Should we be concerned about “transformative” Open Access agreements?

peter.suber's bookmarks 2021-06-03

Should supporters of Open Access (OA) and Open Science be concerned that “transformative” agreements are holding back the transformation of research communication?

PeerJ is part of the newly formed OASPA Fully OA Journal Publishers Interest Group, made up of publishers who only publish content with open access licenses. We recently published our first position piece, asking that libraries/institutional funders take a balanced approach to their open research strategies by partnering with fully OA publishers as well as subscription or mixed-model partners on “transformative” agreements. We suggested that libraries/institutional funders:

  1. Include arrangements with fully OA publishers in their policy recommendations or guidelines
  2. Pursue agreements with fully OA publishers as part of partnership and negotiation programs and strategies
  3. Reserve adequate budgets for publishing with fully OA publishers. (See the original ‘compact for publishing equity’ at as an example of how this was approached in 2009)
  4. Create Institutional OA Funds that enable faculty and students to publish in fully OA journals meeting specific quality criteria (e.g. OASPA member, DOAJ-listed), whether or not individual publisher agreements are in place.

PeerJ greatly appreciates our institutional and library partners, whose commitment to OA has removed the administrative burden for their faculty to publish OA, thereby helping to facilitate a transformation of science communication; we are also excited about trialing a new approach to institutional partnerships with 3 year fixed term PeerJ Memberships, allowing authors to publish their research for less than $80 per Member per article. We are fortunate that many of our library partners embraced PeerJ early on and we do not feel discriminated against due to a lack of institutional agreements that support OA and open science.

Rather, PeerJ entered the academic publishing industry with the goal of transforming science communication, starting by dramatically lowering the cost to publish in a high quality and globally visible multidisciplinary journal; our hope being that we can move beyond the question of whether access to the published literature should be a universal right, and to focus on really transforming science communication. We are often frustrated that the transition to open is not faster and more urgent. Transformative deals, over which so much time and money is spent negotiating – often, in our experience, meaning that discussions with fully OA publishers can be pushed to the back of the queue – are merely transitioning the business model of a handful of publishers. They are certainly not, in our opinion, as transformative as the triumphant way they are announced by their signatories suggests.

A recent working paper on the “DEAL” agreements between German universities and research institutions on one side, and Springer Nature and Wiley on the other, suggests that publication patterns have already been affected at the expense of other publishers and journals. The authors ask whether the result of such deals is, in effect, anti-competitive and a threat to diversity in the publishing landscape; that they may “spur the concentration process in this market”Another study shows that “the current transformative agreements do not provide for a sustainable transition of the publishing economy towards open access, as they do not guarantee control of expenditure or the sustainability of open content. The future of the relationship between consortia and publishers remains largely undetermined.” Thus is a transition to open even assured? Certainly not, especially when you consider the participation of the global science community more widely.

We wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of the OASPA Fully OA Journal Publishers Interest Group blog post – and encourage our open access partners in libraries and institutions to remember that unconditional and immediate OA with fully OA publishers comes without the complications inherent in a transition to OA, by providing immediate, full and unambiguous compliance with funder mandates, such as Plan S; by giving immediate open access to all content and to all readers; straightforward author copyright retention and a low per article price with greater transparency.

It is imperative that we prevent Open Access from being used to create new economic incentives for exploitation in academic publishing, and we encourage a collective remembrance that the movement was not only motivated by problems of imbalance and access, but also to speed up and encourage innovation, progress and global equality in science communication.

We hope that all of our partners in open science – researchers, librarians, universities, funders and publishers – share our passion for these goals; we welcome discussions and invite those that are interested in working together to make real progress in transforming science communication to get in touch.