The Impact of Transformative Agreements on Scholarly Publishing

On the route to a fully open access future, transformative agreements serve to bridge the gap between traditional subscription models and widespread open access publishing. But are they working? In our latest webinar, two library experts reflect on the progress and envision a future beyond transformative agreements.

On March 21st, as if to herald the first shoots of spring, came the first De Gruyter librarians’ webinar of 2024.  This quarterly series of webinars was launched in the first quarter of 2023. The first – on Open Access for books – was an immediate success; each of the following webinars in 2023 attracted a yet bigger audience than its predecessor.

This latest webinar, Unveiling the Impact of Transformative Agreements on Scholarly Publishing, explored the virtues and vicissitudes of the Transformative Agreement (TA), one of the main transitional payment models being used to work towards the provision of open access to scholarly publishing for all stakeholders at the point of use.

The speakers were Dr Amy Devenney, Research Strategic Lead at Jisc and Wilhelm Widmark, Library Director at the University of Stockholm and Assistant Director of BIBSAM, the Swedish library consortium. Amy provided highlights from a recent Jisc report which critically appraises the benefits and disadvantages of TAs; Wilhelm expressed librarians’ frustrations that TAs have lasted so long – after all, they were meant to be transitional – and described the efforts of the Swedish BIBSAM Consortium to gain a more permanent solution for paying for OA publishing.

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The speakers’ talks complemented each other perfectly – as well as presenting findings and viewpoints from two separate librarian communities, they shared a great deal of common ground. Key points from the presentations included unpicking what it means for publishers to be transparent about how they arrive at the prices they charge and that future deals – both TA and post-TA – will most likely ban the inclusion of hybrid journals.

Learn more about our Open Access journey and transformation strategy at De Gruyter.

Amy highlighted the relatively slow rate of progress made since Jisc first started to negotiate TA deals in 2016. She said that only three publishers flipped more than 10% of the journals included in Jisc TA title lists between 2018 and 2022. Based on these rates of travel, it would take at least 70 years for the big five journals publishers to flip all their TA titles to OA. Wilhelm said that many publishers are still putting new journals behind a paywall. Linda Bennett, the moderator, pointed out that large journals publishers who offer “umbrella” services for society publishers are obliged to consider demands from learned societies to earn revenues from their journals: in some instances, selling the journal provides the societies’ main source of income. Wilhelm said that some large publishers had managed to flip such journals, but he was unaware of how the society revenues issue had been addressed. Amy said that while the UK appears to be transitioning to OA more effectively than other countries around the world, it has more than double the proportion of hybrid articles than the rest of the world (UK: 21%; Global: 10%).

Wilhelm said that BIBSAM has now set up an initiative to create a negotiation strategy for post-2024 agreements. It is likely to consider alternative publishing routes and is very keen on examining the possibilities offered by Diamond Open Access.

If you would like to know more about the De Gruyter webinar on S20, please contact

A member of the audience asked the speakers how they felt about Subscribe-to-Open (S20), a business model which occupies a central role in De Gruyter’s publishing strategy. Both Amy and Wilhelm agreed there is a need for several different kinds of model to exist side-by-side: one-size-fits-all is unlikely to cater for all circumstances and situations globally. Andrea Gregor-Adams, Marketing Manager for EMEA at De Gruyter, said that she would shortly be presenting a webinar that demonstrates S20 in detail. The date and time will be announced shortly.

Résumé and Outlook

Unveiling the Impact of Transformative Agreements on Scholarly Publishing attracted the largest number of registrants for this series of webinars to date. Many of those attending used chat messages to congratulate Amy and Wilhelm for their well-balanced, informative presentations. The webinar has already achieved demonstrable influence globally: librarian registrants from countries as far apart as the USA and Malaysia say they will use the information and ideas it captures to assist their own TA and post-TA negotiations.

The next webinar in the series is entitled Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: issues for the modern academic librarian. It will take place at 2 pm UK time on Thursday 20th June. Further announcements will be made nearer the time.

[Title image by stanley45/E+/Getty Images]

Linda Bennett

Linda Bennett is the founder of Gold Leaf, a consulting firm that provides business development and market research for publishers and the publishing community.

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