The GIGA journal family

Long-established subscription journals move smoothly to open access

What is it?

The GIGA journal family consists of four well-established flagship journals on Africa, Latin America, China and Southeast Asia, published by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg. In 2009 they all became open access publications.

How is it a success?

Bert Hoffmann

Bert Hoffmann

The four GIGA journals, the earliest of which was first published in 1966, were all well-respected “closed”, or print-and-pay, journals. Between them they had a total base of 1800 subscribers providing around €100,000 in gross revenue. In 2009 they were smoothly transitioned into successful open access journals. Within the first five months of being open access, 28,000 articles were downloaded. In 2011 that figure reached 103,843.

How did this transformation come about? Following an internal reorganisation at the GIGA research centre, its publication strategy was in need of a radical overhaul. The GIGA journals had to become more dynamic and more international. Moving to open access was one of the options on the table and it won. Why?

The GIGA felt that were four good reasons for taking the open route. It would enable it to become a journal publisher with global reach, better able to compete with the dominant commercial publishers while enhancing the journals’ attractiveness for international partners, co-editors and authors. Secondly, the GIGA wanted to reach out more effectively to the academic communities in the mostly low income communities that are the object of its studies. Thirdly, due to changing priorities, the journals needed to move from being mainly German-language publications to being internationally oriented, peer-reviewed, strictly academic journals, and so a significant part of the traditional subscriber base might be lost in any case. In more general terms, the GIGA decided to seek academic prestige over monetary revenues. Finally, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)’s support for open access proved crucial, along with its grant supporting the transition.

The decision was taken to adopt open access as a hybrid model, fully maintaining the print version and subscription model for those interested while at the same time putting the full content online without time delay. The subscription rates stayed traditionally low and, in the first full year of open access availability, no journal’s cancellation rate exceeded 20%.

To ensure a smooth transition, the GIGA teamed up with Hamburg University Press (Hamburg UP). The GIGA is responsible for all content and editorial work including the production of the final PDF files of the online journal (as well as for the print edition); Hamburg UP is in charge of the online presentation and publishing activities. This includes providing metadata for each article according to the Dublin core standard; integrating the journals into library catalogues, search engines and online repositories; long-term archiving; link-resolving; facilitating RSS feeds; meeting OpenURL standards; and establishing a DINI-certified publications server. The GIGA also relies on Hamburg UP to keep the technological base of the journal’s web presence up to date. The open source Open Journal Systems (OJS) was chosen as the workflow software.

Changes were made to the content of the journals. English was introduced as the principal publication language and the journals moved from a broad mix of research articles and mid-range analyses into publications focused on high-quality original research. Editorial teams and boards were internationalised and anonymous peer review was established as the central means of quality control. The GIGA journal family has adopted the Creative Commons “Attribution–No Derivative Works” licence (CC-by-nd 3.0). This non-exclusive copyright means that authors don’t give up their rights in the way they do with traditional print publishers, but retain the freedom to promote their text beyond its first publication.

A promotional strategy was put in place to accompany the open access launch of the journals. The key mechanism was a targeted strategy to activate the GIGA’s existing scholarly networks. This included, aside from press releases, mailings and flyers, numerous personal contacts, promotion within area studies organisations, as well as a presence at book fairs and key conferences. High-level conferences and panels sponsored by the journals directly reached the target audience of not only readers but also of authors. In the case of the Journal of Latin American Politics, a GIGA-organised kick-off conference went a long way in anchoring the journal in its new format in the international scholarly community, and many conference papers by renowned authors were submitted to the first open access issues of the journal.

All the journals of the GIGA Journal Family went online in full open access in spring of 2009. According to the GIGA’s Bert Hoffmann, who saw the journals through their successful transition, “worldwide visibility of the journals has made a giant leap. Access data has been growing steadily. The journals have been taken up by major search engines, databases and repositories. At the same time, the print journals maintain their physical presence and much of their subscriber base so that the article downloads via the website simply increase the journals’ reach rather than merely displacing the print versions.”

Looking to the future and the GIGA is working on the retrodigitisation of the journals’ back issues and their integration into the GIGA Journal Family website and open access repositories. A key benchmark will be whether the journals achieve inclusion in the Thompson ISI Social Science Citation Index and similar rating systems. Africa Spectrum has become the first to be listed in the SSCI.

“In the end, the principal task is to strive for the journals’ scholarly excellence and their recognition as prestigious international journals. After all, making journals that are open access an academic success will be the best way to promote open access acceptance in the social science community,” says Hoffmann.


With thanks to Bert Hoffmann. Some of this story has been adapted from his manuscript for the DFG, The GIGA Journal Family Experience: Making the Transition from Print to Open Access (2010).

The four journals in the GIGA family are:

Africa Spectrum (first published in 1966)
Journal of Current Chinese Affiars (first published in 1972 as China aktuell)
Journal of Politics in Latin America (first published in 2009)
Journal of Currrent Southeast Asian Affairs (first published in 1982)

Author, Developing world, Germany, International, Journals, Users, Visibility


No comments have been posted yet.