Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2004 Issue

Book Related Web Site Rankings for July

Monthly rankings of book related sites on the web.


By Bruce McKinney

In the July issue of AE (click here for a link to that story) we introduced online ratings of book related sites as a way to understand relative performance. In this, the second month, we are continuing to track these sites and to add others that have come to our attention. As we gain experience with the book related site rankings on the net I’m finding them useful if imperfect. They broadly indicate where book-related traffic is going. For now we are using Websearch.com as our data source. One reader, responding to our July 1st web site rating story, expressed his preference for ALEXA, an alternative ranking approach (www.alexa.com). Alexa is owned by Amazon, a power in book sales on the web. Alexa’s results are different than Websearch’s, substantially different in some cases. Websearch.com provides a stable methodology and is not in the book business so we use them but both are reasonable alternatives. Another reader questioned the significance of rankings for book collectors who may have good reasons to visit less visible sites. Again I agree. For the record, not being among the first 500,000 ranked sites doesn’t mean a site isn’t worthwhile; only that it isn’t busy yet. Perhaps the way to view these ratings is as a measure of “interest.” It is useful information but hardly definitive as to quality and relevance. Think of these ratings as a best sellers list. The New York Times publishes both a list of best sellers and a list of “notable” books. Few of the books on the notable list ever make it to the best sellers. They simply inhabit different worlds although their sales are counted in precisely the same way, by numbers.

For site managers it is important to know how you are doing. Are changes on your site increasing traffic? Most sites monitor their internal traffic but side by side traffic comparisons to competitors and other broadly comparable sites have been hard to find. That makes the Websearch and Alexa numbers useful. Site development has tended to occur in a fact-less vacuum of optimistic projection where cost-benefit relationships are obscure at best. You eat your power bar before you start a race whose length will not be announced until it’s over. Hum... These ratings won’t tell you where the finish line is but they will tell you where others are in the race. Site numbers illuminate the darkness, if only with a 10 watt bulb, precisely the point that one reader voiced in response to the June article. But this is progress, not perfection and we’ll see 12 watts soon.

Of course, for those who use third party listing sites to sell their material, traffic rankings offer a useful basis of comparison for initial selection. You have to start somewhere. Of course there is nothing to limit any seller from listing their books on multiple sites and many sellers do this. In time experience and ratings will form a twisted vine that the Tarzans of the book world will use to make their next moves. To begin with there are rankings. Every child in school has occasionally wished their tests wouldn’t be graded. Grading website activity has now arrived and it is going to be widely and increasingly used. Playtime is over.

Rare Book Monthly

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