Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access: Report Summary


Wellcome, UK Research Innovation, and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers commissioned a report in their efforts to better support society publishers faced with the challenge of accelerating their transition to open access. Society publishers face challenges in bringing their practices into conformance with Plan S even as pressure mounts in research communities to accelerate the push to open access across the board.

Alicia Wise and Lorraine Estelle, both of Information Power, conducted an international survey of both library consortia and scholarly societies and have produced substantive results and recommendations in their final project report, Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S (SPA OPS). The published report documented 27 business models and strategies that can be deployed by publishers to transition successfully to OA. Only three of those identified rely on author payments to fund article publishing. Also part of the final output (all of which is hosted on the Figshare platform) is a toolkit in support of Transformative Agreements.  

International Survey of Library Consortia and Content Providers

In gathering information from library consortia, Wise and Estelle created and distributed a survey via the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC). Twenty-six consortia from 13 countries responded. 

We asked about the consortia’s willingness and capacity to work with learned society publishers and 91% agree or strongly agree that they look forward to working with such publishers to develop new models. There were supporting comments indicating that consortia saw this engagement as a strategic opportunity to co-create future models that would work for both libraries and publishers.

When asked if the consortium would ‘participate in new initiatives that redirect funds currently used to pay subscriptions to make journals open access to users all over the world’, more than 75% of respondents indicated this was very likely or likely.

Survey respondents suggested that the most important criteria in working with society publishers to develop new models were these: 1. Transparency of model (5.48) 2. No increase in the total cost of reading and publishing (5.22) 3. Generating more Open Access publishing (4.86) 4. Robust metadata with online identifiers (4.00) 5. Helping to maintain current cost distribution across member libraries (3.48) 6. Complete absence of APC invoices (2.91)

 Unsurprisingly, the authors further note that:

There was very strong support for the generic goal of increasing OA for the world, and strong support for embracing approaches that meant authors would not have to pay APCs.

When asked about important criteria in working to develop new business models with society publishers, the responses were ranked as follows:

  1. Transparency of model

  2. No increase in the total cost of reading and publishing

  3. Generating more Open Access publishing

  4. Robust metadata with online identifiers

  5. Helping to maintain current cost distribution across member libraries

  6. Complete absence of APC invoices

A survey of content providers (distributed via ALPSP) recieved 104 responses from eight countries. Of that number, 72% were societies who publish via larger publishing partners while while 28% were able to independently publish their content. 

Page 6 of the report notes a significant barrier to consortia and societies successfully working together:

Rather than deploying hybrid journals to help drive a quick and orderly transition to full OA in a way that is perceived as fair and sustainable for all stakeholders, many publishers added a new Article Publishing Charge (APC) revenue stream on top of existing subscription revenues, crafted options in such a way as to maximise both of these revenue streams, focused effort on increasing article market share and/or the total volume of articles published, and reserved the benefit of any efficiency gains for themselves. 

Article publishing charges become problematic for the information community, as Wise and Estelle note, because "not all authors have access to funding to pay those APCs or would be willing to do so even if they did." 

The solution then for society publishers is to identify which of the 27 models identified in the report will be most serviceable to both scholarly societies and the library community as both seek to satisfy the needs of researchers. Wise and Estelle then begin their analysis of alternatives and transformative agreements. 


Transformative Agreements

From the September 11 announcement of the report's release:

Transformative agreements, including Subscribe to Open pioneered by Annual Reviews, emerged as the most promising. Also very useful are APC models if authors are funded and willing to pay such charges, immediate sharing of accepted manuscripts or final articles under a CC-BY license, cooperation, cost savings, and revenue diversification.

A toolkit developed as part of this project is also launched today. The toolkit forms a resource for learned societies (and other small and medium publishers) wanting to explore transformative agreements. It is being actively piloted in ongoing negotiations between publishers and library consortia. The toolkit contains templates that stakeholders can use to negotiate and execute transformative agreements. We encourage stakeholders to amend and adapt the templates to reflect aspects of their particular agreements and to suit local conditions.

Transformative agreements repurpose existing institutional spend with publishers to open content. They are promising transition models because libraries and library consortia provide the lion’s share of funding in the current publishing landscape. If this revenue stream is transformed to support OA, then journals can also transform to be fully OA. Institutional and consortial agreements are easier to administer than hundreds or thousands of author payments and provide an attractive predictable flow of revenue. They are also helpful models for publishers to use to align with Plan S because hybrid journals within transformative agreements are one of the Plan S compliant options and give more time in which to transition to full and immediate OA.

From the report itself (See pages 51-52):

Transformative agreements can be struck by any type of publisher, of any size, commercial or not-for-profit. They can be used by OA-only publishers to sustain fully OA titles as well as by hybrid publishers in transition. Subscription spend of all types can be repurposed to support OA publishing and this approach need not be focused only on hybrid journal titles in their transition to full open access. Although the workshop discussions focused on central agreements between publisher and consortium, it was recognised that similar agreements could be used between publisher and institution. Arrangements with aggregators and agents will also need to be changed in support of striking more OA transformational agreements direct with institutions. Currently all transformational agreements are labelled in the same way, and the vocabulary may need to evolve, just as the agreements themselves are rapidly doing.

Additional Updates Announced September 30

On Monday, September 30, Information Power offered a brief update to the report.

By talking to both learned society publishers and library consortia we realised that some pilots were needed to test out what is necessary for a publisher and a consortium to reach an compromise on a Transformative Agreement. We we delighted when these consortia, CAUL in Australia, Jisc in the UK, Max Planck Digital Library in Germany and VSNU in the Netherlands and publishers Brill, European Respiratory Society, IWA , Microbiology Society  and Portland Press agreed to work with us to negotiate these agreements for the first time.

Facilitating the  discussions between learned society publishers and library consortia made us realise that there was the need for a toolkit. This toolkit should be freely available to library consortia and learned society publishers when negotiating transformative agreements. The toolkit should be fully adaptable to save these stakeholders from reinventing wheels.

The toolkit we created contains a ‘tips and tricks’ guide to negotiating a Transformative Agreement; an Excel spreadsheet for collecting the historic data needed to price a Transformative Agreement; an Overview Document, setting out both the spirit of the agreement and the key practical issues; and finally, a Model Licence for the Transformative Agreement.