The number of scientific article published open access by researchers affiliated with Lund University has increased from 26 % in 2015 to 69 % in 2021. A consortium of Swedish universities, colleges and national agencies called BIBSAM, has for approximately 30 years, negotiated agreements for access to electronic resources. Today these agreements also encompass publishing fees in open access and hybrid journals. Åsa Sellgren and Anna-Lena Johansson work at the University Library and manage the agreements that LU has joined and provide access to these for researchers and PhD-students at LU. In this blog entry they tell us more about transformative agreements.
Karolina: Could you briefly describe what a transformative agreement is?
Anna-Lena: Yes, with previous agreements, we paid for reading rights but with transformative agreements, we pay for both reading and publishing rights in hybrid journals, that is, journals that publish both open access content and content that is behind paywalls. A transformative agreement means that the journals that are included in these will gradually be transformed into full open access journals.
Karolina: When did transformative agreements first appear and how have these changed over time?
Anna-Lena: The first agreement that Lund University participated in came into effect in the summer of 2016. That was an agreement with Springer.
Åsa: Today we have approximately 25 agreement with different publishers. The agreements have evolved gradually. Initially many agreements covered the cost for a yearly agreed number of publications. The costs associated with the number of publications that arose above those included in the agreements were split between participating universities according to the number of publications from each of these. For example, previous agreements with Wiley and Taylor & Francis were such agreements. In order to pay for the publications beyond the agreements we had to apply for funding centrally from Lund University. This kind of agreements are, with a few exceptions, no longer made and BIBSAM do not want to enter into agreements that only cover an agreed number of publications anymore. BIBSAM have other criteria as well. To enter into an agreement that exceeds a period of one year the publisher must have a plan for a transformation towards open access. If they do not have that in place, only one-year agreements encompassing reading rights are made. I think that is a good thing, in that way BIBSAM put pressure on the publishers. Large publishers that BIBSAM have transformative agreements with, such as Elsevier, do however continue to launch subscription-based journals. In that way some publishers go against the transformation towards open access.
Karolina: Is there any difference regarding attitude towards transformative agreements and open access between commercial publishers and university presses?
Åsa: Yes, there is a difference. The large commercial publishers have said that this transformation is going to take a long time for them to complete while the university presses push towards open access. One such example is Cambridge University Press. They have a clearly stated plan for transforming the majority of their journals to open access no later than 2025. It is very good that there are publishers that choose that path. One wonders why university presses do not play a larger part in publishing.
Karolina: If you look ahead, what do you think will happen concerning open access publishing and with publisher agreements in the years to come?
Åsa: I think that we will see these transformative agreements for quite some time; they will not be replaced as soon as we might have hoped. Nevertheless, I think that we will also see that alternatives to these will grow. I hope that the university presses, Open Journal System (for LU’s application see this page) and Open Monograph Press (for LU’s application see this page) will play a bigger role. Publishing is however a large issue that reaches beyond what we do, it is also very much about the role played by publications when research qualifications are evaluated and therefore an issue that needs to be addressed on higher levels at universities.
Karolina: What effects have the transformative agreements had?
Åsa: I think it has made research done at LU more visible. One of the ideas with these agreements were also that they would make it easier for researchers to publish open access. But the agreements differ from each other and publishers use different platforms, some are easy to use and others are more difficult. Still, the agreements have made it easier than it has been previously. I also think that the increasing amount of open access publishing in journals at Lund University is a consequence of these agreements.
Anna-Lena: Another advantage with the transformative agreements is that we now have an overview of the costs spent on publishing. When researchers paid their own publishing fees, we did not have that.
Karolina: If researchers or PhD students at Lund University want to learn more about the possibilities for publishing open access, to whom can they turn and where can they find more information?
Anna-Lena: Information about all agreements Lund University has entered into is available here. If they want to search for journals included in our agreements, they can use the search service called SciFree. Researchers and PhD student can always turn to their faculty library if they have questions about open access publishing, they can also contact email@example.com.
 Numbers are based on data from SciVal and only includes gold open access.