What are transformative agreements?

“Transformative agreement” is an umbrella term describing those agreements negotiated between institutions (libraries, national and regional consortia) and publishers in which former subscription expenditures are repurposed to support open access publishing of the negotiating institutions’ authors, thus transforming the business model underlying scholarly journal publishing, gradually and definitively shifting from one based on toll access (subscription) to one in which publishers are remunerated a fair price for their open access publishing services.

These agreements are a significant departure from the previous standard in subscription license agreements, as they bring the two transactional sides of subscription-based journals, reading access (subscription fees paid by libraries) and open access publishing (“hybrid” APCs predominantly paid by authors), under one centrally negotiated agreement. The dual aim of the negotiations is to bring institutional investments in scholarly journal publishing under oversight and control, with an eye to cost reduction, and to drive a transition of scholarly journal publishing to open access.

Transformative agreement negotiations are based on the understanding that the money paid globally in subscription fees is more than enough to cover the costs of open access publishing of today’s scholarly journals. Consequently, institutions are using the leverage of their current financial investment in scholarly publishing, to negotiate TAs in which their former subscription expenditures are repurposed to cover the costs of open access publishing of, ideally, 100% of the articles produced by their researchers (and reading access to content still behind the paywall).

In this way, the scholarly publishing services and journals valued by authors are preserved, enabling authors to publish their articles immediately open access in the journals of their choice, omitting or, at least, significantly reducing the need for authors to use their grant or institutional research funds to cover open access publishing costs. At the same time, TAs offer the negotiating institution and publishers a framework in which the logic, operations, and financial streams of the subscription paywall system can be re-oriented around open access.

In the context of the current scholarly publishing landscape, and in line with the objectives of the Open Access 2020 Initiative, transformative agreements—together with other transitional frameworks, such as those in which ongoing annual fees of institutions are used collectively to convert paywalled journals to open access (e.g. Subscribe to Open)—are an important strategy that preserves the academic freedom of authors, while accelerating the transition to open access.


How do they work?


Why should institutions implement transformative agreements in their open access strategies?


What impact do they have at scale?


In what way are they transformative for scholarly communication?