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Science and Technology Section (STS): Sci Post Repository: Sci Post 2020

This is the repository for STS's Sci Posts

Transformative Agreements

Transformative Agreements

By Kristin Buxton

Science Librarian, Price Science Commons

University of Oregon Libraries



It’s been hard to avoid seeing articles about transformative agreements being reached by publishers and universities, systems or consortia, but if you haven’t been paying attention to all of the details, you might be unclear on just what that means.

Unlike a traditional subscription agreement where an institution or consortium pays so that its users can read content from a specific publisher, these new agreements bundle the fees for reading content with fees for open access publishing (Article Processing Charges or APCs) in that publisher’s journals. You may see the agreements referred to as Read-and-Publish or Publish-and-Read depending on how exactly the deal is structured. The agreements tend to be custom tailored for each institution so can be more difficult to manage than traditional subscriptions for both the publisher and institution.

Transformative agreements are intended to be steps towards full Open Access (OA) publishing. Those advocating for these agreements argue that they will encourage OA publishing by removing APCs for individual researchers. They may also provide more transparency as to how much the institution as a whole is paying a publisher since there’s a central payment versus individual per article payments by researchers in addition to subscription fees generally paid by the library.

The earliest agreements started in Europe with programs like Horizon 2020, OA2020, and mostly recently Plan S, but have since spread to the United States starting with MIT’s agreement with the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2018. Since then individual publishers like American Chemical Society, Cambridge University Press, Royal Society of Chemistry and Springer Nature have signed agreements with other Universities in the United States. MIT and the University of California System have both published advice for other libraries wishing to establish these sorts of agreements.

ACM is taking a different approach with their ACM OPEN model. They started with agreements with four institutions, but their goal isn’t just to create agreements with individual institutions. They are currently providing a model where institutions can opt in to an alternative to their subscription, but their goal is to entirely replace the current subscription model. We’ll see if other publishers follow this model.

Some question whether these agreements will really get us to an OA future, and others think they’re just another way for publishers to lock in large payments from libraries or to make libraries pay even more than before, but regardless, these agreements are worth watching and learning from.


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