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.

It is also important to keep in mind that transformative agreements are iterative by nature, and it could take more than one agreement cycle to come to an agreement that will satisfy all your goals. Special consideration should be given to enabling smaller independent publishers to participate in Open Access transformative arrangements, who might need opportunities to build up their operational capacity for transformative agreements, in particular around the financial processes and workflows, or who are seeking feedback from the community on new models to take the next step in their OA transition. Therefore, you might find it worthwhile to support them at the beginning of their transition phase, especially if they are highly relevant to your community, or if they show alignment with your values. While TAs with large commercial publishers may be a necessity to achieve the greatest impact on institutional output and investment, focusing only on large agreements, alone, is not enough to enable 100% of any institution’s output to be published open access. To foster a diverse scholarly communications ecosystem, libraries and consortia are complementing their TA strategies with a variety of approaches to invest in OA, engage with fully OA publishers, support community-led publishing, diamond models, and many more.

Key resources
For further inspiration on defining negotiation principles and goals, check out 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.

The most obvious goal of your counterpart will be to increase their revenue by selling OA publishing rights on top of existing subscriptions, but scholarly publishing is a complex ecosystem and, in their views, transformative agreements might also help them to:

  • Align with researcher communities around the principle of open access as essential for progress in science and society.
  • Make OA publishing in their journals more attractive for your authors by removing financial and administrative barriers of the OA publishing process
  • Make sure that authors can continue to publish in their journals by providing publishing routes that comply with funder mandates
  • Increase institutional participation in a consortium agreement by making the terms and conditions more attractive, i.e. by providing additional services, such as OA publishing elements
  • Save operational costs by simplifying the administration of OA publishing, as well as streamlining the invoicing processes
  • Increase their visibility and reputation—this is particularly relevant for new entrants to the market with innovative business models

Some of the publisher’s objectives might even overlap with your own, and by working together, you can secure agreements that help you in fulfilling your mission, keep your budget controlled, and leave all parties satisfied with the outcome of the process. Additionally, you should not discount the value that your authors bring to publishers in the form of their peer-review, service on editorial boards, publications and citations. You can leverage the value your institution brings to the table to strengthen your position in the negotiations.

Getting clarity on the technical aspects of the agreement is also a key part of the negotiation process. You should discuss the OA Workflows of your future contract, ideally at a very early stage your negotiations. Even if your objectives are not fully met, you can establish frameworks for desired improvements and a roadmap for their implementation and revisit them over the term of your agreement. For this, you should establish contact with people who are typically outside the regular sales- and management teams of publishers, including those involved in journal production, workflows, metadata, and so on. For example, you might ask for screenshots of the author journey or the sample text that your authors will receive from the publisher informing them about their OA publishing option, so that you can propose and negotiate improvements as needed.

Finally, negotiations on price should not be separated from negotiations of the terms of your agreement. You should always have the potential agreement terms in mind as you negotiate, as these can heavily influence the performance of the agreement you eventually reach. A checklist of agreement terms is provided in this Reference Guide to help clarify their rationale and significance in negotiations.

Information and data exchange

Negotiation rounds are essentially sequences of exchanging information, be it data, proposals and counter-proposals, or the interests 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

While it is always crucial to conduct your own publication analysis, publishers should carry out the same exercise, and the two of you should compare notes with an article-level overlap analysis of the corresponding authored papers of your institution or consortium published in the journals of the publisher. This analysis serves to give both parties a common understanding of the entity of open access publishing services to be covered by your agreement and will enable you to uncover any blind spots or discrepancies in your respective counting methodologies, in order to arrive at the most accurate picture. The comparison will also give you an inside view into how the publishers’ systems are set up, what data they are capable of capturing, and whether they will be able to deliver the services necessary for a seamless OA publishing experience for your authors.

An overlap analysis can also be used to compare financial information, such as APC spending.  Such an exchange can help you understand whether the APCs actually paid by your authors match the figures derived in your cost modeling exercises, and shed light on the type and volume of APC discounts the publisher might be granting your authors. Publisher-generated APC data might even be more accurate than your own estimations, especially if your institution does not currently track APC payments.

Some publishers even indicate the invoicing channel in the articles’ metadata, i.e. specifying whether the open access publishing of an article was invoiced directly to the authors, was billed to an institution (i.e. covered by a central transformative or open access publishing agreement), or paid by other means. This is not yet a common practice, but the community would welcome standardization in this area, in order to help all players in the ecosystem to better track and understand the financial flows around open access publishing.

Journal title lists

In addition to article-level metadata, you will also exchange title lists with the publisher to reach agreement on the journals for which open access publisher services (and reading access) will be provided. Just as in the case of subscription agreements, you will need title lists in order to communicate the terms of the agreement effectively to your authors—via your own author support pages or compliance verification tools (for example the cOAlition S Journal Checker Tool)—and to operate efficient workflows. Once again, keep in mind that you are now negotiating the terms of your agreement, and receiving one initial title list from the publisher does not mean that this will have to be the final version. You can—and should—further refine the lists, especially if journals that are important for your authors are marked as “excluded”.

Looking closely at publisher title lists indicating those journals that are eligible for inclusion in the open access publishing component of your agreement will help to clarify whether:

  • given journals operate with special business models (i.e. relying on length-based charges instead of flat fees)
  • the publisher applies different APC prices based on license types (i.e. the APC for articles with a CC-BY license is different from one with a more restrictive license)
  • the publisher applies different APC prices according to the article type (i.e. the APC of a brief communication is different than the APC of a research article)
  • there are certain types of APC discounts and waivers extended by journals (and whether or not these will still be applied, in addition to any discounts stipulated under your central agreement)
  • journals operate inside or outside the publisher’s standard OA publishing workflows (which might not be a trivial issue for authors, especially in the case of journals published on behalf learned societies).

Core elements of data exchange

Ideally, publishers should be able to provide the data elements below for both title lists and publications, in order to arrive at the best possible model and a successful implementation of transformative and open access agreements. Must-have data points are marked with an *.

Journal title lists Publications
  • Publisher name*
  • Imprint* (where relevant)
  • Owner* (society, etc.)
  • Customer name (when relevant)
  • Journal title*
  • Journal ID (publisher-specific)*
  • Print ISSN*
  • Online ISSN*
  • Journal URL*
  • Journal discipline (e.g. STEM/HSS)
  • Journal publishing model (e.g. hybrid, fully OA, subscription)*
    • if fully OA, DOAJ yes/no
  • Reading rights: yes/no*
  • Publishing rights: yes/no*
  • APC list price (where relevant)*
  • APC currency*
  • Other charges yes/no
    • if yes, type
  • Waivers offered yes/no
  • Current agreement APC discount
  • Other discount types and groups
  • Licenses offered* (where relevant, e.g. CC-BY)
  • Publisher’s Standard / non-standard OA workflow* (where relevant)
  • Subscription list price (where relevant)
  • Open archive and embargoed OA (where relevant, i.e. articles are free to read after x months)
  • Copyright policies (i.e. copyright retention by authors)
  • Date active from
  • Date added to the agreement*
  • Date updated
  • Changes made*
  • Journal-specific notes (where relevant, i.e. special article types, varying APCs, transfers, takeovers, etc.)
  • DOI*
  • Article title*
  • Article Open Access type (e.g. gold, closed)*
  • Article License (where relevant, e.g. CC-BY)*
  • Article type (e.g. original paper, review article, etc.)*
  • Article type relevant to contract (yes/no, i.e. peer reviewed article)*
  • Publication date (first/online)*
  • Relevant date for agreement (date of submission/acceptance/publication)
  • Discipline (e.g. HSS/STEM)
  • Publisher name*
  • Journal title*
  • Journal ID (publisher-specific)*
  • Print ISSN*
  • Online ISSN*
  • Journal business model (e.g. hybrid, fully OA, subscription)*
  • APC list price (where relevant)*
  • Invoice amount (where relevant)*
  • Invoicing channel (i.e. author, funder, agreement)
  • Currency (where relevant)*
  • Discount/surcharge category
  • Discount/surcharge amount
  • Corresponding author name* (or eligible author that counts under the agreement, i.e. submitting) (if multiple, list all)
  • Corresponding author email*
  • Corresponding author ORCID
  • Corresponding institution name* (affiliation as on the VoR) (if multiple, list all)
  • Corresponding institution ID (e.g. ROR, Ringgold)
  • Funder ID (where relevant)
  • Funder name (where relevant)
  • Grant ID (where relevant)
  • Funding acknowledgement from the article (if available)
  • Notes and comments



Also on this Reference Guide: Preparation | Implementation