Last month, Springer Nature agreed a new transformative ‘read and publish’ deal with the Norwegian library consortium, Unit from 2020. This, coupled with renewals of existing deals in the UK (Jisc), Sweden (Bibsam) and Qatar, takes the number of such deals we have into double figures, the most of any publisher. These deals enable researchers in these ten countries to publish open access in over 1900 Springer journals as well as read the research of others across this portfolio.
This is significant because such deals, which we have been pioneering since 2014, are hugely important in enabling any at scale transition to open access (OA). The increase in OA that we and other publishers have been able to demonstrate in countries where these arrangements take place is significant and far quicker than relying on author uptake alone.
That is why we were pleased to see acknowledgement of the role such deals play in accelerating the transition to OA included in the revised guidance from Plan S, with transformative deals being identified as one way for publishers to demonstrate that their journals are compliant with Plan S and therefore able to publish authors funded by cOAlition S members.
But it is important for us all to remind ourselves of where, in the summer of 2019, we are. Out of 209 consortia in the world, only 20 have a transformative deal in place with us or any other single publisher, representing only a small fraction of the world’s more than 18,000 educational institutions. This is very low and highlights the challenge we as a community, publishers, funders, institutions alike, are facing. The stark fact is that agreeing such deals is complex.
The complexity starts at the negotiation stage where a number of factors need to be taken into account, including:
For example, transformative deals can be agreed with consortia, individual institutions and funders. They can be managed centrally or at institutional level. Some include all institutions, others require individual opt in. They are often interested in a different scope of journals, have different requirements when it comes to identification and verification of their authors, some have special needs when it comes to invoicing, and they want to have a different level of control over the usage of agreements and monitoring of their performance. As a publisher, we need to take all this into account as we design and build solutions that are flexible enough to respond to these needs. The important thing is that these deals are still evolving and all parties are still learning. There is no standard model, and given the variables referenced above, there is unlikely to be. But what we know is that when everyone is sharing experience, sharing risk and jointly committed to a transitional future we can make progress.
The varied landscape that exists in OA publishing across countries along with differing levels of author knowledge can also add to the complexity as this requires a different level of support from publishers and different requirements regarding author communication as well as reporting.
But the complexities outlined above mean finalising these arrangements take time – on average our deals have taken around 12 months from start to finish. They also require a dedicated, expert, internal team to work closely with the customer, which we are extremely lucky to have at Springer Nature. But the fact remains that a publisher might need to have lots of these conversations going on at one time, and likewise consortia / institutions / funders may have discussions ongoing with lots of publishers. The journey can therefore sometimes feel slow but in reality a lot of work and learning is going on behind the scenes on all sides.
Underpinning all of this, though, is a genuine desire from both consortia and publisher to make lasting deals which will transform the publishing landscape. Transformative deals are traditionally three years so progress can have been made and reviews undertaken before stakeholders need to embark on any renewal discussions. Deadlines, such as the 2024 deadline put on these deals by Plan S, means consortia or institutions are unlikely to embark on a process that they know can’t be completed in time and which would see them sign a contract that would cease to be Plan S compliant half way through its term. For example, to sign a transformative deal after 2021 in reality means that only deals being actively negotiated in 2019 and 2020 will be able to be a compliant transformative arrangement under Plan S.
We understand the temptation of such deadlines as everyone is looking for ways to speed up the transition to OA, but as a leader in this approach we know it is hard and takes time. Progress is, though, being made. In the countries where our transformative deals are most mature, well over 70% of authors are publishing OA. Working with the relevant consortia and institutions we are committed to making this 100% and we see no reason why similar levels of success cannot be achieved with those countries whose deals with us are newer. We are also working with other countries to see whether similar arrangements can be agreed, but stakeholders need to be allowed the time to explore and learn. For some countries and consortia, the time might not be right, they may not have all the necessary elements in place, for some publishers the same can be true, sufficient infrastructure might not be in place.
We should all recognise that whilst the direction of travel may be clear, the route we take and the pace at which we get there will rightly be different. Transformative deals are proven to substantially aid the transition to OA. Let’s give them the time they need to do so, while sharing expertise and learning along the way.