Is Transformative Open Access Agreement Truly Transformative For Publishers?
Open Access Academic Publishing

Is Transformative Open Access Agreement Truly Transformative For Publishers?

Arunav Moitra
Arunav Moitra
Transformative Open Access Agreement

The scholarly publishing industry has come a long way in realizing the dreams of open access. It has faced many challenges in this journey of over 25 years. The dreams of making an open-access publishing industry are finally coming true. The transformative Agreement (TA) is gradually changing the publishing landscape. Its new financial model enables the transition from a subscription-based model to an open access one. The best aspect is that TA's are mutually agreeable to all the parties.

Initially, the transition might not be easy for institutions, universities, libraries, or publishers. However, it could prove beneficial in accelerating the progress of the open-access movement and scaling capacity in the long run. It provides a new model which the institutions negotiate between themselves. The institutions are the libraries, national & regional consortia, and different publishers. The model changes from subscription-based to article processing charges (APCs)-based one. Open-access publishing allows anyone to access and re-use the journal content free of cost.

If we scan the academic world and witness the new developments, we realize that transformative agreements are taking place everywhere. TA's are receiving a great deal of attention from different stakeholders. The large-sized publishers and the small-scale ones have already grabbed the opportunity with open hands. They have made this transition and signed more than one agreement. Individual libraries such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, library systems like Cambridge University Press, and consortiums have inked the agreements. Comparatively, Cambridge Press has made considerable advancements in this regard. They have successfully secured half a dozen new transformative agreements with institutions like the University of California.

Transformative Open Access Agreement in a nutshell

It is a contract that transforms subscription-based reading into open access publishing in the simplest term. The agreement brings a shift in the traditional transactional model to support the cause of open access. To explain it in detail, a "Transformative Agreement" occurs between institutions and publishers. The institutions such as libraries and national & regional consortia are striking a deal with publishing houses where the subscription costs are being repurposed through a proper and fair remuneration for the publishers to make publications open access.

The publishers and institutions perceive that the revenue generation is sufficient enough to account for open access publishing considering the amount of money being spent on global subscription costs. This particular aspect forms the backbone for all the TA negotiations.

Two different subscription-based transactional models are being clubbed together under one contract through agreements and negotiations. Reading Access and Open Access Publishing are merging beneath a single contractual agreement so that the investment by the institutions remains in control, further helping in cost reduction and paving the way for a smoother transition towards open access.

To keep up with the objectives of the Open Access 2020 Initiative, this new model is enabling institutions to cover the costs of open access publishing. It expedites open access to all the articles and research papers produced by their authors and researchers' earlier hidden behind the subscription paywall.

Types of Transformative Agreements

"Read and Publish" and "Publish and Read" are the two different types of transformative agreements. Let us explore them in detail.

1) Read and Publish Agreement

It combines the payment directed towards publishers for reading and publishing open access content in a single contract. The money that was earlier spent on the subscription is repurposed towards publishing open access content.

2) Publish and Read Agreement

It focuses significantly on the money spent to publish an article and not on getting the research access. In this case, institutional funds, open-access content publishing, and reading access come naturally or default with no additional cost.

How does the Transformative Agreement Work?

At first, TA's enable the authors to publish their articles rapidly in open access journals. Thus, it considerably lessens authors' and researchers' need for using their grant and institutional research funds to manage the open access publishing costs. As researchers and authors give prominence to scholarly publishing services and journals, the transformative agreements significantly preserve them.

Above all, the transformative agreements bring in a solid framework where the financial models and operations of the subscription paywall are on the open-access concept. The institutions and publishers make the most of the new framework by mitigating their monetary concerns.

In transformative agreements, the leap is towards managing the hybrid publishing costs. Thus, the revenue and capital flows should correlate accordingly. As a result, the authors no longer pay APCs. Instead, the author's institutions repurpose former subscription expenditures to remunerate publishers through their libraries. The publishers carry out the editorial services associated with the open access publication of articles.

How does the Transformative Agreement Work?

Benefits of Transformative Open Access Agreement

Transformative agreements signify the contractual departure from the old model and drive scholarly journals ahead on a realistic path of achieving full open access.

  • It offers institutions a framework and concrete structure to take immediate action. Then it addresses the concerns of hybrid publishing and subscription paywall systems.
  • It plays a significant role in preserving authors' academic freedom and accelerating the transition to open access.
  • Implementing transformative agreements with a few publishers helps achieve immediate open access for most of their scholarly outputs.
  • Within a library consortium, publish-and-read transformative agreements significantly impact the equitable distribution of cost and investment.
  • TA's are sequential, reflecting each negotiating entity's (institutions, publishers, scientific communities, or libraries) specific challenges, context, and leverage.
  • In TA's framework, authors or their institutions and funders pay an article processing charge (APC) instead of a subscription fee to make articles open access.
  • Transformative agreements improve the percentage of new research articles published in open access journals.

Challenges of a typical Transformative OA Agreement — For small-scale publishers

Small publishers with fewer publications and capital flow struggle to get the time with libraries and consortia to negotiate the terms of the agreements. The other reason could be; consortia, in particular, have always prioritized the most prominent publishers. Small-scale publishers remain behind from the start due to bundling of subscription spending and open access expenditure in the new transformative agreements. On top of that, these publishers also face an uphill task in drafting the transformative agreements due to smaller journal portfolios and less control over purchasing decisions.

In the first place, any publisher finds it perplexed and arduous to negotiate a transformative open access agreement. Notably, small publishers need to quickly tackle most obstacles and issues before transitioning to open access. They face challenges in achieving the necessary scale, workflow, and acquiring capital.

For an ideal start towards transformative open access agreements, small-scale publishers should get advice from competent authorities and bodies working in this regard. They must take the first step by opting for possible consortium agreements to join. If they team up as part of a consortium, it helps tackle the initial hurdles. Joining a consortium of like-minded publishers will help them work towards their common goal and get better negotiations on the table.

Challenges of a typical Transformative OA Agreement

And the last question that strikes here is,

Are Transformative Agreements really transformative in nature?

The immediate and revolutionary benefits of open access through transformative agreements are for academics and research society in general. As the latest peer-reviewed research is freely and openly available and accessible to the scientists and citizens of the world, the readership increases, providing space for a series of future research works. It onsets an overall systemic change in the scholarly communication arena and the mindset of the stakeholders of the publishing industry.

Thus, the transformative agreements are genuinely transformative. Scholarly publishing confronts issues due to the hidden non-disclosure clauses and the rising cost of publishing. So, TA's are beneficial in employing cost transparency, and thus, it emphasizes the service rather than gaining access. It gives equal opportunity in the publishing industry and leads it towards innovation & technological advances.


So, the transformative agreements are a temporary and transitional instrument of change proposed by the academic and research community. It opens up scholarly communication for the readers to participate freely and bestows an acceptable financial model to reduce costs. Notably, transformative agreements also help transform the portfolios of the small publishers, scientific communities, and societies. It brings them to the forefront of the business operations and makes them an integral part.

Overall, academic research and scholarly output must be open to all. It helps address problems confined to the accessibility of quality articles, peer-review, review of literature, and decreased readership and citations. The Open Access (OA) academic publishing model has become a blessing for the academic world through the transformative agreement. Authors, institutions, funders, and publishers are steadily embracing and supporting it in large numbers. The shift from subscription paywalls to open access is undoubtedly a dream turned into reality for the stakeholders of the publishing industry. In a way, these ground-breaking transitions are strengthening scholarly communication.

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