Current Transformative Agreements Are Not Transformative
Position Paper – For Full, Immediate and Transparent Open Access

10 March 2020

Executive summary

In 2019, approximately 69% of journal articles published in the world appeared in journals that charge readers for access [Piwowar et al. 2019]. However, there is broad recognition of the benefits of Open Access (OA) publication, making the results of scientific research freely available to everyone. That is why many funders, libraries and universities have developed policies and principles to accelerate the transition to OA and increase options for authors seeking to publish in high quality OA venues. One example is Plan S, in which a coalition of funding organizations has come together to push for a transition to OA.

Many publishers have introduced hybrid publishing models, where some articles are published in OA while others are only available to subscribers. These models are often considered to be problematic but tolerated as a transitional pathway towards full OA. Plan S for instance has a clear 'no hybrid' principle, but tolerates hybrid OA models if the publisher puts in place "transformative arrangements" for a full transition to OA within a clearly defined time-frame [Coalition S 2019].

This is the basis for recent interest in so-called transformative agreements. Based on our assessment of several such agreements, we argue that they are not genuinely transformative and that their transformational potential is actually very low. Such models risk perpetuating current limitations on access, transparency and market competitiveness, while simultaneously facilitating excessive charges on the public purse. While they permit some legacy publishers to increase the fraction of OA content, they also increase the number of articles published in hybrid journals, lock subscribers into their current arrangements with publishers, and do nothing to improve price transparency. If such agreements allow publishers to continue their current pricing behavior, the long-term cost for libraries, higher education and research institutions will be much higher than they expect.

So called Transformative Agreements frequently display the following shortcomings:

  • They lack binding commitments to a full transformation to OA.
  • Access is limited to selected parts of a publisher's portfolio.
  • Conditions vary across national borders.
  • They crowd-out pure OA publishers from institutional or national agreement negotiations.

The signatories of this position statement believe that OA that is delivered in a full, immediate and transparent (FIT) way by fully OA publishers offers a high-quality, cost-effective alternative to hybrid models.

We advocate for an "OA first" policy that should make it mandatory to find mechanisms of support for native OA publications and alternative peer-review platforms first, before entering large-scale transformative agreements with legacy publishers providing OA coverage or subsidies of OA APCs.

The signatories therefore recommend that:

  • Agreements should not be labeled as Transformative Agreements and accepted as such without scrutiny and clear evidence that they are conducive to the broader transition to OA.
  • Public entities should monitor and fully assess the longer-term post-contract outcomes and implications of the models they support and negotiate and avoid any agreements that perpetuate hybrid elements.
  • All agreements between publishers and publicly funded institutions should be fully transparent, allowing other institutions and national consortia to compare "deals" and prices, putting pressure on publishers to account for the price of the services they provide, and preventing unfair or singular pricing strategies.
  • Libraries and research funders – i.e., those directly concerned by the cost of publication – should strive for conditions that increase competition between all publishers on a level playing field.
  • Consortia and institutions should earmark the savings made in subscription deals to support and centrally pay (through the university library and/or consortia) for full OA journals and platforms.
  • Libraries and consortia that are entering negotiations with subscription/mixed-model publishers, should simultaneously define "transformative" – or rather pure publish – agreements with publishers and platforms that already provide 100% OA.

Transformative agreements, if truly transformative, would be an effective instrument to support the transition to OA. But to do so there are key transformative elements that must be present. For an agreement to be considered as "transformative", it must contain binding conditions or mechanisms that (1) guarantee the full transition to 100% OA within a defined, short timeframe and (2) guarantee that the process cannot be easily reversed or cancelled at the end of the contractual period. The agreement should encompass all the publisher's titles and include OA to legacy content.

We can only applaud publishers who embrace these true transformative elements and we reiterate our full support to policies such as Plan S. We invite all parties to make sure that only agreements that seriously intend to advance the state of OA are considered transformative.


Copernicus Publications
JMIR Publications
Ubiquity Press

Please find here the full statement.