ESAC Reference Guide to Transformative Agreements: Preparation

Productive negotiations and successful agreements always build on careful and thorough preparatory work. In this section, we introduce the core elements involved in preparing for transformative agreement negotiations and share some strategic considerations for institutions and consortia.

Derive key insights based on data

In order to prepare and conduct negotiations that result in agreements that effectively and successfully fulfill their transformative potential, you will need to have a clear picture of your current position and the capacity to model potential outcomes—in terms of both projected costs and open access publishing services secured. To achieve these, there are key data points that you can collect and analyze and from which you can derive key insights to inform your approach.

Gather your publication data

For a fully informed approach, you should collect data on the articles published by your authors (institutional output) in order to quantify the annual total of articles published, along with the share of these in which your author is the corresponding author. You should also calculate the article growth rates over time, to help in modeling the entity of open access publishing services that will be needed by your authors over the course of the agreement and, potentially, in the longer term, so as to contextualize the trends that you observe. It is also useful to collect and analyze data related to citations, i.e. the articles cited in articles published by your authors, as this helps to get an even more complete understanding of the relevance of a publisher’s journal portfolio to their research. Collecting this data retrospectively and systematically, on an ongoing basis, is something that every library and consortium should begin to do, in order to prepare for an open access paradigm in scholarly communication.

In 2021, the ESAC Data Analytics Working Group produced a guide on how to Uncover the publishing profile of your institution, which illustrates a variety of ways to collect and analyze institutional publishing data to prepare for negotiations. The guide has been utilized by various libraries and consortia since then; for a more recent example of how you can build upon it, see the Informing the Elsevier negotiations: Dominic Dixon on the work of the Data Analysis Working Group post at the Unlocking Research blog of Cambridge University Library.

Following the publication of the above-mentioned ESAC guide, a working group at SPARC also produced a collection of Data sources for analyzing open access offers from publishers and a more hands-on guide on Open Access Agreements: Factors to Consider, which overlaps with many aspects covered in the ESAC guide. The Negotiating with scholarly journal publishers: A toolkit from the University of California (UC Toolkit) contains a very useful section on the importance of data analysis for informing negotiations, as well as a case study on UC’s approach. Analyzing Institutional Publishing Output: A Short Course by Allison Langham-Putrow and Ana Enriquez is a further set of detailed training materials and helpful step-by-step guides to assist academic librarians in analyzing publishing data. Many of the community of practice calls organized by the OA2020 US Working Group discussed the topic of data analysis, most importantly the July 10, 2020 Meeting: How to gather, analyze and use publication data for negotiating open access agreements.

Gather your expenditure data

In order to assess the total expenditure on scholarly publishing at your institution over time, you will need to track fees paid to publishers by both libraries and by authors. Libraries may already be collecting data on the entity of their subscription fees over time, and observing the trend of annual fee increases. Institutions should also establish processes to document all fees related to open access publishing, i.e. Article Processing Charges (APCs), which until now were most often paid by authors.

Although the majority of the journals indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) operate without article processing charges (APCs), the majority of articles published open access today rely on such per-article payments. Therefore, if your institution is not yet handling or tracking APC payments centrally, you should consider doing so. One way to start can be estimating open access publishing expenditure by combining figures on your institutional output (described above) with industry data on APC price points gathered, for example, from the Open Access Data & Analytics Tool by Delta Think, from OpenAPC, or from data collections such as Publisher OA Portfolios 2.0.

Extract key insights from the data

For librarians, in addition to specific insights relevant to negotiations, there are a couple basic insights that can immediately be derived from publication and expenditure data. The first is an understanding of the growth and relevance of open access publishing for your researchers, which can prompt considerations on how their needs are changing and how libraries can position themselves to address those needs. The second is an understanding of the cost developments that accompany the dynamic growth of open access publishing. In the case of “hybrid” open access publishing, the costs are additive with respect to subscription fees, i.e. “double dipping”, but whether for publishing in “hybrid” or fully open access journals, outside of central, institutional open access publishing agreements or transformative agreements, these costs are unmonitored and unchecked. This, again, prompts considerations on the current and future role of libraries in managing their institution’s financial relationship with scholarly publishers in order to secure the best possible conditions at the lowest possible price.

Insights to identify and prioritize publishers for transformative agreement negotiations

Until now, librarians have focused their attention primarily on the relevance of scholarly journals to their researchers as readers through usage data and assessing value with metrics such as cost per download. Now, as scholarly publishing shifts to open access, you will also need to gain an understanding of the value that researchers as authors place on journals, as illustrated by where they choose to publish their articles and the journals most cited in their publications. Many negotiating teams use pie chart data visualizations, such as this poster by the Max Planck Digital Library, for a high-level view of the publisher journal portfolios most relevant to their authors.

If you then compare the publishing data you have collected with expenditure data, you will be able to make strategic considerations about the cost/benefit of your current publisher relationships and define objectives for your transformative agreement strategy. For example, you might identify those publishers with whom central negotiations would have the greatest impact for your authors, i.e. where they most frequently publish. The data might also highlight fully open access publishing platforms that are particularly valued by your researchers, which you might consider supporting by re-purposing expenditure that was previously locked up in subscription fees. A rapid comparison of how your subscription investments are apportioned across publishers with how your institution’s outputs are apportioned across the same publishers might also prompt considerations on where investments might be shifted to more equitably support the needs of all authors and foster greater diversity in research published openly.

If your data analysis covers a reasonable time interval, you can also project output volume over time and model the relative costs according to different scenarios. For example, you might assess and compare the impacts of continuing with the status quo, canceling a “big deal” in favor of individual subscriptions, or negotiating a transformative agreement with a given publisher. For concrete examples, take a look at the Pay it forward study by the University of California, or the and its companion Discussion paper by the Max Planck Digital Library.

Insights to build an exit strategy in case negotiations fail

Combining article output and citations with usage data can also provide you with important insight into how readers are interacting with content, especially when the data encompasses longer periods and can show emerging trends. For example, this kind of analysis can inform scenario planning for your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and possible exit strategies; for example, arranging post cancellation access, or providing flyers and webpages with information on alternative access routes to scholarly articles, such as these by the FinELib consortium, the Bibsam consortium and the University of California. In the case that no open access agreement can be reached, some institutions resort to simply reducing their subscriptions and use the tool Unsub to identify those journals of less relevance to their readers for cancellation.

Insights to shape the next cycle of agreement negotiations

If you have already negotiated a transformative agreement, your data gathering and analytics work should continue in order to prepare you for the next cycle of agreement negotiations. In addition to monitoring publishing and costs, you can enrich your analysis by assessing existing processes and workflows, such as author opt-out rates, rates with which eligible articles are accurately identified, quality of reporting, or metadata delivery, and identify areas that need to be addressed and improved upon in your next agreement.

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Engage stakeholders and plan communications

Just as transformative agreements bring together the two sides of scholarly publishing (reading and publishing), they are also an opportunity for libraries to bring together and align the different stakeholders involved: faculty and university leadership. Sharing the insights gained in the publication and expenditure data analysis with people from outside the library or consortium offices can help build strong coalitions within with your institution’s communities and garner support for your negotiation strategy. After all, the open access publishing rights secured through your transformative or open access agreements help your institution fulfill its mission, increasing the visibility and impact of the research of your scholars and scientists.

By working together with a broad set of stakeholders in the early stages of developing your approach, it is easier to arrive at a framework for negotiations that is embraced across the institution, and it empowers you with greater leverage, knowing that you represent your entire community in your negotiations.

Build coalitions and alignment

The Negotiating with scholarly journal publishers Toolkit from the University of California is a rich resource with both universal recommendations and UC-specific case studies on articulating goals, defining strategies, and managing communications around publisher negotiations. Jisc also produced a useful resource on Working with transitional agreements, and the Communicating with senior stakeholders section of the guide is particularly useful manual on the background, benefits, and financial implications of transformative agreements.

You can also find useful information on the Take Action section on the OA2020 website and many of the OA2020 US Working Group’s community of practice calls, especially the recording of the September 30, 2020 Meeting: Stakeholder alignment in preparation for negotiating open access agreements.

Engage stakeholders in negotiations

It can also be extremely effective to involve stakeholders from outside the library or consortium in the negotiation process. For example, it can be effective to seek out and involve influential members of your community in your negotiations team, taking care to clearly define negotiation roles and responsibilities, in order to conduct the negotiations in a straightforward way.

As an example of an approach one might take for involving stakeholders, we recommend the recently published article Negotiating Open Access Journal Agreements: An Academic Library Case Study by Mihoko Hosoi, which presents a useful case study on how roles and responsibilities were defined for publisher negotiations at the Pennsylvania State University. The study illustrates that in order to conduct successful negotiations, institutions have to take an approach that involves a variety of actors and careful planning. For specific publishers, you might also consider engaging researchers from your community who serve on editorial boards to increase your negotiation power or simply to learn more about the practices of the publisher, from their perspective. The Open Editors database can be a useful resource to help you identify faculty whom you might engage.

Plan for communications

As you proceed in your strategy, a good communications plan is essential in order to keep stakeholders informed, and aligned and to build trust within your communities. Here is an excellent example of how you might communicate about your strategy and an example of how to keep stakeholders informed of the progress of individual negotiations. For another great example of a transparent communications campaign, see the running blog post series by the Cambridge University library, such as Dr. Jessica Gardner on the 2021 negotiation between Cambridge and Elsevier or Michael Williams on the Elsevier negotiations: What’s our ‘Plan B’?

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Understand your negotiation counterparts and the current environment

Gathering, analyzing and discussing data relative to your institution with stakeholders will form the basis of your strategy, but there is another side to the coin in terms of preparing for negotiations. Meeting the publishers at eye-level means familiarizing yourself with the scholarly publishing ecosystem and their position in it. In this way, you can anticipate the position of your counterparts, of what they might want to obtain from the negotiations, and it will help you to better position yourself at the negotiating table.

Understand the scholarly publishing market in transition

The ESAC Market Watch was developed with this precise goal in mind: to provide the community with an overview of the changing scholarly communications landscape, with a special focus on the market impact of transformative agreements. Naturally, there are other instruments for assessing global market size, publishing trends, and the uptake of OA over time, out of which the Open Access Data & Analytics Tool by Delta Think is particularly useful, as are their newsletters and webinar series. In addition, for evaluating the subscription business of larger publishers, the EUA Big Deal surveys can provide you with valuable information in terms of reference points and benchmarking of traditional subscription agreements.

You can also follow the publishers’ own public statements and progress reports on the open access transition, as many of them have made commitments and set ambitious deadlines for themselves to flip their entire subscription portfolios to open access. The Dimensions and Society Publishers’ Coalition Members Report, published in early 2023, highlights the rate of progress toward open access, especially of society publishers.

There is also a rich collection of publisher statements in this compilation of responses to the public Request for Information issued in 2020 by the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on Public Access to Peer Reviewed Scholarly Publications, Data, and Code Resulting from Federally-Funded Research.

Gain strategic insight on the publisher’s market position

You can also apply many of the data gathering and analysis exercises used in the context of understanding your own institutions publishing trends and expenditure, to analyze the market position of publishers. For example, you might want to look at their overall publishing output, the APC price points of their journals and how these have developed over time, and look at the transformative agreements they already have in place, to form an idea of their current position in the market.

We once again refer to the Community of Practice for Negotiating and Implementing OA and Transformative Agreements by the OA2020 US Working Group, and highly recommend Keith Webster’s talk on the July 10, 2020 Meeting: How to gather, analyze and use publication data for negotiating open access agreements (starting at 25:00). This talk provides great insight on assessing publishers in market terms, and you can learn more on how to find and understand their annual reports, financial statements, and investor presentations, for example.

It is also worth looking at the overall composition of journal portfolios, as well as how they change over time: are publishers launching subscription-based or fully open access journals? At what rate? Did important journals flip to OA recently? All of these factors can give insight into how the publishers are positioning themselves and how they see the market developing in the future; such insights will have an influence on whether or not and under what conditions your authors will be able to publish their articles openly.

Furthermore, you can also anticipate how policy interventions might affect the scholarly communications landscape in the future. For example, after the recent publication of the OSTP Guidance to Make Federally Funded Research Freely Available Without Delay, several analyses (for example, here, here and here) have been published on the impact of the Memo on publisher portfolios, highlighting that some of the most prestigious journals will be affected the most by the policy.

Apart from the composition and evolution of the publisher’s current journal portfolio, you should also keep an eye on journal transfers and takeovers, as these could have an influence on the structure of your agreement, as well as a significant impact on the results of your cost modeling exercises. Finally, mergers and acquisitions of other companies or journal portfolios can be a clear signal of how publishers are positioning themselves in the shifting scholarly communications landscape; see, for example, the acquisition of Interfolio (which includes Researchfish) by Elsevier, Cureus by Springer Nature, Ubiquity by De Gruyter, Knowledge Unlatched and Hindawi by Wiley (and the subsequent launch of Wiley Partner Solutions), or F1000 by Taylor & Francis.

APC price transparency frameworks promoted by cOAlition S and the FOAA can also be useful tools for gaining insight on APC price points in negotiations, and many publishers have already begun to adopt them; see for example Cambridge University Press, The Company of Biologists or Copernicus Publications. These frameworks not only provide valuable information on their own, but can serve as a basis of comparison among multiple publishers and exerting critical market pressure on the pricing for open access publishing services.

Quality metrics, such as impact factors and other journal-level metrics, may also provide information relevant to understanding the publisher’s position in the ecosystem; after all, one of the intended applications of citation analyses was to provide a basis for the calculation of cost-benefit ratios in order to better manage library budgets. Similarly, indexing in various databases, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals can be used as a metric for assessing quality of journals for consideration in your modeling. You can also consider whether publishers are delivering key metadata elements (such as license URLs) to Crossref by looking at members’ pages in the Crossref Participation Reports, or check whether they participate in initiatives as I4OC or I4OA.

Learn from the experience and benchmarks of your peers

The ESAC Registry of Transformative Agreements was created to help the library community share key information and benchmarks in their transformative agreement negotiations, and Registry entries can be a starting point to compare and consider specific clauses, business models, and further information on transformative agreements between publishers and institutions. In addition to ESAC’s practitioner community, you can find information, experience and support through international networks such as OA2020, with their periodic Summits of Chief Negotiators, and, for member consortia, ICOLC.

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Defining your approach to transformative agreement negotiations

Ideally, your approach to open access negotiations will synthesize the lessons learned by analyzing your own data, gathering an understanding of the scholarly communications landscape, and collecting perspectives from stakeholders. Your current level of subscription spending, the relative volume of the publications of your researchers, and your institution’s core values and commitment to open access to research will all contribute to formulating your negotiation approach, establishing criteria for evaluating proposals, and, essentially, defining what you consider to be a successful outcome in terms of both service and cost.

Some may opt for a consolidated approach, seeking transformative agreements with all relevant publishers as each subscription agreement comes up for renewal and, potentially, taking advantage of variance in their spending/publishing with different publishers to balance their overall strategy. Others may begin by piloting negotiations with just one or two publishers, in order to gain experience and build up capacity for the open access transition. Ultimately, transformative agreements are not just an instrument to drive publishers to transition their journals to open access. They are, equally, a framework for libraries, institutions and national research communities to reorganize their subscription-based processes and financial investments, so that the money currently locked-up in pre-paid subscription agreements is disaggregated and can follow authors wherever they choose to openly disseminate their papers.

Defining your negotiation principles

ESAC defined the nature and purpose of transformative agreements and their general guidelines. Additionally, as part of this reference guide, ESAC has produced the spectrum to help institutions develop their own negotiation principles and assess publisher proposals. Transposing these to their own contexts, libraries and consortia have created their own local open access transformation roadmaps complete with principles, requirements, roadmaps, checklists, and recommendations to guide their own negotiations and implementation strategies; many of these are featured in the 15th Berlin Open Access Conference posters and ESAC’s listing of negotiation principles from around the world to provide inspiration for others. Some particularly thorough resources, such as Requirements for transitional open access agreements by Jisc or Priorities for publisher negotiations by the University of California, can be very helpful in mapping out your approach to negotiations.

Modeling costs for the open access transition

Transformative agreements are grounded in the understanding that the large-scale transition of subscription journals to open access is possible within the current global subscription spend. Based on this principle, many institutions and consortia find that aiming for cost-neutrality with respect to former subscription expenditures—greatly reducing or even fully omitting author expenditure on APCs—is a fair and reasonable financial objective for their negotiations, as affirmed in the Final Conference Statement of the 14th Berlin Open Access Conference.

The principle of a global cost-neutral transition in which the current subscription expenditure with a given publisher is re-purposed to cover open access publishing of the institution or consortium’s authors’ articles (as well as providing reading access to content still behind the paywall) has been proven many times over at the institution and consortium level, as well.

Nevertheless, upon analyzing your publication and expenditure data you will surely note cases in which your current subscription fees—largely based on historic print spend—do not easily translate into expenditure for open access publishing services, due to the proportions of one or the other. For example, you might have a significant subscription expenditure with a publisher in whose journals your authors publish very little, and there might be publishers in whose journals your authors publish a high number of articles, but your subscription expenditure is very low or even non-existent. As you prepare for negotiations, you will have to model the financial impact of your future agreements and consider possible adjustments to how you budget for open access publishing, as opposed to subscriptions.

An easy way to model and compare costs would be to calculate theoretical transformative agreement fees or Investment per article (IPA) by dividing the total fees you are currently paying by the number of articles your authors are publishing in the relevant journals. It is common to calculate such values for evaluation purposes, and it can be really eye opening if you compare your institution or consortium’s IPA with different publishers. This exercise can also be useful in considering what divestments can be made in favor of other services.

As you review library subscription expenditure and author expenditure on open access publishing together with your institution’s publishing trends, an important follow-up question to consider is: Can you afford not to invest in open access? All current observations strongly suggest that the OA publishing market is growing rapidly, at a rate greater than the underlying scholarly journals market. Considering this, you can anticipate that without a transformative agreement, the OA output of your institution will continue to grow, and your authors will be expected to pay more and more for OA publishing in a decentralized fashion outside of the oversight of the library, even as the library continues to pay subscription fees. Modeling and comparing costs for different scenarios—including the “do nothing” scenario—can help you to uncover potential cost-avoidance through transformative agreements.

Planning for the reorganization of financial streams

At the institutional level, it is important to share the results of your cost modeling exercises with other stakeholders, i.e. faculty governance and administration, as there is, often, little knowledge outside the library of the actual total costs of scholarly publishing, i.e. subscription expenditure and APC expenditure. Conversations about such costs can be extremely helpful in developing an institutional perspective on fair pricing for scholarly publishing services, how budgets might need to be reshaped to fully support open access publishing of your institution’s output, and, potentially, how library subscription funds and grant funds might be integrated, or at least channeled efficiently, to make the open access transition sustainable on the immediate term. This introductory guide to the UC model transformative agreement and the Recommendations on the Transformation of Academic Publishing: Towards Open Access by the German Science and Humanities Council that advocates for integrated information budgets that support both the reading and open access publishing needs of researchers provide excellent bases for such considerations.

On a consortium level you will also need to consider new models for cost-distribution, as the former distribution of costs among members (based on reading access) might not be a fair and reasonable distribution of costs based fully or, at least, mainly on the open access publishing services delivered to each institution (i.e. articles published by their authors). Everyone gains when research is openly disseminated, but reorganizing budgets to support the open access publishing services used by authors can be challenging—especially for research-intensive institutions. Many library consortia are therefore developing new and transitional cost-distribution models that enable a gradual re-distribution of costs over time. Take a look at the Report on internal cost reallocation models within the Bibsam consortium and the recent article on the lessons learned from the Austrian Transition to Open Access project.

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Also on this Reference Guide: Negotiation | Implementation