Transformative agreements are paving the way for OA transition | Open Access Text

Transformative agreements are paving the way for OA transition

Posted on : February 24th 2022

Posted by : Sithara Chandran


The term ‘Transformative Agreement (TA)¹, refers to those contracts negotiated between institutions (such as libraries, national and regional consortia) and publishers that transform the business model underlying scholarly journal publishing, moving away from a model based on toll-access (subscription) to one in which publishers are compensated a fair price for their open access publishing services.

Transformative agreements enable a larger group of researchers to benefit from enhanced discoverability, increased citation, and increased usage of open access content. These agreements provide researchers with an easy way to comply with funders' OA requirements. Addressing the issue of OA funding in some academic disciplines, a centralized APC makes open access publishing available to all researchers at partner institutions, regardless of their field of study.

The last 18-20 months have demonstrated the importance of providing and supporting immediate access to research and knowledge in order to aid new discoveries and timely advancements, especially in climate science and medicine.

Are Transformative agreements transforming scholarly communication?

Transformative agreements have set the stage for long-term changes in scholarly communication. Making the most recent peer-reviewed research available for researchers and everyone else to read and build on is good for both science and society. Additionally, several advancements can be initiated during this transitional phase by outlining pricing at the article or service level.

Despite the fact that they all have the same objective, each agreement is unique and context-specific. These agreements consider an institution or consortium’s current level of subscription spending and the relative volume of publication with a given publisher. The publisher's ability to change internal administrative processes and production workflows might also influence these differences.

Transformational agreements reduce hybrid publishing costs while shifting revenue streams. Authors no longer pay article processing charges (APCs). Their institutions, through their libraries, repurpose former subscription expenditures to compensate publishers for the editorial services associated with open access publication of accepted articles.

Additionally, several national and regional licensing consortiums, as well as individual institutions, have already negotiated cost-neutral transformative arrangements with publishers that allow them to publish 100% open access. The impact becomes immediately evident as more and more research-intensive organizations and national consortia follow suit.

Transformative agreements enable readers to participate freely in scholarly communication while also providing an appropriate financial model for cost savings. While traditional subscription pricing has been shielded from market competition by non-disclosure restrictions and historical print expenditures, TA's are advantageous as they promote cost transparency, emphasizing the service rather than gaining access. These agreements ensure equitable opportunity in the publishing sector and drive the industry forward through innovation and technological advancements.

Getting rid of lump-sum fees for oversized deal packages and moving to an article economy will make it easier for funds to follow authors as they choose where to publish their findings. This is seen to be an essential step on the way to a diverse ecosystem that demonstrates the preferences and needs of each subject.

Role of transformative agreements for promoting OA

Spearheaded by Springer Nature, the first such agreement was struck in 2014 with the Association of Dutch Universities, VSNU, Netherlands. These agreements make OA administration easier for both participating institutions as well as their researchers. Researchers can benefit from improved discoverability, increased citation, and increased usage of open access content. Additionally, TAs address the problem of some academic fields lacking OA funding. A centralized APC enables researchers from participating institutions, regardless of academic discipline, to publish OA, and provides researchers with an unbiased approach to comply with funders' OA criteria.

In addition to helping authors deal with the costs and administration of open access, TAs also help them meet the requirements of the funders they work with. Transformative agreements combine subscription access and open access publishing into a single reading and publishing contract for a consortium of institutions. This means that academics at these institutions can publish under the “gold” open access model while also being able to access subscription-based research.

Despite the fact that there are various pathways to open access, none of the techniques adopted to date have succeeded in overturning the paywall system’s commercial dominance in scholarly publishing. Over 80% of the world’s scholarly output continues to be sealed behind paywalls even today, 15 years after the Berlin Declaration, impeding the full impact of research and placing a tremendous burden on institutional budgets. Meanwhile, subscription publisher revenues generated from hybrid publishing continue to grow year after year.

Transformative agreements provide institutions with a framework to act quickly and challenge the subscription paywall system head-on. Given that majority of scholarly publishing and expenditure at any given facility is concentrated in the journals/packages of a relatively small group of publishers, executing transformational agreements with these publishers, in particular, is a high-impact strategy. Several institutions and coalitions realize that signing such agreements with less than ten publishers can help them attain instant open access for most of their outputs.

Furthermore, transformative agreements can play a significant role in transforming the portfolios of small and mid-sized publishers and societies. Apart from being APC-based, ‘Publish and Read’ and ‘Read and Publish’ are the two different types of transformative agreements.

The 'Publish and Read' agreement is primarily concerned with the cost of publishing an article, and not with gaining access to research. Institutional funding, open-access content publishing, and reading access all come organically or by default in this instance.

The 'Read and Publish' agreement bundles payments to publishers for both viewing and publishing open access content into a single contract. The subscription fee is redirected to the publication of open access content.


We are witnessing a shift in the focus of library-publisher negotiations from controlling costs to making sure that open access clauses are included in the deal. Despite the wide variety of TAs currently available, contracts are becoming more transparent, allowing authors to retain copyright and containing clauses to make OA workflows relatively easy. However, it is difficult to determine if they represent a temporary phase on the road to OA or whether they will perpetuate the existing state of affairs in the scholarly communication industry, with its high costs, in place.

Transformative agreements may not be appropriate for every publisher or for every journal in the publisher's portfolio. However, in those instances where such agreements are possible, the need for structured and accurately identified data is extremely crucial. The data held on subscription holdings and APC payments must be compiled and examined by all parties involved. It is necessary for all parties to be working on the same data when negotiating the content, structure, and pricing of a transformative agreement. As soon as the decision is made to pursue read and publish transformative agreements, the need for clean, well-structured data becomes even more important.

In today's increasingly complex digital world, the most successful publishers leverage their data to gain a better understanding of their market position and that of their journals, transforming that understanding into new business models and increased sales, all while adhering to ethical data governance processes. If you need help with your data strategy, Straive's experts can help.

Springer Nature’s Transformative Agreements enable country level transition to open access | Corporate Affairs Homepage | Springer Nature
Transformative agreements: Do they pave the way to open access? - Borrego - 2021 - Learned Publishing - Wiley Online Library

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