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Transformative Journals: an initial assessment

16/08/2021

cOAlition S endorses several strategies to encourage subscription publishers to transition to full and immediate Open Access (OA).  These approaches are referred to as “Transformative Arrangements” and include Transformative Agreements, Transformative Model Agreements and Transformative Journals.

A Transformative Journal (TJ) is a subscription/hybrid journal that is actively committed to transitioning to a fully Open Access journal. In addition, a TJ must:

  • gradually increase the share of Open Access content; and
  • offset subscription income from payments for publishing services (to avoid double payments).

Some 16 months on from publishing the formal TJ criteria, 14 publishers – large and small, for-profit, not-for-profit, society publishers and university presses – and some 2275 journals, have enrolled in this programme. 

This blog provides a summary of the uptake of the programme by publishers and an analysis of the initial data TJ publishers have provided.


Baseline data (Year 0)

A key element of the TJ model is that designated journals must meet Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to remain in the programme.

Central to this is the requirement for journals to demonstrate an annual increase in the proportion of OA research content of at least 5% points in absolute terms and at least 15% in relative terms, year-on-year.  This “double” requirement aims to accelerate OA growth once the journal reaches a critical share of OA articles.  Indeed, as Table 1, below, shows, once the OA penetration rate exceeds 35%, the relative growth targets become more demanding than the absolute growth targets.

To determine Year 1 KPIs, we asked each participating publisher to provide us with data, at the journal level, showing the OA penetration rate for articles published in 2020, (or if preferred, a penetration rate based on the number of OA articles published over the three preceding years [2020, 2019, 2018]).  In this blog post, this data is referred to as “Year 0 data”.  For the avoidance of doubt, the OA penetration rate is defined as the share of OA, CC BY, zero embargo articles published in a given year by the publisher in a given TJ title.

Table 1, below, provides a worked example of the KPIs for three illustrative titles.

Journal No. of research articles published in 2020 (Year 0) [or average over 2020, 2019, 2018] No. of OA (CC BY) articles published in 2020 (Year 0) [or average over 2020, 2019, 2018] OA penetration rate (Year 0) KPI 5% absolute growth target (Year 1) No. of articles in 2021 to be published OA to meet absolute growth* (Year 1) KPI 15% relative growth (Year 1) No. of articles in 2021 to be published OA to meet relative growth*(Year 1) KPI target to meet?
A 1000 100 10% 15% 150 11.5% 115 Absolute
B 1000 350 35% 40% 400 40.3% 403 Relative
C 1000 500 50% 55% 550 57.5% 575 Relative
Table 1: Illustration of absolute and relative growth

* This number assumes publishing levels remain the same as Year 0.

Year 0 data: data collection issues

In writing this piece, the first thing which became obvious is that we need to be more explicit to publishers in how the TJ indicator data should be supplied.  For example, in addition to a web page with the KPI data, it would be helpful if all publishers made this available as a downloadable xls file.

Equally, we need to be clearer that the OA publications targets are percentage based – and though this manifests in articles numbers published as OA – it is meeting the % KPI growth target which is key.

It is disappointing to note that at the time of writing this piece (16th August 2021) three publishers have not yet supplied their year 0 data.  Going forward we will be clearer that if data is not supplied with an agreed timeframe, these journals will be removed from the programme.

Year 0 data: a brief analysis

Annex A provides an at-a-glance summary of Year 0 data, by publisher.

The overarching observation is that the journals participating in the TJ programme are at very different points in their transition to OA.  For example, if we look at the publishers with the two biggest TJ portfolios (and have reported their Year 0 data) – CUP and Elsevier – we see that most of the titles (65% and 87% respectively) are currently reporting an OA penetration level of less than 10%.  On the other hand, most of the TJ’s registered by the Royal Society, Company of Biologists and the Wageningen Academic Publishers are moving at speed to transition to a fully OA model.

Given that support for TJ’s (and indeed all transformative arrangements) from cOAlition S funders is scheduled to cease at the end of 2024, if mixed model publishers wish to continue to have access to OA funds provided by cOAlition S funders then they have a further three years to transition.

Critics of Plan S (and the TJ model) will no doubt argue that the timeframe is unrealistic.  We do not believe this.  We recognise that it may be challenging, but just as governments around the world are now giving notice to automobile manufacturers that they must transition away from fossil fuels by a set date, we are giving notice that post 2024 we will only fund “pure publishing” agreements.

Next steps

The data requested for the Year 0 analysis focused exclusively on seeking an understanding of the current landscape in terms of OA penetration for each TJ.  Next year (June 2022) we will seek to collect and publish data relating to Year 1 of the programme.  This will include the number of articles in TJs which are published OA – and whether or not the KPI has been met.

Beyond this, however, publishers will be required to demonstrate transparent pricing for the OA content published under this model and ensure that institutions purchasing a subscription to a Transformative Journal will pay only for the remaining subscription content.

Further, publishers will be required to provide usage and reach data.  Working on the widely held belief that OA content is downloaded and cited more often than non OA content (see this infographic from Springer Nature), we believe this data will help researchers make an informed choice about the TJ publishing route.

We have already published guidance on the data we seek in 2022 (along with a template).  We also plan to establish a “user group” of TJ publishers where we will be open to discussing some of the reporting requirements.  To be clear, the KPIs are not up for debate, but if there is a sense that, for example, Altmetric data is not useful, or that usage data would be more useful if it was based on the median (rather than the mean), we will be happy to consider these.  TJ-affiliated publishers should look out for an invitation to join the TJ user group in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

Some commentators refer to the TJ initiative as the “yeah, why not” model, and argue that there is no penalty for failing to meet growth targets.  As this post has shown, cOAlition S is actively monitoring this programme and where publishers do not provide the data we require or meet the KPIs, then their ongoing participation in the programme will be reviewed.

The TJ model has been developed as a route to encourage publishers to transition to immediate Open Access.  And, though we think Transformative Agreements (TAs) will be the vehicle which delivers OA at scale, TJs provide a useful mechanism by which publishers can provide fully OA, Version of Record publishing options for researchers who do not have access to a TA.

If any publisher wishes to apply for TJ-status, we encourage you to complete the short form at: https://www.coalition-s.org/tj-forms/

Robert Kiley
Head of Strategy
cOAlition S


Annex A: Analysis of Year 0 data, by publisher

Table 2 below provides an analysis of Year 0 data by publisher (where provided).

Publisher Number of titles in TJ programme Analysis
American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (ASTMH) 1 ASTMH have not yet supplied their Year 0 publication data
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) 54 The ACM have not yet supplied their Year 0 publication data
BMJ [2020 data] 36 ♦ 7 journals currently report an OA (CC BY) penetration rate of 0%.
♦ 21 journals (58% of the cohort) have an OA penetration rate of less than 10%.
♦ 3 journals – Injury Prevention, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry – have an OA penetration target for 2021 which exceeds 20%.
♦ If all the BMJ TJ’s meet their KPIs – and assuming publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 511 articles (out of total of 4156 published articles) will be made OA in 2021 (around 12%).
Cambridge University Press [2020 data] 228 ♦ 5 journals are not reporting any data (“data not yet complete”).
♦ 38 journals (17% of the cohort) currently report an OA (CC BY) penetration rate of 0%.
♦ 149 journals (65%) have an OA penetration rate of less than 10%.
♦ 31 journals (14%) have an OA penetration target for 2021 which exceeds 20%.
♦ The Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics already enjoys an OA penetration rate of almost 54%; the target for 2021 is 62%.
♦ If all the CUP TJ’s meet their KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 2938 articles (out of total of 14,641 published articles) will be made OA (around 20%).
Company of Biologists (CoB) [2020 data] 3 ♦ Only one journal – the Journal of Experimental Biology – has an OA penetration rate of less than 10% (6%) in 2020.
♦ 2 journals (66%) have an OA penetration target for 2021 which exceeds 20%.
♦ If all the CoB TJ’s meet their KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 187 articles (out of total of 1088 published articles) will be made OA (around 17%).
Elsevier [2020 data] 182 ♦ 23 journals (13% of the cohort) report an OA (CC BY) penetration rate of 1% or less.
♦ 159 journals (87%) report an OA penetration rate of less than 10%.
♦ 7 journals (4%) have an OA penetration target for 2021 of at least 20%
♦ If all the Elsevier TJ’s meet their KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 7955 articles (out of total of 86544 published articles) will be made OA (around 9%).
♦ A small number of high publication volume titles will need to transition from publishing very few OA articles, to a sizable number. For example, the World Neurosurgery journal published 2134 articles in 2020 of which just one was OA.  To meet the KPIs in 2021 – and assuming publication numbers are in line with 2020 numbers – some 108 articles will need to published OA.
♦ As a total of all articles published in 2020 by the TJ titles (86,554), just 4% (3628) were published OA (CC BY).
Inter-Research Science Publisher [2020 data] 4 ♦ All four journals already enjoy an OA penetration rate greater than 10%.
♦ Three of the journals have OA penetration targets for 2021 greater than 20%.
♦ If all 4 titles meet their TJ KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 144 articles (out of total of 555 published articles) will be made OA (around 26%).
Karger [2020 data] 7 ♦ 86% of the journal in the TJ programme (6 titles out of 7) currently have an OA penetration rate of zero percent.
♦ 1 journal currently has an OA penetration rate of 1%.
♦ If all the Karger TJ’s meet their KPIs – and assuming publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in 23 articles (out of total of 406 published articles) will be made OA in 2021 (around 6%).
Oxford University Press (OUP) [2020 data] 3 ♦ All titles have an OA penetration rate greater than 15%. Specifically, the Health Policy and Planning journal is reporting 51% OA, whilst the European Journal of Public Health is reporting 34% of all articles are OA (CC BY).
♦ The KPIs for the Health Policy and Planning journal are based on a relative growth target of 15% (rather than an absolute growth of 5%) and this increases the proportion of OA content from 51% to 58%.
♦ If all three titles meet their TJ KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 176 articles (out of total of 449 published articles) will be made OA (around 39%).
Royal Society [2020 data] 4 ♦ All titles already enjoy an OA penetration rate greater than 15%, with three (out of the four titles) reporting OA numbers in excess of 25% in 2020.
♦ As such, three journals have OA penetration targets in excess of 30% for 2021.
♦ If all four titles meet that TJ KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 389 articles (out of total of 1332 published articles) will be made OA (around 29%).
Rockefeller University Press [2020 data] 3 ♦ One journal (Journal of General Physiology) has an OA penetration rate of 4%.
♦ Two journals (Journal of Cell Biology and Journal of Experimental Medicine) have OA penetration targets for 2021 in excess of 20%.
♦ If all three titles meet their TJ KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 102 articles (out of total of 478 published articles) will be made OA (around 21%).
Springer Nature 1746 Springer Nature have not yet supplied their Year 0 publication data
Wageningen Academic Publishers [2020 data] 2 ♦ Both journals are reporting an OA (CC BY) penetration rate of around 36% in 2020
♦ In 2021 the OA targets for both journals is around 42%.
♦ If both titles meet their TJ KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 43 articles (out of total of 102 published articles) will be made OA (around 42%).
World Scientific [2020 data] 2 ♦ One journal (Functional Materials Letters) has an OA (CC BY) penetration rate of less than 1%, having published on average just one article OA per year, for the past three years.
♦ The other title (Journal of Mechanics in Medicine and Biology) is reporting an OA rate of 12%.
♦ If both titles meet that TJ KPIs – and assuming 2021 publication numbers are broadly in line with 2020 – then in total some 28 articles (out of total of 242 published articles) will be made OA (around 12%).
Table 2: analysis of Year 0 data, by publisher

 


Post updated on August 31, 2021, to include data from Karger, which was omitted in error.



Robert Kiley

Robert Kiley is Head of Open Research at the Wellcome Trust where he is responsible for developing and implementing the open research strategy. Over the past decade, Robert has played a leading role in the implementation of Wellcome’s open access policy and initiating the development of OA journal eLife, the publishing platform Wellcome Open Research and the Europe PubMed Central repository. Since March 2019, he has also assumed the role as cOAlition S Coordinator. To help deliver the successful implementation of Plan S, Robert is seconded to cOAlition S as Head of Strategy, from 1st June 2021. Robert is a qualified librarian and is a member of the Board of Directors for ORCID.