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Transformative Agreements: Mode by which cOAlition S compels publishers to make research transparent, accessible, and open to the entire world

by Claudia Lascar on 2024-03-20T14:59:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

On 4 September 2018, a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), announced the launch of cOAlition S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality. Open access (OA) means free access to information and unrestricted use of electronic resources for everyone. Any kind of digital content can be OA, from texts and data to software, audio, video, and multi-media. At its launch in 2018 of Plan S by the cOAlition S, it was required that peer-reviewed articles funded by public and private grants must be published in Open Access journals, by 2021. The early sharing of research results through preprints was also strongly encouraged. This initial period has been extended to December 31, 2024 due to delay in large publishers’ compliance with Plan S, and it has been converted into a model named “Transformative.” Peer-Reviewed Journals which are subscription-access only can become hybrid publications (Transformative Journals) that have committed to publishing an increasing number of OA articles in line with specific targets via Transformative Agreements (TAs) also known as “read-and-publish” or “publish-and-read” agreements.  In terms of specific criteria, a Transformative Journal (will need to demonstrate an annual increase in the proportion of open access research content of at least 5% in absolute terms (or at least 15% in relative terms), year-on-year. It must also clearly and publicly acknowledge on the journal website its commitment to transition to full OA as soon as possible, and become full-access when 75% of the journal’s annual published research content is published OA.

The ESAC (Efficiency and Standards for Article Charges) Registry  is the repository of TAs negotiated between institutions (libraries, national and regional consortia) and (publishers, funders) in which library funds previously used to pay for subscription access are used to pay for APC (article processing charge, also known as a publication fee charged to authors as well as the reading access required for content still behind the paywall. Journal Comparison Service has been created by cOAlition S, to provide the needed transparency required when comparing journal publishing services and fees, when agreements are being negotiated.

In the United States there are fewer transformative agreements as compared to Europe and UK. For examples of agreements please see the ESAC Registry. I am only providing  two examples: 

  • In 2021 California Digital Libraries reached a four-year arrangement with Elsevier, considered “the biggest transformative agreement in North America by article count as well as financial spend” according to Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe (2021).
  • The American Chemical Society has a four-year transformative agreement across 3 consortia The University of California (via CDL-The California Digital Library), SCELC-Statewide California ElectronicLibraryConsortium, and CSU-Digital Library Content.

A survey by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in support of open access revealed that US member libraries spend 64% on “Read and Publish (Transitional)” (Vitale and Ruttenberg, 2022). Please notice that ARL prefers to use the word “Transitional” to “Transformative.” Since this survey reflects levels of investments it does not provide a complete picture in terms of types of agreements.

According to Bakker, Langham-Putrow, and Riegelman the “transformations to full OA have been rare, these agreements are intended to be a way to increase the amount of literature from the participating institution's authors published OA in hybrid journals” (67, 2024).



cOAlition S has decided to terminate its organization after December 31, 2024, since the TAs do not represent its goals; it would not bring about the change to open access journals, but instead it would support the hybrid model of open access, which does not satisfy its principles and statements.

I believe however that libraries and consortia  will continue to develop innovative licensing models and strategies to work with publishers to address APC costs, without the influence of cOAlition S.



 Bakker, C., Langham-Putrow, A., & Riegelman, A. (2024). The Impact of Transformative Agreements on Publication Patterns: An Analysis Based on Agreements from the ESAC Registry. International Journal of Librarianship, 8(4), 67–96.

Hinchliffe Lisa Janicke. The Biggest Big Deal, The Scholarly Kitchen, March 21, 2021. Accesses on 3/8/2024 at:

Vitale, C. H., & Ruttenberg, J. (2022). Investments in Open: Association of Research Libraries US University Member Expenditures on Services, Collections, Staff, and  Infrastructure in Support of Open Scholarship. Association of Research Libraries.





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