ESAC Reference Guide to Transformative Agreements: Negotiation

In the recent past, library and consortium negotiations with scholarly publishers were often limited to requesting and, with varying degrees of success, obtaining a certain level of cost containment in their annual subscription fees. In the context of the open access transition, the scope of negotiations has expanded significantly, requiring a greater level of understanding and expertise in the art of negotiation. There are, of course, many sources on negotiation theory, which you can study to improve your negotiation skills; some consortia have even hired professional negotiators to support their work.

This section addresses a few key considerations around transformative agreement negotiations and identifies important elements of information and data exchange that are part of the negotiation process. Communicate your progress, seek input from your community when needed, and avoid the trap of making decisions in the negotiation room. You can also get the upper hand by not waiting for publishers to come up with proposals themselves, but taking the initiative and formulating your own proposals based on your objectives. Overall, it is best to be prepared to encounter situations that you have not experienced previously, and, as in any negotiation, seek to be practical and constructive.


Define your negotiation goals

Having grounded your approach with overarching principles and made data-based cost/service assessments to inform your strategy, you are ready to define some specific negotiation goals. As is the true nature of negotiation, not all of your stated goals will be met fully all of the time, and it is important to stay flexible and pragmatic. While setting a high bar can increase your negotiation power, being too rigid can limit your freedom in making decisions. Without disclosing too much information about your position, your goals should encompass a range of positive outcomes even if adjustments and prioritizations need to be made in the course of negotiations. In the end, you are negotiating the terms of your future agreement.

Key resources
For further inspiration on defining negotiation principles and goals, look at the Requirements for transitional open access agreements and Assessing transitional agreement proposals by Jisc, or the Guidelines for Evaluating Transformative Open Access Agreements and Priorities for publisher negotiations of the University of California.


How transformative is it?

To evaluate publisher proposals during the negotiation process, to assess the progress of your current TAs, and to map out your next negotiation objectives, ESAC has produced the How Transformative Is It spectrum of open access transformation drivers that characterize TAs.

Recognizing that libraries and library consortia will all have unique starting points and priorities, the spectrum maps out how successive transformative agreement iterations depart from the limitations of the subscription paradigm and lead, progressively and concretely, to an open and diverse scholarly communication environment.

Inspired by the “How Open Is It” guide for authors created by SPARC in conjunction with PLOS and OASPA, the ESAC spectrum reflects the range of mechanisms advancing the open access transition through the over 350 agreements documented in the ESAC Registry or that are under discussion in current negotiations.

For each transformation driver, the spectrum starts (at the left) with the overarching negotiation objective, contrasted by a description of conditions under the subscription paradigm. The spectrum then progresses through different agreement iterations toward the envisioned characteristics of an open scholarly publishing paradigm.



Finding common ground and mutual gain

In your interactions with publishers, you will most likely encounter a variety of approaches, and over time, you will be able to anticipate what the other party is trying to achieve with the negotiations. You might invest some time reflecting on what you think are the publisher’s primary interests and goals and consider how you could use these to your advantage.


Information and data exchange

Negotiation rounds are essentially sequences of exchanging information, be it data, proposals and counter-proposals, or learning more about the standpoint of the other party. In this section, our special focus will be on essential data elements that publishers should generally be able to supply, and which form an essential part of the negotiations.

Article-level publication data

Journal title lists

Core elements of data exchange



Also on this Reference Guide: Preparation | Implementation