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.

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