ESAC Reference Guide to Transformative Agreements: Implementation

After successfully conducting the negotiations, and settling on the terms of an agreement, you will have to ratify the outcomes in a written contract, put into practice new workflows and processes—both internally and with the publisher, and establish mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and assessment of the agreement.

Your experience with these elements will also serve to inform the next negotiation cycle or phase in your transition strategy, building on the outcomes you—and others—have achieved and acknowledging shifts in the landscape that have occurred as transformative agreements proliferate and the proportion of articles published openly in hybrid journals increases.

Agreement terms

Your negotiation principles and goals will most certainly influence the nature of your agreement, which can be more or less restrictive or generous. Nevertheless, how you define terms such as eligible authors, article types, and relevant dates (date of article submission, date of article acceptance, date of publication) is of paramount importance, as they have enormous impact on the efficiency of the workflows which will bring the conditions and services negotiated to fruition.

Transitional by nature, transformative agreements expand the scope of former subscription contracts to include open access publishing, so the terms of traditional subscription licenses must likewise be expanded. The following list explains some core terms that transformative agreements should include, in addition to access-related terms (authentication, perpetual access terms, KBART standard title lists relevant for your reading access entitlements, COUNTER compliant usage reports, Text and Data Mining, data protection, etc.)

This list of open access publishing terms builds largely on the ESAC Workflow Recommendations for Transformative Agreements and Sample agreement terms, the Checklist for Open Access terms in Publisher Agreements with Nordic Consortia, Managing OA publishing in transitional agreements by Jisc, and the SPA-OPS – Transformative Agreement Toolkit by Information Power which fed into the Toolkit to foster Open Access Agreements published by cOAlition S and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP).

Purpose of the agreement

It is useful to start with a clause or statement that clearly sets out the purpose and intent of the agreement, most narrowly: to provide eligible authors with the means and opportunity to publish their articles Open Access during the agreement term and in the journals that are covered by the agreement. Sometimes formulated as a preamble, the statement can also express shared principles such as a formal commitment to the open access transition and practices of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Eligible authors

Usually limited to corresponding authors (authors who take the administrative role in the publication workflow), who are affiliated with the institution (or, in the case of consortia, eligible institutions). It is now common practice in open access publishing that the costs for open access publishing of an article are attributed to a single institution, generally identified through the affiliation of the corresponding author; to this end, the corresponding author’s affiliation must always appear on the final published version of the article.

Typically, corresponding authors are identified on the published version of the article with an asterisk or other icons. Limiting eligibility to corresponding authors serves the purpose of assigning one article to exactly one paying institution, and avoiding discrepancies around multiple affiliations. In specific cases, this can also be done by using the submitting author (as papers might have multiple corresponding authors), or using the affiliation senior/last/first authors in certain fields, where these are appropriate.

Keep in mind that affiliation can have different meanings: usually it is the institution where the research was conducted, but when authors move around, they can also list their current institution in the list of affiliations. Therefore, the most important factor for determining eligibility should be that the research leading to the publication was conducted at the eligible institution.

Article types

Article types are usually limited to broad categories like peer-reviewed articles, primary research articles and review papers, in order to exclude content like editorials, interviews, or obituaries. In cases of uncapped agreements, the list of article types are usually more liberal and can include all types of content. Keep in mind that different journals can operate with different article types and adopt different nomenclatures for describing article types, meaning that you could end up with dozens of article types across a journal portfolio.

Some agreements can also cover conference proceedings, in which case you should take into account the topical and unpredictable nature of when and how many proceedings papers could potentially be published by your authors. You should reflect on this factor when analyzing and modeling your publishing output, for example by using annual averages over several years, to flatten out such fluctuations.

Relevant dates for eligibility

Different agreements can use different dates for determining eligibility—and you will most likely have a mix of these across your various agreements. The most important objective, in any case, is clarity, and the relevant date for eligibility is usually one of these three options:

  • Submission: the date when authors submit their paper to the journal
  • Acceptance: the date when the authors are informed by the editorial team that their paper has been accepted for publication
  • Publication: the date when the paper first appears in the journal or on the platform

All of these options have their pros and cons:

  • Submission: while it is a straightforward and independent variable, and provides ample time to inform authors about the possibility of OA publishing, the length of the peer review process can cause that articles are published several months (if not years) after the eligibility check took place, creating a messy situation around reporting the (annual) outcomes of the agreement. Moreover, during the publishing process, important metadata fields used for determining eligibility can (and most likely, will) change, making it necessary to institute multiple checks following the original determination of eligibility. The article itself can also be rejected or referred to other journals (within or outside the portfolio of the publisher), causing further complications.
  • Acceptance: as article acceptance is an editorial decision, the article metadata can be practically be considered final (although it is not always the case), which makes it easier to avoid errors in checking the eligibility. As the authors are already in contact with the editors of the journals regarding the decision on the paper, it is also easy to communicate the availability of the OA publishing option. However, there is still a lag between the editorial decision and the publishing date, which can, once again, cause issues in reporting and create problems if important metadata elements change during this time.
  • Publication: as the article is published in its final form, the metadata used to verify eligibility can be considered final. However, if the verification process is too close to the publishing date of the article, there will be less room to correct possible errors, especially if your agreement does not provide default OA publishing to your authors.

Publishers might operate with additional relevant dates depending on their specific article verification infrastructure (i.e. editorial decision date, approval date, referral date, allocation date, received into production date, etc.) It is important to clarify if these dates are already covered by the ones listed here (submission, acceptance, and publication), or if the publisher is seeking to establish an additional date as a criterion for the article eligibility. Such cases will have to be considered carefully.

Journals eligible for OA publishing

Just as with entitlements under subscription agreements, you will need to specify the journals that are included in the OA publishing component of your agreement. This can be integrated as a title list within the agreement, or exchanged via other channels.

As noted in the core elements of data exchange, the metadata elements of open access publishing title lists will most likely have fields that differ from the KBART standard, and they might be different from the title list relative to the reading component of the agreement.

Changes to the journal portfolio

Just as in the case of subscriptions, open access publishing title lists can change. This is an important point to consider during the negotiations, and your agreement should regulate whether journals can move in and out of your agreements.

For example, agreements should define rules on what happens to your publishing rights in the case of journals that change publishing models, such as flipping to fully OA while under agreements that only cover open access publishing in hybrid journals. Agreements should also address the case of journals that are transferred to other publishers (or acquired by the publisher) during the term.

Open access publishing entitlements

Transformative or open access agreements can take many different forms, and we are currently in a phase where new models are still emerging. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to state the entity of open access publishing covered in the agreement e.g. if the agreement allows a certain (limited) number of articles to be published OA, or if there are no article caps and it provides unlimited OA publishing for authors. Caps can take different forms, such as simply stating the number of articles to be covered, having a publishing-fee allowance from which a per-article fee will be deducted over time, or dividing total fees by a fixed per-article amount to come up with a number of tokens or vouchers.

Apart from the generalities, you should also double check that the articulation of open access publishing entitlements applied in the agreement corresponds to what was agreed in the course of negotiations (and presumably used in your model calculations). Libraries and consortia have reported cases in which they had modeled an average APC for the publisher’s entire portfolio in order to define their open access publishing entitlements in the course of negotiations, but later found the final agreement calculated publishing entitlements modeled with journal-specific APCs; this caused unexpected hurdles, namely running out of their publishing allowance earlier than expected.

Fee structure and payment schedule

Closely related to the open access publishing entitlements, a section in the agreement should describe how fees are articulated and charged. Fees can be articulated in bulk or on a per-article basis. Fees can be charged as pre-payments, post-payments (i.e. after articles are published), or as a combination of the two (i.e. a certain amount is paid in advance, with the balance post-paid based on the actual number of published articles).

In the case that your fee structure is articulated on a per-article basis and post-paid, the terms should define if you will get an invoice separately for every single article or if cumulative invoices will be issued with a specific frequency (i.e. monthly, quarterly, annually).

The invoicing location should also be specified in the agreement, i.e. if payment will be made centrally (by the consortium or some other central unit), by the library, by the authors (in case of APC discounts), or if the invoices are split in some way between various players (for example, as in the University of California multi-payer model).

You should define specific metadata fields to use in invoices in order to be able to efficiently process and approve payments. See the ESAC Workflow Recommendations for the specific fields.

Per-article fees and APCs

If the fee structure of your agreement is articulated with per-article fees or includes APCs, you will have to clearly specify the amounts in the agreement. This makes it easy for your agreement administrators to verify not only the eligibility of articles, but also whether the prices marked in invoices are correct. Depending on your fee structure, you can define the amounts in a variety of ways, for example setting a uniform per-article fee for all articles covered in the agreement or all articles in certain journal categories (e.g. setting uniform fees for hybrid journals), or indicating the journal level APCs. If the agreement provides discounts or caps on APCs, or allows authors to use discounts via other channels, this should also be specified in the agreement. Finally, you should also indicate whether the fees are subject to change over the term of the agreement, i.e. if, how and when fee adjustments may be applied or whether they are to remain stable for the entire term.

Mechanisms to ensure sustainability and mitigate potential financial risks

Although your modeling exercises can help predict the number of articles that might be published in each year of the term of the agreement with a good level of certainty, the publishing output of your authors is influenced by many factors beyond your control and you might encounter unanticipated changes in your publishing trends. For example, an unexpected increase in publishing output might cause you to run out of your open access publishing allowance before the end of the calendar year. One way to handle this case would be to simply pause the OA publishing component of your agreement, but this might cause confusion and frustration for your authors. Another way to handle this case would be to top up your payment to cover all articles that are published over the article cap, but this would put significant financial pressure on only one contracting party in the negotiations, specifically the library (or consortium).

Many agreements therefore have provisions that aim to provide stability for both parties, even in the case that the actual publishing output deviates from the expected publishing output. Such provisions can include setting upper and lower thresholds or corridors that allow articles to deviate by a certain percentage rate without affecting the agreed publishing fees; a threshold can also be set to specify a maximum amount in extra payments/refunds in case the expected articles amounts are exceeded or not reached. Other agreements include provisions to roll over unused publishing allowances from one year to the next (or, for multi-year agreements, calculate a total number of articles for the entire term instead of annual caps).

You can define even more sophisticated mechanisms, for example defining ranges on article growth and connecting those with future price increases in such a way that the future costs can be adjusted based on the uptake or performance of the agreement.

Successful agreements are those in which the terms are sustainable for both parties and the financial risks are shared equally.

Discounts and waivers applied outside of the agreement

Some journals provide special discounts or waivers to authors as part of their membership to a learned or professional society, if they serve on editorial boards, conduct peer review for the journals, and so on. The agreement should clearly define whether these discounts and waivers will still be applicable for articles published under the agreement, and how these will be applied and calculated.

Successful agreements are those in which the terms are sustainable for both parties and the financial risks that might stem from unexpected fluctuation in publishing output are shared fairly.

Refunding APCs paid outside of the agreement

The contract should clearly state that in cases in which articles from eligible authors are published OA outside of the central agreement due to workflow inefficiencies or other errors, and a fee was unduly incurred by the author, the fees paid for such articles will be refunded.

Additional fees and services

It’s important to ensure that no extra “print-based” charges, such as page charges, color charges, etc. will be charged to the authors. The inclusion or exclusion of journals that operate with additional fees for any “value added services” should be clearly indicated.

Author identification parameters

An extremely important factor contributing to the successful fruition of the agreement is the publisher’s timely and accurate identification of eligible authors. This will ensure that authors are provided with cues to signal their entitlement to publish open access. Author identification is usually achieved by one or a combination of the following parameters:

  • Affiliation as stated on the final, published paper
  • ROR, RingGold, or other organizational identifiers extracted from submission systems
  • Email domains used during the submission process
  • Authors selecting their institution from a list at submission
  • IP addresses

OA publishing options (default OA)

It is essential to define whether the option to publish their articles open access will be presented to eligible authors as the default choice, or if they will have to actively choose the OA option from a selection of choices offered in the publishing process. In the case of default OA publishing, it is also important to specify in the agreement whether authors will be given the possibility to opt-out from OA publishing or not. Naturally, these clauses will heavily influence the OA uptake of your authors, and consequently, the overall performance of your agreement implementation.

Open licenses choices for articles

Just as in the case of OA publishing options, your agreement will have to specify under which open licenses articles may be published. Most agreements operate with the Creative Commons license CC-BY as the default and sometimes, the only option. Others may offer variations (such as CC-BY-SA and other variants), and some even have publisher-specific licenses.

Changing licenses of published articles

As it is possible that eligible articles are published behind the paywall, or under a restrictive license, because of workflow inefficiencies or other errors, the agreement should allow these articles to be converted retrospectively to an open access license and it should generally be possible to change restrictive article licenses to more liberal license.

Notifications and verification

Some agreements operate with automatic workflows for which institutional checks to validate the eligibility of articles is not required. In cases where such verification is needed, the agreement should stipulate that institutions should be notified when an article is accepted or submitted (see relevant dates) in order to verify the eligibility of the authors, the article type, the article license (if the agreement limits these to certain types), and other fields, in a timely fashion. When the verification procedure is defined in the agreement, it can also specify a time interval (number of days) by which the verification process should be completed.

Publisher reporting

A section on reporting should define metadata fields used in the reports and their frequency (monthly, quarterly, annual, etc.). For a detailed list of data fields, see the ESAC Workflow Recommendations.

Customer tool/Dashboard/Account

Some publishers use dedicated tools (either in-house or commercial solutions or an independent intermediary) for a variety of workflow purposes (e.g. article verification process and/or monitoring of an agreed article contingent and/or monitoring a prepayment amount and/or reporting). It needs to be clearly defined in the agreement which services can be accessed via the tool and which services will depend on manual or ad hoc provision by the publisher.

Metadata delivery to relevant third parties

The agreement should mention that the publisher will make article metadata openly available and deliver metadata (including Open Access license information) to Crossref and other relevant third parties. To learn more, see the Negotiate metadata in contracts page of Metadata 20/20.

Article delivery (i.e. repositories)

More and more transformative agreements have clauses around delivering the version of record either directly to the institution, or automatically depositing the VoR in the relevant institutional repository, for example via the SWORD protocol.

Open Access funding acknowledgement

Providing a funding acknowledgement to indicate the entity that funded the research leading to the publication is now common practice. Similarly, in order to publicly display that an article has been published OA thanks to a specific transformative agreement, the published articles shall be labeled accordingly; for example, the footnote of the OA Article in the version of record shall state that “Open access funding provided by [the Institution]”.

Transparency, no non-disclosure

Transparency around OA agreements is crucial, especially in the transition phase and, generally, no non-disclosure clauses should be in place between the parties.

In order to foster a transparent scholarly publishing market, enable community benchmarking of the costs and service conditions offered by commercial publishers, and support authors through third party systems such as the cOAlition S Journal Checker Tool, the contract can formally state that the agreement details will be shared via the ESAC Transformative Agreement Registry. Register you transformative agreements here!

Responsibilities of the publisher

The agreement should also state the responsibilities of the publishers, including, but not limited to:

  • Will clearly communicate the existence of the agreement on its platform and its communications with the authors
  • Will be responsible for the identification of Eligible Authors
  • Will provide Eligible Authors with the OA publishing option as the default
  • Shall not directly charge Eligible Authors for APC payments (unless agreed otherwise)

For a more comprehensive list, see the 2021 Enhancement to the ESAC Workflow Recommendations.

Responsibilities of the institution

Similarly, the agreement should also state the responsibilities of the institution, including, but not limited to:

  • Will clearly communicate the existence of the agreement on its website, to consortium member institutions, and to researchers
  • Will supply the information necessary for author identification, such as email domains or institutional identifiers like ROR, just as with IP addresses in the case of traditional licenses
  • Will share the agreement details in the ESAC Transformative Agreement Registry

For a more comprehensive list, see the 2021 Enhancement to the ESAC Workflow Recommendations.


For an optimal implementation, the contract can also specify dedicated contact persons for agreement-related issues, technical personnel, and staff dedicated to workflow related issues. It can also reference regular progress updates or “health checks” on the performance of the OA workflows, and set a commitment to implement (improved) workflows and other, specific service elements, which may not yet be but are necessary for a smooth process and are on roadmaps for the future.

Level of service

Just as with provisions around downtime and the availability of content in traditional contracts, transformative agreements can have similar conditions for the accuracy of the workflows, in order to foster improvements over time.

Availability of content

The agreement should include provisions for archiving and warranties of availability of published OA articles.


For thorough guidance on workflows, check out the ESAC Workflow Recommendations and the 2021 Enhancements, produced by the agreement implementation subgroup, for more information on the operational aspects of managing your agreement.

The international ESAC library and consortium community, together with other partners in the scholarly communication ecosystem, continues to share experiences and promote good practice around the key workflow touch points that determine the success of a transformative or central open access publishing agreement: author identification, eligibility, verification, reporting, payment, monitoring and quality control.

Contact ESAC if you would like to get involved and to share your questions and suggestions.

Monitoring and assessment

The key drivers of transformation presented in the How Transformative Is it framework can help shape your approach to monitoring and assessment of your agreement; and, naturally, how you measure the progress and outcomes of your agreement will depend on the specific principles and objectives you define for your negotiations. Here are just a few aspects you might consider when developing metrics or KPIs to assess your agreements and their impact:

  • Author uptake of the opportunity secured through the agreement to publish their accepted articles open access
  • Proportion of the institution or consortium’s output with the publisher that is published openly
  • Comparison of agreement costs with previous expenditure to determine the entity of cost avoidance of APCs in the wild
  • Usage and altmetrics
  • Administrative effort

As your monitoring and assessment exercises will largely depend on the quality of metadata you receive from publishers, it is important to establish criteria for publisher reporting in your agreements and to check compliance over the course of the agreement term. You may also wish to integrate checkpoints in the agreement for integrating workflow and reporting improvements to improve the success of the agreement. Inspiration can be taken from a variety of reports and updates publicly shared by many libraries and library consortia, and appropriately formatted for the relevant stakeholder audience. For example, here is a brief executive summary assessment by the German Rectors’ Conference of the first year of the DEAL-Wiley agreement. A series of annual reports from the Bibsam Consortium in Sweden and from Jisc in the UK provide an assessment of their first “offset” agreement with Springer Nature. There are many highly-visual, web-based open access monitoring reports on the national (e.g. in the Netherlands and Finland) or international level. In some cases, information about the proportion of articles published open access as enabled by TAs and other strategies can feed into funder-specific reporting, such as this report from the NWO in the Netherlands. This Science Europe Briefing Paper on Open Access Monitoring provides some insightful recommendations on the key questions that research organizations should answer in order to develop a plan and criteria for monitoring their progress in the open access transition, generally.

Again, contact ESAC if you would like to get involved and to share your questions and suggestions.


Also on this Reference Guide: Preparation | Negotiation