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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