Consortia charting new territories in open access!
EIFL guest blogger Colleen Campbell writes about the role of Transformative Agreements in open access publishing

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Colleen Campbell, of OA2020 presenting at the EIFL General Assembly.
Presenting at the EIFL General Assembly - Colleen Campbell, of OA2020.

Our Guest Blogger, Colleen Campbell, from the Open Access 2020 Initiative, reflects on the similarities between the unknown heights of the Kyrgyz mountains and knowledge locked behind subscription paywalls, and discusses how Transformative Agreements with publishers are accelerating the transition to open access. 

When Iryna Kuchma, EIFL Open Access Programme Manager, and I landed in Bishkek Manas International Airport for the EIFL General Assembly (GA), she shared the interesting fact that a good portion of Kyrgyzstan’s beautiful mountain ranges have yet to be charted and explored. At first I was surprised - in our digital world of GPS and satellite photography it seems that nothing is hidden and everything is documented. Upon reflection, the unknown heights of the Kyrgyz mountains are very much like the knowledge that is published in research articles behind subscription paywalls: so much potential but inaccessible to so many!

I was delighted and honoured to come to the EIFL GA to meet with EIFL’s many library consortia partners, all from developing and transition economy countries,  to talk about the Open Access 2020 Initiative. Open Access 2020 (OA2020) is a global alliance of higher education and research organizations from across five continents that are adopting strategies to transform today’s scholarly journals from the current subscription system to open access publishing models. One of several pathways pursued by participants in OA2020, particularly by library consortia, is to negotiate Transformative Agreements (, under which funds previously spent for subscription access to scholarly journals are re-purposed to cover costs associated with open access publishing. Under the brilliant direction of Rima Kupryte, EIFL is already very much engaged in the open access movement and OA2020, with Iryna serving on our Advisory Group and Romy Beard, EIFL Licensing Programme Manager, being a driving force in the OA2020 LMIC Working Group. Together, at the GA we wanted to explore how EIFL partner consortia can participate in and benefit from the growing wave of Transformative Agreements with commercial publishers that is accelerating the transition to open access.

Getting the lay of the land

Before beginning our exploration, it was important to get an understanding of how Transformative Agreements fit into the broader open access landscape. On a global scale, the money libraries and library consortia pay each year for subscription access to scholarly journals is more than enough needed to publish those same journals in open access. Based on this knowledge, at the most recent Berlin Open Access Conference, the global research community called upon commercial publishers to engage with them in cost-neutral Transformative Agreements to facilitate and accelerate the transition to open access. In my presentation at the EIFL GA, I discussed the case study of national negotiations led by Projekt DEAL in Germany which have resulted in a successful Transformative Agreement with Wiley and another on the way with Springer Nature. Under these agreements, German researchers can access subscription journals and publish their articles in open access  for the same amount of money that was previously paid for reading access only - thereby saving the additional amount spent on open access publishing fees and making a big advance in the transition to open access. 

At the EIFL GA I had some illuminating conversations with consortium representatives and learned that, in some cases, large commercial publishers (which do not partner with EIFL) are negotiating subscription agreements directly with government representatives and, because of the lack of transparency in publisher pricing, developing countries are paying unproportionally high amounts of money, compared to developed countries. 

Romy has been working on some data analysis to understand the relationship between subscription fees and open access publishing costs in EIFL partner countries, and to figure out the approach to Transformative Agreements.

 Developing roadmaps for EIFL partner libraries and consortia

The data analysis done by Romy revealed that EIFL represents a highly diverse community, which calls for diverse approaches that we explored in a workshop at the GA.

We looked at scenarios from three sample EIFL countries, providing their subscription spend, publication output (overall, and open access), and average Article Processing Charge (APC - the main publishing cost) for one sample publisher: 

  • One country that is paying a very high subscription fee (negotiated directly with the publisher, outside of the scope of EIFL’s negotiations) which would cover their open access publishing costs in a scholarly publishing landscape transformed to open access and would benefit from negotiating an agreement that combines reading access and publishing costs. 
  • A second country that is paying a highly discounted subscription fee (either through EIFL’s negotiations, or other schemes), where subscription fees would not cover open access publishing output, and negotiating a Transformative Agreement would not make sense. However, the country would have to ensure that the same level of discounts for APCs is offered. A formalized agreement with the publisher in question would secure this.
  • A third country that is benefiting from free access to the publisher’s content. This means that in full transition to open access they would not have money to cover their publishing output. The publisher might currently offer waivers of Article Processing Charges, but these would need to be formalized in an agreement in order to make sure that in the future researchers could continue to be able to publish in open access at no cost.

The workshop made everyone realize that there is no one-size-fits-all model of Transformative Agreement. 

There are great examples of how libraries and consortia can prepare for negotiating Transformative Agreements with commercial publishers. By working together through EIFL - and OA2020 - consortia can benefit from the greater leverage that comes with an alliance to address commercial publishers at eye level. Further webinars will be scheduled as a follow-up to the GA workshop to map out our next steps.

It was incredibly energizing to participate in the EIFL GA and interact with so many dedicated people on a professional level. I would like to use this opportunity to thank everyone who participated in the GA for their warmth! I will always treasure the memory of celebrating my birthday with you.