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Enabling Open Access via Transformative Agreements

Gareth O’Neill
Linguist and President of Eurodoc

The Open Access 2020 Initiative (OA2020) is a global alliance of research organisations which aims to transform the scholarly publishing system from the prevailing subscription model to an Open Access model. The alliance consists of over 100 organisations from across the world and is coordinated by the Max Planck Digital Library. OA2020 holds a yearly conference for alliance members to discuss how to accelerate the transition of scholarly publishers to Open Access. Eurodoc president Gareth O’Neill was invited to attend the 14th Berlin Open Access Conference on 03-04 December 2018 to represent early-career researchers in Europe and offer input to OA2020 on the transition to Open Access.

Closed versus Open Access

The subscription model for scholarly publishing involves research libraries paying publishers for their researchers to publish and access articles in specific scholarly journals in big deal packages. The subscription system is a legacy of the print publication era which today mostly provides digital access to journals for researchers from subscribed libraries. This effectively means that researchers who are not affiliated with a paying library hit a ‘paywall’ where they must pay a publisher an often substantial fee to access individual subscription articles. Locking up research publications in this way has unsurprisingly led to criticism as well as innovative tools to bypass paywalls. Open Access offers an alternative to the closed access model by making a pre-final or final version of an article openly available without costs for the reader. This is not to say that there are never costs for the author: publishers often charge researchers article processing charges (APCs) (which may be funded by a research grant) to make an individual article Open Access which may be funded by a research grant.

Transformative Agreements

The focus of the recent OA2020 conference on ‘Aligning Strategies to Enable Open Access’ highlighted the need for common strategies and commitments among alliance members to speed up the transition to Open Access. One of the models created specifically to help publishers transition to Open Access publishing is the ‘hybrid’ route where a subscription journal with closed subscription articles also contains open articles paid by APCs. Many publishers, unfortunately, have not transitioned to Open Access but have instead adopted hybrid as a steady and profitable business model. Due to frustration with the slow transition, research libraries and consortia have recently started negotiating ‘transformative agreements’ with publishers. These agreements are basically big deal packages which combine access to closed subscription journals for paying libraries whilst at the same time allowing researchers to publish new articles in Open Access journals. The idea is that such agreements will fully transition publishers to Open Access models in a short time period.

Alignment for Open Access

The OA2020 alliance invited senior representatives from three major scholarly publishers to the conference to discuss Open Access: CEO Ron Mobed of Elsevier, CEO Daniel Ropers of Springer Nature, and Vice-President/Managing Director Guido Herrmann of Wiley. The publishers all showed a reluctance to embrace Open Access and cited financial drawbacks as well as the conservative publishing behaviour of researchers to stay with the status quo. The alliance, in turn, stated strongly that all of their members are fully in agreement and committed to Open Access along three key principles: authors should retain copyrights; articles should not be in hybrid journals and be immediately open; transformative agreements should be employed to transition journals within a few years. The alliance further stated that they support the Plan S initiative by research funders in Europe to achieve full and immediate Open Access by 2020 and that Plan S aligns with their key principles.

Eurodoc fully supports the key principles proposed by OA2020. See our Joint Statement on Open Access for Researchers via Plan S for our standpoint on Open Access and Plan S.