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Transformative Journals: Frequently Asked Questions


What is a Transformative Journal?

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

In addition, a Transformative Journal must:

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

What problem is the Transformative Journal model seeking to solve?

We believe that one of the most promising instruments to help subscription journals to transform to full and immediate open access is through Transformative Agreements, such as Read and Publish Agreements. Many countries and consortia of research institutions are supporting transformative agreements, often inspired by the invaluable work of the Open Access 2020 initiative.

By way of example, the Read and Publish deal negotiated between Wiley and Jisc Collections in the UK will see 100% of UK-authored articles, published in Wiley journals – around 9000 papers a year – being made Open Access by 2022. Similarly, in Sweden, the Bibsam Consortium agreement with Elsevier, valid from 1 January 2020, gives researchers and students access to over 2000 Elsevier journals, and allows for all Swedish-authored research articles to be published in Open Access.

These agreements are “transformative” in the sense that funds formerly used to pay for subscriptions are redirected to pay for Open Access services. It is the sum of an increasing number of agreements, negotiated with publishers around the globe, that will bring about the transition to full and immediate Open Access. Recognising that a fundamental principle of these transformative arrangements is that they are temporary and transitional, where cOAlition S members provide funding to support publication fees of journals covered by such arrangements, this funding will cease on the 31 December 2024.

However powerful we think Transformative Agreements are in the transition to full and immediate Open Access, there may be occasions when such agreements may not be the optimal way to facilitate a transition to full Open Access. Examples may include a society journal which doesn’t have the resource to negotiate Transformative Agreements (which tend to be negotiated at the country or institution level) and/or that wishes to provide a Plan S-aligned Open Access publishing option for all its authors, irrespective of their location (and whether they are based in a country which has a history of negotiating read and publish agreements or not).

For these journals, we have developed the “Transformative Journal” framework.

How do Transformative Journals differ from hybrid journals?

One of the overarching principles of Plan S is its commitment that funders do not support the hybrid model of publishing. One reason for this is the reality of double payments, where a single journal provides the publisher with a revenue stream both from full subscriptions as well as from APCs.

Another reason is that although hybrid journals were perceived as a bridge, by which publishers could move their model away from subscriptions and towards open access, the reality is that this has not happened. Indeed, data from the Open Access Directory shows that out of Wiley’s stable of 1600 journals, just eight have moved from toll access to open access; for Elsevier, with their collection of more 2200 titles, the number of journals which have flipped is just seven. In short, hybrid journals have demonstrably failed as a viable transitioning strategy towards full Open Access.

Transformative Journals differ considerably from hybrid journals in the following ways:

  • They make an explicit commitment to transition to Open Access,
  • They meet transition KPI’s (key performance indicators) year-on-year,
  • They formulate explicit policies to avoid double payments

What KPI’s must a Transformative Journal minimally adhere to?

In progressing towards full and immediate Open Access, a Transformative Journal will need to demonstrate an annual increase in the Open Access proportion of at least 5% points in absolute terms and at least 15% in relative terms, year-on-year. Growth in OA proportions will be assessed either on a rolling 3-year historic basis or each calendar year.

It must also commit to flip to full Open Access as soon as possible, and in any event once 75% of the research content is published open access.

When determining the growth of Open Access in a Transformative Journal – to demonstrate compliance with the published KPIs – can publishers include the availability of Open Access Author Accepted Manuscripts in their calculations?

No. When publishers report to cOAlition S – showing that the OA growth in their Transformative Journal has increased by at least 5% in absolute terms and 15% in relative terms – these figures must be based on Version of Record articles made Open Access at the time of publication under a CC BY licence.

Why does the final version of the Transformative Journal criteria not require publishers to commit to a date when they will flip to fully Open Access?

In the draft version of the criteria for Transformative Journals, cOAlition S specified that a journal had to flip to fully Open Access by 2024. This requirement has been removed from the final version.

However, we continue to require publishers to actively commit to transitioning to a fully Open Access journal and in any event to make this flip no later than when 75% of the research content is published open access.

cOAlition S has also made it clear that funding for Transformative Journals will cease at the end of 2024, at which time we will also end support for other types of Transformative Arrangements, such as Read and Publish agreements.

The feedback from the consultation indicated that the “flipping OA target” was the most problematic aspect of the model proposed. We listened to this feedback and adjusted this KPI, in line with some of the publisher feedback.

As we want to encourage scholarly publishers to move to a fully Open Access world, and at the same time provide publishing options for researchers which do not rely exclusively on the repository route (“green OA”), relaxing this requirement was deemed to be the most pragmatic approach and one we hope publishers will embrace.

If a publisher develops a Transformative Journal, will cOAlition S funders pay publication fees?

As stated in the Guidance to the Implementation of Plan S, cOAlition S members may, but are not obliged to, provide funding to support publication fees of journals covered by transformative arrangements, such as Transformative Journals.

Where cOAlition S members provide funding to support publication fees of journals covered by such arrangements, this funding will cease on 31 December 2024.

Does a Transformative Journal have to make use of the APC model?

No. We acknowledge that there are multiple business models that can support Open Access publishing. In moving away from a subscription model, a Transformative Journal does not necessarily have to transform to an APC-based model. The transition could also represent a transformation to non-APC based Open Access, for example through financial support of subsets of articles (as in SCOAP3), or via a “Subscribe to Open” model, as used by Annual Reviews.

What article types will be funded in a Transformative Journal?

We recognise that journals publish a wide range of article types, including research articles, editorials, reviews, letters, commentaries etc. A Transformative Journal will need to offer authors the opportunity to publish their primary, original research articles Open Access.

Costs associated with non-primary research content can be met through subscriptions or other means.

If a publisher develops a Transformative Journal, must that be included in future Transformative Agreements?

As made clear above, we believe that Transformative Agreements are one of the most promising instruments to help subscription journals to transform to full and immediate open access.

As such we do not want the development of the Transformative Journal model to have unintended consequences on the development of Transformative Agreements. Consequently, in cases where publishers have negotiated such Agreements, we would expect the publisher to offer the relevant negotiating body the opportunity to include all Transformative Journals in any future Transformative Agreement, as soon as it is practicable to do so.

A decision whether to include these additional journals in any future Agreement would, of course, reside with the negotiating body.

Do Transformative Journals have to offer waivers to cOAlition S funded researchers who are unable to pay the publication fee?

We would, in line with Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S, encourage such journals to offer waivers.

If a waiver is not provided, and the researcher (or their funder or institution) is unable to fund the publication fee, the author should retain their copyright and make a copy of the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) or the Version of Record (VoR) available through a repository without embargo and with an open licence (CC-BY), in line with the Plan S requirements.

How do I apply for my journal to be considered at a Transformative Journal?

If you would like your journal to be considered as a Transformative Journal, please complete the form at https://www.coalition-s.org/tj-forms

The application will be reviewed by the cOAlition S secretariat. A response, indicating whether your application has been accepted will be made within four weeks of the date of submission. Journals which are afforded Transformative Journal status will be listed on the cOAlition S website here.

What happens when an approved TJ does not meet its Open Access target?

By default, if an approved Transformative Journal does NOT meet its Open Access target, the journal is removed from the Transformative Journal programme.

Once the Transformative Journal status has been revoked, the Journal Checker Tool will no longer show this Transformative Journal as a valid publishing route to comply with Plan S. APCs (article processing charges) levied for articles published in these journals will no longer be met by cOAlition S members.

cOAlition S will maintain a list of titles whose Transformative Journal status has been revoked.

See also the question “Is there a special, Year 1, exception for TJ titles which do not meet their 2021 (Year 1) OA target?

Is there a special, Year 1, exception for TJ titles which do not meet their 2021 (Year 1) Open Access target?

The Transformative Journal programme is a new initiative, designed to provide another route by which publishers can provide a Plan S-aligned publishing option to cOAlition S funded-researchers. Given that this model is still in its infancy, cOAlition S has agreed that if a Transformative Journal does not meet its Year 1 (2021) OA target, then the Transformative Journal title can remain in the programme, provided that the journal agrees that the Year 2 target is calculated as if the Year 1 target had been achieved. Figure 1, below, provides an illustration.

Journal Year 1 OA penetration target Year 1 actual penetration rate Year 2 target (5% absolute growth) Year 2 target (15% relative growth) KPI target for Year 2 based on:
A 15% 12% 20%
(i.e. Year 1 target 15% + 5% = 20%)
(i.e. Year 1 target 15 * 1.15 = 17.25)
Absolute growth
B 50% 47% 55%
(i.e. Year 1 target 50% + 5% = 55%)
(i.e. Year 1 target 50*1.15 = 57.50)
Relative growth
Figure 1: Year 2 targets assume year 1 targets were met

This option may be helpful for publishers who are confident that Year 2 targets will be met. This confidence may arise because the publisher believes that they will conclude a number of Transformative Agreements (Read & Publish etc) and/or they are more proactively marketing the Transformative Journal option in Year 2.

Publishers who would like to make use of this option must request this in writing from cOAlition S, specifying which titles they are proposing would make use of this exception, and providing the Year 2 target data in line with the information set out in Figure 1. This request must be received by the cOAlition S Office no later than 09.00 BST on Tuesday 3 May 2022.

Any title which fails to meet its Open Access target will be withdrawn from the Transformative Journal programme.

Titles that fail to reach their Year 1 Open Access penetration target, and who do NOT seek the exception detailed here, will be removed from the Transformative Journal programme.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Year 1 exception relates to the OA penetration rate achieved in 2021. Publishers who join the TJ programme after 2021 – or existing TJ publishers who add new titles to their TJ list – will not be able to make use of this Year 1 (2021) exception.

If a Transformative Journal title fails to meet its OA penetration target, and is removed from the TJ programme, when will this change be made visible in the Journal Checker Tool?

All publishers participating in the TJ programme are required to provide an annual report – at the journal level – showing, amongst other things, the actual OA penetration level that was achieved and whether the target was met.  This data must be supplied to the cOAlition S office no later than the 31st of May.

Titles that do not meet their OA targets will be removed from the TJ programme on the 1st of January, of the following year.  At that time, such titles will no longer appear as TJs in the Journal Checker Tool (JCT).

Publication fees for articles submitted to a TJ title, which is subsequently removed from the programme, will be met by the relevant funder, for all submissions made before the 1st of January.

A worked example:

In 2022 the TJ title “Journal Z” had a target for publishing 20% of all research articles OA, but only achieved 18%.  This data must be supplied to cOAlition S no later than 31st May 2023. As this journal has not met its target, it will be removed from the TJ programme (and the JCT) on the 1st of January 2024. Publication fees for articles submitted to “Journal Z”, will be met by the funder (where appropriate), for all submissions made before the 1st of January 2024.

A list of cOAlition S members who support publication fees in TJ’s can be found here: Implementation Roadmap of cOAlition S Organisations

Further information