&A event with Arthur Japin) and was invited to panels organized by Saltonstall (in upstate New York) and the International Writing Program's 40th Anniversary in Iowa.
       In addition, I have become involved in a major project that is the direct result of my work on the complete review. It won't be available before early 2009, at the earliest, but you'll be hearing a lot more about it here as it begins to take shape. (Sorry for the 'tease', but all will be revealed soon enough.)

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V. Outlook

       It's all about the books and the literary coverage. I'd love to review more (though, once again, the (soft) target is for 200 reviews for the year), and I'd like to be more particular about what is covered at the site. The international mix seems good enough, but there's always something being overlooked (the Russians, recently, for example -- there are more books originally written in Norwegian, Polish, and Hungarian than in Russian currently under review ...), and I would very much like to cover more older titles. The focus on fiction will, however, remain unchanged, though there's been a dramatic fall-off in poetry and drama coverage, and I'd like to up that a bit again.
       The Literary Saloon seems to be on the right track, though I'd like to devote more space to commentary and follow-up. On the whole, however, I think the weblog is in good shape.

       Elsewhere, otherwise ... well, we'll see. I'll continue pretty much as usual, and try my best.

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© 2008 the complete review Quarterly
© 2008 the complete review