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Transformative Journals: Rationale


Context in relation to COVID-19 pandemic

One lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we do need to move to a world in which all research articles are made OA, thus ensuring these outputs can be accessed, read and built upon, for the benefit of all. Transformative Journals is a model which will help realise this goal.

As Chair of cOAlition S, I recognise that publishing our updated guidance on Transformative Journals at a time when we are facing a global pandemic and experiencing unprecedented restrictions on our daily lives, may appear insensitive and tone-deaf to some. This is not our intent. We took the decision to publish this now, to give publishers the maximum amount of time to consider this model, in advance of the implementation of Plan S, in January 2021.

Marc Schiltz, Chair, cOAlition S Leaders Group, 7th April 2020.


The research funding organisations that are members of cOAlition S will start implementing the Plan S Principles for scholarly publishing as of January 2021, with the aim of moving towards a fully Open Access scholarly publication system.

To prepare for this, several studies and consultations have been undertaken to gather the necessary information from many stakeholders to help cOAlition S to define policies that will make full and immediate Open Access a reality. For example, Wellcome and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), in partnership with the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), commissioned a report and toolkit to explore options for learned society publishers to engage in transformative agreements fulfilling the conditions of Plan S. Another example is the study commissioned to make the nature and prices of Open Access publishing services more transparent. A pilot project is currently underway with 10 publishers to develop a framework for transparent pricing of scholarly publication services.

In moving towards full and immediate Open Access, the ‘Transformative Journals’ approach is one of the Transformative Arrangements proposed in the Guidance to the Implementation of Plan S, in addition to Transformative Agreements (typically known as ‘Read & Publish’ or ‘Publish & Read’ agreements), and Transformative Model Agreements.

Like the other Transformative Arrangements, Transformative Journals are designed to provide a means for researchers to continue publishing results from projects funded by cOAlition S organisations in a wide variety of journals, whilst ensuring that the final, published version is fully Open Access. Journals that adopt this approach will demonstrate their commitment to move to a fully Open Access model.

In cases where a subscription journal does not yet offer cOAlition S grantees an Open Access option in line with the requirements for Transformative Arrangements, these researchers will be able to continue to publish in these journals, by making a copy of their work (either the Version of Record or the Author Accepted Manuscript), openly available via the repository route. We will provide more information about this in Summer 2020.

Results from the consultation on Transformative Journals

Following the publication of cOAlition S draft guidance on Transformative Journals in late November 2019, the community of stakeholders was invited to provide feedback. A total of 87 responses were received by the closing date of the survey (6 January 2020), including 18 commercial scholarly publishers, 14 learned societies that publish their own journals, and 18 libraries.

Although 66% of respondents strongly agreed/agreed with the statement that “Transformative Journals can be a useful and viable route to full and immediate Open Access”, there was far less consensus on whether the suggested framework provided a viable means to transition. Thus, whereas most responses from libraries (66%, 12/18), strongly agreed/agreed with the statement that the framework was a “viable means to transition to Open Access”, 83% (15/18) of publishers and 86% (12/14) of learned societies disagreed or strongly disagreed with this assertion.

In order to measure progress towards Open Access, the draft guidelines suggested an 8% year-on-year increase in Open Access content as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). Most publishers (89%; 16/18) and learned societies (86%; 12/14), disagreed/strongly disagreed with the assertion that this KPI was “fair and achievable”. The suggestion that Transformative Journals could flip to full Open Access by the end of 2024, or when 50% of the research content was published Open Access was also considered unrealistic by publishers and learned societies.

Respondents were given the opportunity to suggest alternative KPIs, to help differentiate a Transformative Journal from a traditional hybrid journal. Regarding the suggested 8% year-on-year increase, no respondents suggested an alternative Open Access growth target.

The notion of flipping to fully Open Access once 50% of research articles were published in this way, was also deemed unrealistic. Publishers and learned societies did, however, suggest a flip to full Open Access would be possible once 75%-95% of the research articles were published in Open Access.


Our response to the feedback from the consultation

cOAlition S members have carefully discussed and taken into account the valuable feedback from the consultation. This reflection has resulted in several significant changes and simplifications to the way we define a Transformative Journal. Specifically, we have:

  • changed the threshold when a journal must flip to full Open Access from 50% of to 75% and removed the commitment to flip by December 2024. In making these changes, however, we have stressed that publishers must explicitly state their commitment to transition to full Open Access, and that our support for this model (in terms of paying for publishing services in subscription journals) will cease at the end of 2024;
  • reduced the KPI regarding the share of content which must be published in Open Access. The initial 8% increase year-on-year in Open Access publications has now been reduced and instead require Transformative Journals to demonstrate an annual increase in the Open Access proportion of at least 5% in absolute terms and at least 15% in relative terms, year-on-year;
  • simplified the guidance and removed all the “recommended additional criteria”. As such, the guidance is now expressed in just six paragraphs.

The final version of the Transformative Journal criteria is available at the Addendum to the cOAlition S Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S or downloadable as pdf


The members of cOAlition S require that all their research results are published in full and immediate Open Access, in the interest of accelerating research. With that demand comes the obligation to make sure that the largest possible set of journals and platforms offer researchers, working in projects funded by cOAlition S organisations, the opportunity to publish in the scholarly journal of their choice, and make the final, version of record, open access.

cOAlition S is committed to changing the academic publishing system towards Open Access, ensuring the outputs from the research we fund can be accessed, read and built upon for the common good.

Further information