Transformative agreements – an easier route to open access

Complex road layout

Our ‘Read and Publish’ agreements with publishers allow researchers to both read subscription journals and to make articles they publish in those journals open access at no cost. We have already signed agreements with publishers including Wiley, Springer, IOP and the RSC, meaning you can publish open access for free in thousands of journals. Further agreements with other publishers are currently being negotiated and evaluated.

Read and Publish (R&P) agreements make open access easier, quicker and cheaper. However, the broader aim of these nationally-negotiated agreements is to transform all subscription journals to full and immediate open access.

This is intended to restart a transition to open access that stalled with ‘hybrid journals‘ (subscription journals that offer open access for individual papers.) While these have allowed more research to be made open, the separate revenue streams journals continued to receive for both subscriptions and open access wasn’t sustainable.

To address this these new ‘transformative agreements’ require publishers to make an explicit commitment to transition to open access. They must demonstrate an annual increase in the proportion of content published as open access and convert to full open access once an agreed proportion is reached. For example, the R&P deal with Wiley will lead to 85% of UK-authored articles in Wiley journals being open access by the end of this year, reaching 100% by 2022.

These agreements will also make a wider range of research open access, regardless of the discipline or research funding that may have supported it. Again using the Wiley agreement as an example, since starting in March 2020 we have approved 50 articles by researchers working in a wide range of disciplines. Without this agreement only 15 of these articles could have been made open access using funds from our UKRI or COAF block grants. Our agreement with Sage shows a similar pattern – we’ve approved 25 papers since June 2020 and could otherwise have made just two of these open access. Our longest-standing agreement is with Springer and has allowed us to make more than 300 papers open access since 2015.

At a more practical level these agreements also greatly reduce the amount of administration required from authors and from the open access team. When an eligible paper from one of our authors is accepted the publisher will send us a request to approve open access under the agreement. All we need to do is click ‘approve’. We don’t need to raise purchase orders, wait for invoices to arrive, send them to finance for payment, all of which means your papers are likely to be published open access more quickly.

There is of course a cost to these agreements. The price we pay for these agreements is based on our current subscription spend with a publisher and our average open access spend with them in previous years. Significantly however these agreements set out and constrain future costs to make them more transparent and sustainable.

In considering which publisher agreements to sign up to we have evaluate not just the costs, but the relative benefits. For example, while many agreements offer unlimited open access publishing, some limit the number of eligible papers at either an institutional or national level. Others may restrict the types of articles that are eligible. However, more and more suitable agreements are emerging from national negotiations and we intend to sign up to as many of these as we can to play our part in helping transform academic publishing to full and immediate open access.

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I provide support for Open Research at Newcastle University as part of the Library Research Services team. I've previously worked in open access, staff development and as a researcher in molecular virology.

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