Slowly but surely: a 15-year-long step-by-step move to open access sees submissions soar

What is it?

Connotations is a 20-year-old international journal about English literature, based in Germany. It started out as a print journal and took the first steps in electronic publishing in 1996 when it began to offer a selection of articles and discussions free of charge online. The journal became fully open access in 2010 and it has recently completed a three-year process of putting all its back issues online.

Connotations is still available in print format with institutional subscriptions managed by a publisher and private subscriptions available through joining the Connotations society. As a tax exempt organisation, these subscriptions and other forms of private sponsorship help subsidise the costs of the open access version.

How is it a success?

Matthias Bauer in discussion with Charles Dickens

Becoming open access has been a 15-year-long staged process for Connotations. According to the journal’s editor, Matthias Bauer, one reason for the move was that making articles about English literature published in a small journal in Germany known to scholars around the world “is difficult from the starting position of just doing a print journal.”

Another motive is linked to the very nature of the journal. “It’s a journal for critical debate,” explains Bauer. “As the subject is literature in English it’s based mainly on interpretation and there is not just one interpretation of a literary text so it has to be debated, discussed. That’s why as soon as we have accepted an article for publication we encourage colleagues to write a response to it and we aim to publish those responses along with the article. On the internet we can do this, even if a response comes a year later – we can link the articles and responses which we could never do in a printed version. That’s one of the great advantages of linking the internet and open access with what we are doing.”

Since becoming fully open, Bauer has seen the number of submissions to Connotations rise by about 20-25%, and four out of five submissions are now rejected, compared to three out of four previously. The subjects covered in the submissions received have also changed – the journal has always had an established reputation in Early Modern Literature and received a lot of submissions in that field, but the number of submissions on works by living writers has increased recently. Submissions have also become more global with more coming from countries outside the UK, US and Germany.

“We have noticed that since the complete archive has gone online, we regularly see the journal accessed from more than 50 countries which is a lot for such a specialised journal. Articles are accessed in many countries in Africa and Asia where there has never been a subscription of the printed journal. We couldn’t have had that reach without the open access journal, or even the more limited selection of articles,” says Bauer.

Authors are encouraged to link to articles, or include the article PDFs to download from their homepages and Bauer is also seeking to expand the network of websites in the fields of early modern studies and Shakespeare studies that link to the journal.

Since becoming open access, the very well-regarded education website of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London has recommended Connotations as a resource, as does the respected scholarly Shakespeare gateway Mr William Shakespeare and the Internet.

The major bibliography in the field, the Modern Languages Association bibliography, is  online and has agreed to provide not just listings of Connotations articles but also online access to the articles through its database so that they will automatically appear to anyone who is doing any research in literary studies on a particular author or topic.

“All this is part of the impact of going open access,” says Bauer. “We have to offer full access to what’s been published in order to be listed on these websites otherwise I don’t think they would do it.”

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