The Road(s) to OA: Where Are Transformative Agreements Leading?

In our last post, we considered the winding roads to Open Access (OA), summarizing the Karger in Conversation panel discussion, “Exploring the Future of Open Scholarship”. Here we’ll have a closer look at one of the trails that was discussed, Transformative Agreements.

Transformative Agreements (TAs, a.k.a. Transitional Agreements or Read and Publish) allow institutions to cover researchers’ reading access and OA publishing. The main aim is to shift spending from subscriptions to OA publishing and increase the number of OA articles by making OA easy and cost-free for authors.

The Open Scholarship panel discussion guest speakers included Niklas Willén, License Manager for the Bibsam Consortium; Fred Flagg, Open Research Specialist at Aston University; Paola Galimberti, Director of Performance Quality and Assurance at the University of Milan; and José Candido Xavier Jr., a pathologist at Centro Universitário Católico UniSALESIANO Auxilium. Josè is also a Karger Ambassador. The panelists shared their experiences and views on some promising and challenging aspects of OA.

More Work, More Costs, More OA

TAs have enabled an increase in OA output. The Bibsam Consortium has done much over recent years with TAs, which now cover over 80% of its organizations’ publishing. That growth brought challenges, such as keeping up with a growing number of agreements. However, Niklas Willén mentioned that some practical measures have helped, such as using templates for smaller publishers, and smaller organizations adopting services to standardize processes or reporting.

But a less easily solved challenge is one of the thorniest in the transition to OA: shifting costs from institutions that mostly ‘consume’ research to those that produce more. Perceiving that TAs were not bringing a full change to OA, Bibsam going forward will base prices on institutions’ publishing instead of mainly subscriptions – “a big adjustment for our institutions,” Niklas said. “Some … get quite high price increases. And some – a lot – of institutions get price decreases.”

Paola Galimberti and Fred Flagg echoed the concern that TAs aren’t fulfilling the hopes they would bring a full OA transformation. “The business model is neither transparent, nor equitable, nor accessible, nor affordable for all,” Paola said. “They don’t… produce this cultural change that we need to implement Open Science, because the researchers have no idea of the cost of scholarly communication. ”

Despite what Fred sees as a lack of transparency about publishers’ costs, he also said of TAs, “for the moment, they work fairly well.” He noted that support from Coalition S will cease, lending uncertainty, and underscored that TAs should be temporary and provide good value.

Many Roads Lead to OA

If TAs are temporary, it’s still uncertain whether one path to Open Science will dominate. Many continue to embrace TAs, suggesting some longevity for the model, even as institutions and publishers also look to emerging alternatives such as Subscribe to Open. Meanwhile, Green OA remains an important path to open, and interest in Diamond OA is intensifying. Some big changes almost certainly lie ahead, but the roads to OA will remain varied for a while.

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The Long and Winding Road to Open Access

If Open Access (OA) is the destination, it appears to be in sight – much as you might look up at a mountain you want to hike, able to see the peak you’re aiming for. The question is, how to get there? There are many trails, and they’re likely steep or winding.

In the case of OA, the paths can be bumpy: Gold OA (a fee is paid to publish) makes research free to read and share, but excludes authors without funds. Green OA (articles become open when shared in repositories) avoids publishing fees but depends on subscriptions, which may be eroded if all articles are freely available. Diamond OA (where an organization covers all costs) raises concerns about long-term stability.

With such rocky terrain, we gathered guides in a recent online ‘summit’ (pun intended). Several scholarly communications and research professionals shared how they are blazing trails to OA. The Karger in Conversation Panel Discussion included Niklas Willén, License Manager for Sweden’s BIBSAM Consortium, Fred Flagg, Open Research Specialist at Aston University in the UK, Paola Galimberti, Director of Performance Quality and Assurance at the University of Milan, and José Candido Xavier Jr, MD, PhD., a pathologist at Centro Universitário Católico UniSALESIANO Auxilium. Josè is also a Karger Ambassador.

Article Versions: Weighing Speed, Quality, Openness, and Fairness

It helps to understand the main article versions that typically may be made OA: The preprint (before peer review), the Accepted Manuscript (AM – peer reviewed but not copy edited, formatted, etc.), and the Version of Record (VoR, the final, published article).

Each can be valuable in the OA landscape, though caution and awareness are critical. Preprints are, Paola noted, both speedy and open, and allow for early feedback from the research community, though it must always be clear that they’re not reviewed. Still, “the published version is the optimal version to disseminate.”

Despite also seeing great potential for preprints, Fred notes the advantages of the AM: It’s peer reviewed and has the same core content as the VoR. However, it is often subject to embargos, which can be complicated for authors to navigate.

As for the VoR, the panelists concurred that it is the gold standard (pun intended) – the most easily and most frequently cited version. From his perspective as a researcher, José said, peer review is essential for guaranteeing a paper’s quality. But a VoR – improved with publisher services like editing, layout, and linking – often means either barriers to accessibility (if in a subscription journal), or barriers to publishing (if OA, because of article Processing Charges (APCs).

Based in ‘the global south,’ José urged taking less wealthy regions into account and striving for equal opportunities for all scientists to exchange knowledge. A junior professor in Brazil’s monthly salary might be $1,000 per month, while APCs can be several thousand dollars, he said. «We cannot save our whole salary for months to publish a paper.».

Seeking Researcher-Friendly Routes to Reading and Publishing

The challenges shine a spotlight on different routes to OA. Paola, for one, has seen huge growth in University of Milan’s Diamond OA journals. The earliest challenges were cultural change and upholding international best practice, but now the main challenge is to ensure sustainability via financial support.

Diamond OA “is amazing from both the researcher and reader perspective,” added Fred, but concurred – as did Niklas – that the key question will be ensuring resources to sustain Diamond OA publications.

Another sticky problem at the heart of many questions around OA is the issue of research assessment. “With the current research assessment model that we’re using today, (Diamond OA journals) are just not going to attract enough researchers,” Niklas said. “There have to be more incentives for them to publish Diamond OA.”

The approach in Sweden until recently has focused on Transformative Agreements (also known as Transitional or Read and Publish agreements), which let institutions cover both subscription access and OA publishing at no cost for their researchers. But here, too, the panelists see some downsides despite the advantages. Stay tuned, as we will delve into Transformative Agreements in our next post.

More Deep Dives into Scholarly Communications Issues

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Celebrating Open Access Week: Onward to Open

Open Access is on our minds every day, but Open Access Week is a great time to take stock of developments worldwide and our own path to open. In that context, it’s worth considering what it means for us at Karger to be “open for Open” – and why we’re not simply “Open.”

The State of OA

The world evolves – and so does Karger. We have made huge, tangible strides toward Open Access and Open Science, but the global situation remains complex. Where a few years ago, a transition to Gold Open Access (paying Article Processing Charges, or APCs, to make articles free to read, share and reuse) looked like it might be more dominant, some recent discussions and policies highlight more potential diversity in approaches and needs. This is intensified by the increasing recognition that no road to Open Access should leave researchers behind just because they lack funds to cover APCs.

The publishing industry has seen interest in Gold Open Access via Open Access or hybrid journals (subscription journals in which individual articles can be OA), often powered by Transformative Agreements – but it comes alongside demand for Green Open Access (sharing articles in a repository), which is based on the subscription model. We respect the different needs of our library, researcher, funder and other communities around the world, and we strive to serve and fulfill the needs of each.

Because of these disparate needs, we remain firmly “open for Open” – committed to carrying out and trying various approaches to Open Access. A transformation to Open should prove equitable and lastingly sustainable for us and our communities. That means multi-pronged efforts: expanding our portfolio of Open Access journals, piloting Subscribe to Open (a model that enables barrier-free access and publishing), offering APC vouchers, generous and flexible Green Open Access policies to comply with mandates, waiving APCs for authors based on their location or situation, Diamond Open Access via our Partner Publications, and collaborating with institutions on flexible Transformative Agreements (which cover both subscription access and publishing costs for the institution’s authors).

Read, Publish, and Outreach

This Open Access Week, we’re especially excited to announce an extension of a Transformative Agreement with UK-based Jisc, in a region that has also been proactively working toward an optimal path to OA. The agreement means Jisc member institutions can ensure Open Access for the Version of Record by covering their authors’ APCs, while still benefiting from unlimited access to subscription content.

A world first, Karger’s outreach team is also offering an option for authors from participating Jisc institutions to summarize research findings in easy-to-understand language and engaging visual, audio, or animated formats, making them easily digestible for the broader public, policy makers, or anyone who isn’t a specialized scientist.

These formats – such as short 3D animations, podcasts, and magazine-style articles get widely disseminated and promoted via social media, ensuring an extended science footprint and consistent branding for the institution. Research impact isn’t just about an impact factor or any other number, but about truly maximizing its use for society and creating trust in science.

A New Journal, More Open Access

Earlier this year, we launched Immune System – a brand-new Karger OA journal in immunology and allergy. It features Open Access original research and reviews reporting on translational and clinical studies. It is a broad scope journal encompassing all the field of immunology, specifically welcoming intra- and interdisciplinary research on Environmental Immunology, Immunomics, Immunotherapy. Learn more about the editors-in-chief Dr. Larenz Linnemann and Prof. Florent Ginhoux and their vision for the newly founded journal.

To see what else we’re doing, follow our Open Access Week posts on social media. And in the full spirit of open, reach out to us with any questions on Open Access and Open Science, so we can keep advancing together.

DORA at 10: The Gates Foundation’s Ashley Farley on Research Assessment and the Journey to Open Access and Open Science

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), we had a conversation with Ashley Farley, Program Officer of Knowledge and Research Services at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. In the recorded chat, we explored insights into publishing and scholarly communications’ transition towards Open Access (OA) and Open Science. As a long-time advocate for Open Research, Farley shed light on the impact of initiatives such as DORA in promoting a more collaborative and equitable research environment – and why that matters.

Shifting Research Assessment Practices

A key benefit of DORA’s efforts is that the shift in research assessment practices can foster more OA publishing. Farley laments that the focus on journals with a high impact factor (IF) often overshadows the dissemination of research findings and can inhibit collaboration. Part of this issue, she explains, is the pressure researchers feel from their institutions to publish in prestigious journals as the basis for their career advancement. They then feel motivated to chase publication in the journal with the highest IF instead of being open to other venues – regardless of their potential for contributing to and building on the research ecosystem.

Shifting publishing culture takes a lot of work, from allocating funding to OA initiatives to educating researchers on the consequences their publishing choices can have. “As a large organization that grants almost over $7 billion in grant funding,” Farley says, “we [want] to ensure that this funding will have a larger impact.”

Engaging Researchers

Farley acknowledges that many researchers may not have concepts like DORA, OA and Open Science on their radar. She emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about the publishing process and its implications. In describing her experience as a Program Officer, she said, “it was fascinating to see that the most senior researchers may lack in-depth knowledge on the publishing process.”

To remedy this, researchers should be educated about their rights as authors and options that enable their work to reach a broader audience and maximize its impact. But a lack of awareness isn’t the only issue holding OA back.

Publishing an article can be an involved process that can takes months or possibly even a year. “The process can be so arduous and time intensive,” Farley empathizes, “I can understand that researchers may only be concerned with simply getting their article out there. That dynamic is very understandable, which is why we want to encourage authors to consider the components of the system.”

Think (and Act) Open and Global

To effect more change, research and scholarly communications communities need to prioritize the research itself rather than the IF of the venue of publication. Though it will take significant effort, the pressure on researchers to publish in specific journals based on reputation should be diminished. Breaking the cycle, as DORA aims to do, will help knowledge to flourish.

We know achieving a more open model as the default for scholarly publishing is possible. During the  recent pandemic, Farley notes, “information became more open and accessible” – evidence OA can be achieved on a bigger scale.

As signatories to DORA, organizations have made progress in integrating its principles, though there is still much work to be done on many levels. Farley says, “My dream is to get to a point where I’m not talking about Open Access anymore because it is just the way that we now publish and do things.”

Looking at news and online sessions organized by DORA for its anniversary, Farley said she especially appreciates that it has been amplifying voices and needs of researchers from all over the world.

Encouraging data sharing and embracing various information artifacts beyond traditional articles will further enhance the research ecosystem. By continuing to raise awareness, challenging biases about publication venues, and supporting diverse research outputs, Farley firmly believes that Open Access and Open Science can effectively foster collaboration and propel knowledge to new frontiers.

The Importance of Open Data

For many people, the one artifact of the research process they see might be the polished article published in a journal. But it is built on a foundation of great quantities of evidence – the underlying research data. As a health sciences publisher, we recognize the importance of this data and making it discoverable and accessible whenever possible one of the reasons we appreciate initiatives such as International Love Data Week. 

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Cupid’s arrow is loaded with a different kind of love – for data. International Love Data Week runs from 13-17 February, and the theme for 2023 – the year the US government has called “The Year of Open Science” – is one we couldn’t support more: “Data: Agent of Change.”  

The calls from research libraries, funders and others in the community to make research data openly accessible and usable have intensified, particulary as the Covid-19 pandemic illustrated all too clearly how crucial the Open Data facet of Open Science can be. And in another major signal, the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) now requires data resulting from federally funded research to be made openly available. Open Data can benefit everyone by increasing the reproducibility and transparency of research, which enhances trust in science and allows others to keep building on it. And for authors and institutions specifically, research with open data sets can gain more visibility and allow researchers to comply with mandates.  

For a primer on Open Data, check out our infographic.

Actions we have taken at Karger to move this forward include requiring Data Availability Statements with submitted articles and helping authors to understand the hows and whys of sharing their research data. And this is just one facet of our endeavors to be an agent of change – not just with data, but with Open Science and much more.  

Publishing methods articles in nearly all our journals is another way we’re making science more accessible, transparent and reproducible. These articles describe methods or protocols used to perform an experiment or carry out a research plan, generally in much greater detail than a methods section in an article. Importantly, they help increase trust in research and the ability for others to build on it. While we have long supported the publication of methods articles, we recently have formally welcomed this type of article across nearly all our journals. We also support the use of preprints.  

And in the field of Open Access, the past three years have seen us sign Transformative Agreements with institutions all over the world. They cover not only journal access but also Open Access publishing, helping more subscription journals transition to Open Access. We have also flipped 15 journals to Open Access, established 11 Transformative Journals and we’re piloting two journals under the new Open Access business model Subscribe to Open.   

In so many ways, we have been mindfully working toward change, and we warmly welcome initiatives such as Love Data Week and the many ‘agents of change’ in Open Science around the world.  

What do you think are the changes most needed in health sciences? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. We would also be happy to answer your questions about Karger, Open Data and Open Science at, and invite you to explore our Open Science and Open Access web pages.  

Sparking Researcher Community Involvement: Karger’s New Ambassadors Program

It’s not easy being a researcher – no elaborate studies are needed to prove that! Besides the actual pursuit of science, researchers are expected to learn how to publish and review articles, network, and understand trends as well as comprehend the whole knowledge ecosystem. They carry a lot on their shoulders, and it’s all essential to optimizing their efforts and careers.

Our new Karger Ambassadors Program aims to give researchers – especially Early Career Researchers – a helping hand in much of that labor that takes place outside the lab. Recognizing and showing appreciation for researchers’ excellence and efforts is important to us, as is supporting structures that let researchers thrive.

Among other activities, ambassadors will get to liaise with experts in our network, develop leadership skills, and gain insights into how communicating science really works. For example, many authors feel apprehensive about publishing Open Access, which can seem complex but can also lead to vastly larger readership. Or they might not be aware of handy resources that break down how peer review works or why research integrity matters so much. We want to shed light on all this by teaming with ambassadors.

Ambassadors will not only have the opportunity to expand their knowledge, but will also pay it forward to their peers by representing Karger and sharing what they learn with their cohorts. While we gladly welcome ambassadors at all levels of experience, we anticipate participation especially benefitting Early Career Researchers, including students, PhD candidates, postdocs and others in earlier stages of their careers.

Not only researchers benefit; the program is just as valuable for us. We look forward to the ambassadors bettering our understanding of research communities’ needs and helping us build relationships.

If you think you or anyone you know could thrive in a role as an ambassador, please write us at to find out more.

Driving the Change with Subscribe to Open

At Karger, it is no news that we are Open for Open. And we have just added yet another layer of openness to our publishing models in the form of Subscribe to Open (S2O). With this initiative, we are offering our communities an alternative Open Access model, piloted in 2023 with two journals in the Neurology and Neurosciences portfolio: Developmental Neuroscience and Pediatric Neurosurgery.

What is S2O?

S2O is a sustainable publishing model that converts subscription-based journals to Open Access (OA) without some of the barriers that other models may present. That means research becomes openly available online once a renewal target has been met. It is yet another way to bring OA to all, which is good for authors and readers alike. For librarians, this is great news: besides providing their researchers with the opportunity to publish OA, S2O relies on existing library subscription budgets and procurement processes so there is no need to establish new systems. At the same time, readers benefit from a vast array of research that might otherwise be gated. The model was originally created by Annual Reviews, which also spearheaded the S2O Community of Practice.

How Does S2O Work?

Essentially, journals are OA for an entire year once a certain number of subscriptions has been reached. S2O-based publishing costs are sustained by subscriptions, leveraging existing subscription bases, funds, and infrastructure. Simply put: If subscriptions are renewed to a target level, we will make that year’s volume completely free of barriers to publish, read, share and re-use. With easier access to a broader readership, that means more reach, visibility and impact for authors. Even better – all authors will be able to publish without paying any fees if that volume becomes OA.

It’s important to note that the subscription process will be repeated every year, so future volumes may remain fully OA or return to the hybrid model (subscription-based with a paid option to publish articles OA) depending on subscription levels. Working with our stakeholders, we hope to reach subscription levels that will enable ongoing OA.

Bridging the Gaps Towards an Open Future

We are continuously exploring different ways of empowering researchers, policy makers and others to easily read and share trusted, peer-reviewed science through different OA models. Very often, authors need to comply with OA mandates and encounter barriers in the form of high Article Process Charges. Along with the many other ways we drive the transition to a more open research ecosystem, with S2O, we hope to bring together different parts of this puzzle and solve them together: libraries and institutes can play a key role in unlocking journals, authors have the possibility to publish APC-free, and Karger acts as the bridge between the present and future of OA.

Third VIA Edition: Exclusive Interview with Juror Stephanie Dawson

The Vesalius Innovation Award  (VIA) is one way we at Karger spark innovation in health sciences. We see it as a dual opportunity: for startups with great ideas it’s a chance to receive mentoring, exposure and a cash award; and for us, we get to discover new perspectives and support progress across the knowledge cycle as well as in Open Science. 

stephanie dawsonOne of our VIA jurors –  Stephanie Dawson, CEO of discovery platform  ScienceOpen – shared insights from her broad and deep experience in the following interview. We’re thrilled she could take some time with us to reflect on topics such as the  importance of Open Science and what’s needed to drive it forward. Vesalius Innovation Award applicants will also find some valuable guidance. Read on!

Before we turn to the Vesalius Innovation Award and Open Science, can you briefly introduce yourself? You’ve had a broad education in an unusual combination – biology, then languages and literature – on two continents. Tell us more about the path that has led to being the long-standing CEO of ScienceOpen in Berlin. And what are you focusing on now?

I have really always been drawn both to the natural world and literary representations of it. I grew up on a ranch in northern California and was quite sure that I was going to be a cowgirl or veterinarian, but I was also a voracious reader and a bit of a romantic. So at Yale, I studied biology while also taking many courses in literature and art. After college, I worked in a genetics lab at the prestigious Fred Hutchinson Cancer Researcher Center in Seattle. But when I developed an allergy to fruit flies, I switched fields and got my PhD in German literature from the University of Washington. When I settled with my German husband in Berlin, I discovered that academic publishing was an environment that valued my eclectic experiences and provided space to combine my passion for science and the written word. As the CEO of ScienceOpen I have had the opportunity to explore scholarly communication in a digital environment. My current focus is on Open Access publishing, preprints, open peer review, community curation, metadata enrichment, and alternative metrics.

We’re so excited to have you on the VIA jury again. Before we look at VIA 2022 and beyond, I’m curious about your experience as a juror last year. What has had a lasting impact on you? Does anything stand out from the entrants, winners or overall process?

Being part of the VIA jury last year was really a highlight for me. I deeply enjoyed the interaction with the other jurors and was able to refresh some connections and make new ones. I am often so busy with my own projects that I sometimes neglect to step back for a wider industry perspective. In my experience, start-ups spring up around systematic pain-points, so it is naturally very important to keep an eye on what is new or growing fast. I especially enjoyed working with the teams at NestedKnowledge and CiteAb as we are addressing some of the same issues around metadata.

For participating startups in 2022, the focus of the VIA has expanded to include Open Science. You, along with ScienceOpen, have long championed Open Science. How would you define the crux of Open Science – think elevator pitch? And why do you consider it to be so important?

Open Science encompasses the entire workflow of scientific inquiry – from hypothesis through experiment and data collection to the communication of results. Open and interoperable systems at every level can increase the speed, breadth and inclusivity of knowledge generation. But currently only a fraction of the published literature is available open access to a global audience. An even smaller fraction of the scientific data is available in open repositories in machine-readable formats or code available as open source. Open methods and notebooks, open peer review and educational resources are all important in making information more widely accessible. Working in sync can produce powerful results. But these digital processes are expensive, so it is essential to develop new ways of creating value, which is where the start-ups pitching for the VIA award come in.

What do you think needs to be prioritized and actioned among various communities to help Open Science progress further?

We need to continue to prioritize interoperability and machine-readability at each step of the process. Giving global readers access to an Open Access article in a pdf form is great, but Open Science requires that the content can be aggregated, ingested, analyzed and read by machines. One of the richest and most powerful repositories in the world is the PubMed Central (PMC) Open Access Data Subset that is freely available for researchers, developers and start-ups to read, mine, experiment with and build on. This is a big, expensive collective undertaking and highlights the essential role of funders in funding and maintaining open infrastructure. One of the unique features of PMC is that all content is not only open access with a machine-readable license, but also available in full-text as tagged XML in a single JATS standard.

What role do publishers play regarding Open Science?

The publishing industry has played a crucial role in not only ensuring scientifically valid content but also creating high-quality digital files that use standardized persistent identifiers for everything from author names to institutions to data sets. A free pdf on a website is open access but a full-text XML document in a repository of 5 million articles is Open Science. The start-ups pitching for the VIA are all beneficiaries of Open Science in one way or another.

What other communities, if any, need to be involved more?

I believe that the community of digital start-ups plays an important role in creating value and showcasing the impact of Open Science, which encourages authors, institutions, publishers and funders to invest in the necessary technology to present the results of academic research in interoperable and machine-readable formats. And that is of course why I am excited to be on the VIA jury.

How would you rate the progress of Open Science in health science and scholarly publishing communities so far? How does the current state of affairs compare with what you would have expected or hoped for 10 years ago?

I will admit that 10 years ago, I believed the move to open access and open data, particularly in the health and life sciences, would be faster and more comprehensive, just because they provide so many advantages to authors and researchers. But now, I think that the slow progress is, in part, a result of the increasing demands of Open Science on the technological infrastructure. I no longer expect a disruptive open access revolution, but rather a continual process of building a rich shared digital knowledge base that we can all participate in and draw on.

The application period for the 2022 VIA is still open, and we can’t wait to be dazzled by ideas presented at the live pitch session. For any start-ups still working on their applications for this or future years, do you have any advice?

I’m really excited to see this year’s applications. My one piece of advice is to be open and realistic about where you are in the process of product development in your live pitch. We’re interested in ideas at all stages but may have different expectations depending on how far a product has progressed. And of course, share your passion – it can be infectious. I am really looking forward to being a juror again!


Dr. Stephanie Dawson, CEO of ScienceOpen, has degrees in biology and German literature and a background in STM publishing from De Gruyter publishers. She was part of the founding team of ScienceOpen in 2013 and has been exploring topics around Open Science ever since.

Signing DORA and Overcoming the Tyranny of ‘Prestige’ in Research Assessment

Some feel that potential in research communications is stifled by the tyranny of ‘prestige’ when it’s measured solely by journal impact factor. The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and its supporters – including Karger Publishers – are promoting measures to enable a more balanced system.   

When we signed DORA early this year, we formalized our ongoing dedication to best practices and wide-reaching support of the research community. DORA, a global initiative launched in 2012, came out of the need to improve the way researchers and research outputs are evaluated. It aims to raise awareness, facilitate implementation, catalyze change and improve equity in scholarly communications. Nearly 22,000 organizations and individuals have signed to date.

To this end, DORA guides publishers, research funders, institutions, researchers and organizations that provide metrics for publications with an array of recommendations. The first is this: “Do not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion or funding decisions.” What exactly is the problem with impact factor? It can be useful, but overdependence on impact factor as a criterium to assess individuals and their work can create a vicious cycle.

Put very simply, if career-impacting decisions are made based on the impact factor of the publication in which a job seeker or grant applicant has published, a number of consequences may ensue: Authors may feel pressure to prioritize impact factor above all else when seeking a venue to communicate their work – and that can come at the expense of choosing an Open Access journal or another well-suited journal just because it has a lower impact factor, for example. Or, pressured to heighten impact factor, journals may overlook articles with valuable insights because they’re less likely to reap ‘impact’-boosting citations. All this can all hamper wider adoption of Open Access and Open Science practices, which are at the core of scientific principles.

We as a publisher may not be able fundamentally to change the situation. But we can support our stakeholders advocating for change and ensure we provide publishing conditions that are conducive to a dynamic, equitable research ecosystem. Here’s how we practice DORA’s recommendations for publishers:

  • We have mindfully reduced emphasis on journal impact factor as a promotional tool. While impact factor is important information, we aim to convey it in context.
  • We communicate a range of metrics on our website at an article and journal level, of which impact factor is just one. This presents a thorough, balanced snapshot of our journals.
  • We strongly encourage responsible authorship practices and guide authors so they understand what these are. Our published articles include information about each authors’ specific contributions.
  • We facilitate re-use of reference lists in research articles and support the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC), making citation metadata openly available via Crossref.
  • We ask authors to adhere to the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). That includes guiding them to “provide direct references to original research sources when possible” and we generally do not strictly limit the number of references in research articles, particularly in online publications without print constraints.

The challenges of research assessment appear to be deep-seated, and it has proven rather difficult to move the needle. But we join with DORA and so many members of the research community to raise awareness and work toward a more equitable, open ecosystem.

Open Science: Fighting Faster, Smarter and More Equitably against Covid-19

There have been heated debates about how exactly to deal with the recent Covid-19 pandemic. But one thing most people can agree on (besides being ecstatic if/when this is fully behind us) is that the benefits of Open Science have never been clearer.  

Open Science (OS) describes a broad set of activities and practices aimed at making scientific processes and output more collaborative, accessible, transparent and effective. Through technological and cultural change, Open Science can enhance the ways research, education and innovation are carried out and disseminated via digital tools, networks and media.  

Currently, the most widespread element of Open Science within scholarly communications is Open Access (OA). Open Access makes published articles free to read, share and re-use in accordance with the license applied. Often, Open Access publishing is financed via a per-article payment from the author or author’s research funder, as opposed to the model under which readers pay subscription fees in exchange for access. However, the crisis made it crucial to remove all barriers to access. So we made hundreds of articles related to Covid-19 immediately and freely available, regardless of the model they were published under, and signed a statement affirming our commitment to doing so. Even as the intensity of the pandemic is seeming to abate, the articles remain free, with about 100 of them fully Open Access. (Karger Open Access articles are published under a Creative Commons license, which requires the authors’ signatures. It is not possible to make previously published articles retroactively Open Access, and authors do not always sign this agreement.)    

Preprints and Open Data

Two other Open Science elements that have gained traction are preprints – essentially the manuscript of an article before it is submitted to a journal and thus before peer review – and open data, with authors making their underlying research data freely available, usually via a specialized repository. Both have been instrumental to advancing knowledge about the Coronavirus and how it affects human health, its transmission, prevention and more.  

While peer review helps ensure research findings presented in scientific articles have been scrutinized and approved by experts in the field, the process of peer review and publication can be lengthy. Preprints allow scientists to share new findings as quickly as they can write them so they can reach other scientists, policy makers, and the public. Our policies support authors who choose to share preprints before submission, and we collaborate with the well-known preprint servers medRxiv and bioRxiv to allow authors to submit papers to some of our journals via an easy transfer of their preprint.  

The Danger of Infodemics

That said, preprints should be considered with caution, as we saw amid the desperation for news and cures: Preprints helped to swiftly disseminate urgently needed information, but they were also used by some to feed an “infodemic” of sometimes false or misinterpreted information that even hindered efforts at times. The information they contain is not (yet) peer reviewed – that is, vetted by experts. Journalists and others in the public may not emphasize or recognize that the conclusions are tentative and may even be disproven in the future. And by the time any findings in preprints might be refuted, it’s too late: They may have spread across traditional and social media, with people all over the world acting on the advice. The Covid-19 pandemic produced some notorious situations with preliminary information being proven wrong or at least inconclusive. That’s a perfectly normal course of events in research, and getting feedback from other scientists can be one of the benefits of posting a preprint. But the early, unconfirmed nature of preprints can harm individuals if they act on the early findings and either doubt or never see subsequent reports with different recommendations.  

Open and FAIR

Informing the public that preprints contain preliminary, unreviewed information and educating science journalists about their use may help. But another aspect of Open Science, open data, can also help by allowing other scientists to check the preliminary studies. Research data is usually defined as the underlying evidence needed to validate and replicate findings reported in an article. If that data is open and “FAIR” (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable), others can try to validate and reproduce it. Research funders and institutions increasingly require authors to make their data open, and we have introduced comprehensive guidance for authors on how and why to share their data, which we strongly encourage at all times. 

Some of our actions during the pandemic may not be strictly classified as Open Science, but they share the same spirit of striving to empower rapid, unrestricted knowledge exchange to stabilize public health.  

For example:  

  • Despite the sudden volatility in everyone’s work environment, we processed a huge surge of submitted articles, in particular related to Covid-19, to maintain the timely flow of information. 
  • We continue to publish and curate pertinent articles across all our publications and platforms, from our virology-related journals to The Waiting Room blog. This content covers everything from helping Coronavirus patients with co-morbidities, to diagnosis, to societal and mental-health impacts, to olfactory disorders and treatment.   
  • We made our Fast Facts medical handbook series free to access online – and will keep it free beyond the pandemic. We also created free Fast Facts eLearning courses to help maintain education and engagement when people were restricted from interacting live.   
  • We granted more access to non-Open Access content for institutions in need.  
  • We upgraded subscription access, expanded licenses and added features for a host of customers and ePartners.
  • We gave free access to especially relevant education courses 
  • We created many more free webinars and online training sessions. 

At the core of what we do is connecting and advancing health sciences throughout the entire knowledge cycle. Open Science practices and other support make this as efficient and beneficial as possible for the greatest number of people. We are grateful for the many ‘front line workers’, scientists, and policy makers who have worked to improve all outcomes in the face of the pandemic, and we’re rather proud of the contribution we could make to the global fight against Covid-19.    

Further Reading: Scholarly Communication in Times of Crisis: The response of the scholarly communication system to the COVID-19 pandemic by the Research on Research Institute (RoRI) 

Transforming to Open Access with Transformative Journals

Working to advance Open Access (OA), an essential element of Open Science, can feel like solving a Rubik’s Cube: the end goal is clear but the way there isn’t always. Working through the challenges requires deliberation and some openness to trying different possible solutions. One of these is the Transformative Journal.

Karger introduced the Transformative Journal, sometimes called a TJ, to our program in 2021. While our seven Transformative Journals certainly are not the only piece needed to solve the OA puzzle, they hold a lot of promise to move OA forward in the right direction.

To understand what Transformative Journals are, it helps to have in mind a definition of OA and some of the main types.

  • Gold Open Access: The version of record (final, published version) of articles is permanently free to read, share and re-use. Often, publication costs are covered by an Article Processing Charge (APC), which may be paid by a funder, institution, or author.
  • Open Access Journal: Journals that publish only Open Access articles.
  • Hybrid Journal: Originally subscription only, these journals let authors choose whether to make their articles OA through payment of a fee (by the institution, research funder, or author) or publish them under the subscription model.

(There are more types of OA and terminology. We encourage you to have a look at the explanations on our Open Access pages.)

In these terms, Transformative Journals are essentially hybrid journals. But Transformative Journals don’t merely offer authors a choice – they proactively encourage publication of more OA articles. The idea is to make OA publishing even easier and fast-track a sustainable transition to OA. When Transformative Journals reach a certain share of OA articles (75% OA), they are designated to “flip” to OA, i.e. convert to the OA business model.

Plan S

Transformative Journals started taking hold as one possible stepping stone to a more open future when Coalition S, a group of research funders, recognized them as a way to help authors comply with certain mandates under Plan S. Plan S is a set of stringent, wide-reaching, complicated and somewhat controversial requirements intended to promote OA, though they also present challenges to authors and publishers. To comply with the mandates, Coalition S-funded authors must publish their articles as OA under certain terms. One option is to publish in an OA journal and another is to make the author’s manuscript freely available in a repository. Or, authors may publish under a transformative arrangement – meaning either in a hybrid journal that is covered by a special agreement (known as a Transformative Agreement) with their institutions, or in a Transformative Journal.

One of our missions is to support authors in every way possible, which is why we help them comply with virtually every OA mandate – so facilitating compliance with the Plan S mandates is one great benefit of our Transformative Journals. Another benefit is the way they address some of the above-mentioned challenges of advancing OA.

Barrier-Free Publishing

For one, there’s the question of how to pay for OA publishing. OA makes important scientific knowledge rapidly available to all, a benefit that has become even more obvious since the pandemic began. But the services that publishers provide (such as managing peer review, editing, and ensuring discoverability) entail costs that must be paid for. In lieu of subscription income, those costs may be covered by APCs, but that can create new barriers for the many authors who lack funding. Transformative Journals do not provide a long-term solution to that problem, but – in a transitional phase – they do allow those who can pay for it to publish OA; and those who cannot may continue to publish under the subscription route.

That leads to another challenge that Transformative Journals help navigate as we aim for a sustainable move to more open research: Even authors who have the means to publish OA don’t always choose to. There’s been much scrutiny of the reasons, and usually it comes down to this: Whether they understand the advantages of OA or not, when it comes to submitting their papers, authors base their decisions on other factors, such as the community of researchers they will reach or the journal’s prestige, typically measured by impact factor (IF).

Sustainable Transition

While efforts such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) aim to lessen the grip that the IF holds on researchers, funders, institutions and journals, Transformative Journals in the meantime allow us to meet authors where they are. We can make OA more attractive and efficient and show authors the benefits of OA, while still offering the freedom to publish in the journal that most fits their needs. This is not only for the authors’ sake, but is also crucial to making the transition to OA and OS truly sustainable. We have flipped over a dozen journals from subscription to OA in the last few years and hope to flip more. But flipping journals if authors aren’t keen to publish OA is destabilizing rather than sustainable.

At the same time, we recognize that moving to an open research world is complex and lacks a quick fix. So we continue to explore alternative solutions even as we work on Transformative Journals, flipping, launching new OA journals and Transformative Agreements – in addition to adopting policies and innovations that support Open Science. We would welcome your thoughts on Transformative Journals and how the transition to more open research availability and practices can be supported further!

Learn more about Open Access and Open Science.

On Open Access Week: A Newly OA Journal with Vision

Flipping our journal Ophthalmic Research in 2021 has proven to be anything but shortsighted. We kicked off our own Open Access Week with an internal event, a Best-in-Class example, and a pub quiz.  

The journal’s success as one that “flipped” – that is, converted – from the subscription business model to Open Access (OA) shows that OA was clearly the right move, as Editor-in-Chief Dr. Hendrik Scholl told staff during a company  event for International Open Access Week. Dr. Scholl is currently the director of the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel (IOB) and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology of the University of Basel, with an array of international experience in the field.

Ophthalmic Research Journal for Translational and Clinical Research

Ophthalmic Research

During OA Week, academic and research communities around the world engage with OA, and advancing OA is a major priority for us too. So, for the first time, we hosted our own Karger Publishers community event for OA Week with two parts, both virtual: First, in an informal interview,  Dr. Scholl shared his experiences helping to lead the journal’s transformation into OA. Next, we employees tested our knowledge and learned more about OA and Open Science in a “pub quiz” competition that was beer-free but fun and challenging.

Reaching More Communities through Open Access

OA is a rapidly expanding way of publishing that makes journal articles immediately and permanently free for everyone to read, share and re-use. Limits on commercial re-use or other restrictions may apply depending on the type of license used. To cover publication costs, authors or their research funders or institutions typically cover the costs of publication, in contrast with the subscription model under which readers pay for access. With OA, many more people can read publications much more quickly, to the benefit of individuals, researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and others.

Flipping is one way to speed up the transition to OA. But it can also carry risks – for example, losing authors who submit papers, as Karger Publishers CEO Daniel Ebneter explained while interviewing Dr. Scholl.

But for Ophthalmic Research, just the opposite happened: The journal was handling a high number of submissions during the pandemic, as many academic publications were. As is often anticipated after flipping, submissions indeed dipped, though the dent was manageable – down to roughly pre-pandemic numbers. After only a few months, however, they had ballooned back to near-record levels. “The outcome was excellent,” Dr. Scholl reported.

Not only did submissions rise, but use of the articles, measured in clicks, soared. That was a more anticipated but no less delightful development – evidence that OA can increase the visibility of articles, allowing research to achieve greater impact.

Such visibility was one of Dr. Scholl’s and his colleagues’ top reasons for making the leap to OA. Another was to be a leader in the ophthalmology subject area, in which only about 20% of journals were fully OA. “Flipping to OA would mean we would join that… forefront of journals that would be OA. And we felt that would be a competitive advantage.”

To Flip or Not to Flip? Some Advice

What advice might Dr. Scholl have for leaders of journals who are considering flipping to OA? For one, they should be sure to work with a professional publisher they can rely on, with whom there is a good rapport and teamwork, and that has the experience to handle the technical challenges of flipping.

As for concerns that OA may exclude promising authors who can’t afford Article Processing Charges (APCs) – especially in disciplines with less funding – Dr. Scholl pointed out that publishers may have programs to cover those costs. Our program to waive or discount APCs for authors in need gave him confidence that authors submitting a paper with excellent science will have a fair chance to publish it, he said.

Open communication with associate editors and editorial board members is also crucial, Dr. Scholl emphasized. If everyone understands the vision of greater and quicker visibility and other potential benefits from OA, they can better manage to weather any challenges that may come with flipping.

The Need for Speed – and Peer Review

Taking a step back to consider OA and Open Science more broadly, Mr. Ebneter and Dr. Scholl spoke about the trending use of preprints, which are scientific papers before peer review or editing. While speed is generally very welcome, one drawback is the difficulty for scientists to recognize if what they’re reading is validated data. We, the publisher and journal, provide an extremely valuable service, Dr. Scholl said – we give authors feedback and help them improve their work and moreover we produce articles that are not only nicer and easier to digest thanks to services like editing, but also guaranteed to be validated through peer review.

Learn more about Open Access and Open Science.

Beth Bayley

Beth is Open Science Manager and Open Science Task Force co-lead. Her chief missions are helping drive forward Karger Publishers’ sustainable transition to Open Access, often active in strategy, policy and communications; and otherwise putting into motion steps toward more open scholarly communications. A perfect weekend involves a combination of family, travel, books, comedy and/or theater, and perhaps a walk around the Swiss Alps for good measure.