Transformative agreements are not holding up open access

Both journals and funders need to do more to support the gold route that authors want and open science needs, says Steven Inchcoombe

七月 15, 2022
Golden keys to an open gold padlock, symbolising gold open access
Source: iStock

Last month, publishers submitted data to the open access cOAlition S showing exactly how “transformative” their transformative journals are proving to be. For most, it is a mixed story.

More of our journals at Springer Nature reach the annual growth in open access content required to be deemed transformative journals – whichever is highest out of 5 per cent absolute and 15 per cent relative to the previous year – than all the other publishers combined. But even for us, the picture is mixed, with a number of journals falling short. 

We expanded the number of transformative (“read and publish”) agreements we have in place to 17, allowing authors to publish open access at no extra cost to themselves in Australia, Canada, Colombia and Egypt. We amended our journal submission workflow and post-acceptance communications, so at every point authors are reminded why they should consider publishing open access. We published research demonstrating the wider benefits to authors and researchers, and we continually raised its importance in conversations with funders and institutional partners, encouraging them to support the transition.

So if even we fall short, where do we go from here? For a start, none of us should stop. An overall 40 per cent increase in open access content in Springer Nature’s transformative journals in one year is worth celebrating. It is definitely something we as an industry can and should build on. But we need to ensure the other levers at our disposal are also being pulled if we are to reach our goal of a fully open access publishing ecosystem.

While transformative agreements have come in recently for unsubstantiated criticism by some commercial open access publishers who feel excluded from them, the numbers speak for themselves. These agreements are not holding up the transition to open access; we know that they are helping to speed it up. For example, Springer Nature’s national agreements, alongside our institutional deals, apply to researchers from more than 2,650 institutions globally and enable over 41,000 articles a year to be made freely available from the point of publication. So although countries and partners are all different, requiring different approaches, we will continue to find a way of expanding our transformative agreements.

New fully open access journals are also being launched; in 2021, Springer Nature launched 21, and flipped another five, increasing our fully open access portfolio to nearly 600 titles. This sends a strong message to authors and funders that universal open access is the end destination.

But we also need to make sure that highly selective journals, which are among the most recognised in the world, play their role. By embracing open access publishing, they have the potential to play a particularly significant role in convincing others of its benefits.

Transitioning these titles is not easy, however, and is a good example of where the best of intentions come up against practical realities. Take the announcement by Jisc that, in implementing UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) new open access policy, it would be diverging from cOAlition S and inserting an additional requirement that transformative journals permit the immediate release of the accepted manuscript. In the absence of a transformative agreement, this meant that UKRI-funded authors faced the risk of being unable to publish in Nature and its sister titles.

An interim solution is hopefully on the cards. But in the meantime, Springer Nature is happy to guarantee UKRI-funded authors that they will be able to publish with us and comply with their funder’s mandate. And, of course, we are both committed to working towards a transformative agreement that includes these titles, providing a long-term solution.

But funders also need to play their part. The fact is that support among them for gold open access remains low. Membership of cOAlition S has hardly changed since it was formed in 2018, and the only new member in the past 12 months (the Swiss National Science Foundation) is not supporting transformative journals. If more funders did so, this would substantially improve the numbers of journals able to transition at the target rate.

In addition, funders’ promotion of zero-embargo green open access works against a true transition. Green doesn’t offer the benefits of higher citations and increased downloads that come with gold open access; it isn’t the version that researchers want, and is not sustainable for publishers. With its dependency on ongoing library subscriptions, the green route only serves to slow a true transition.

That is particularly unfortunate given that open access is a key step to the benefits of a fully open science system. Only by responsibly opening up all outputs of research – data, code, protocols, methods and early versions of papers (preprints) as well as the final published version of record – can we realise the prize of a faster and more effective research system.

This is what is needed to deliver solutions to the world’s urgent challenges, from vaccines against new viruses to tools to tackle climate change. We cannot afford for this transition to slow down.

Steven Inchcoombe is chief publishing officer at Springer Nature.



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Reader's comments (1)

According to the files available at , Springer Nature started 19 OA journals in 2021 and 21 OA journals in 2022. But why had there also been 15 (2021) and 14 (2022) new starts of hybrid jourrnals in both years? Why bother those journals to go on the (long) road to transformation in the first place?