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Four myths of open access

Why transformative agreements change things for the better

The benefits of open access (OA) are widely documented and have been much discussed. They are also reflected in recent research from IOP Publishing, which showed that the number of downloads of articles from our journals, which cover a wide range of topics in physical science and engineering, is on average 81 per cent higher for OA articles than non-OA. Citations, meanwhile, are on average 31 per cent higher for OA articles. 

An increasingly common way to deliver OA publishing is via transformative agreements (TAs). These contracts between publishers and universities fold article publication charges
(APCs) into subscription contracts and comply with various OA funder mandates. 

In short, TAs enable researchers to publish their research, OA and at no cost to them, as the fees and admin are covered by libraries. 

Even though the benefits of publishing OA are compelling, there are still researchers unaware that they are eligible to publish OA via a TA, or know this but opt not to do so. Often, this is because of misunderstandings or misconceptions, particularly when it comes to the intricacies of TAs. Here I summarise four of them.

1. Publishing OA under a TA is more difficult 

The opposite is true. TAs seek to remove two of researchers’ biggest pain-points from OA publishing: the upfront cost and the administration of paying OA fees. Many researchers will need to use funds from their grant or seek financial support from their library for each OA article they publish; they frequently take responsibility for coordinating payment of fees. TAs can reduce uncertainty around the availability of funds for OA publishing. 

By removing the payment procedure for a researcher, valuable time is freed up. TAs offer a centralised workflow with payments managed by the library. 

TAs also enable authors to publish in hybrid journals, which still publish the majority of research in most fields, while complying with funders’ OA policies. This means many more researchers can publish work in their journal of choice rather than an alternative, fully OA journal.

2. Publishing OA is more expensive for me as an author

Under the current OA publishing model, researchers, who are often financially supported by their institution or research funder, are able to make their research free-to-read, but they have to pay the cost of publishing through APCs. APCs are charged to cover costs including peer-review administration and management, the professional production of articles and article metadata in different formats, as well as the dissemination of published papers in various venues.

TAs bring together the costs of subscriptions, as well as APCs, and most TA agreements significantly lower the amount that would have been spent on APCs by that institution’s author community had a TA agreement not been in place. 

Another element to note is that almost all publishers have APC waiver policies in place to support authors from less well-endowed universities or regions, who might not have the means to pay.

3. It’s hard to know if my research complies with funder mandates

Researchers need to know that the journal in which they wish to publish complies with any OA publication requirements mandated by their research funder. But this information is not difficult to access. The easiest way to find it out is to ask the editorial team at their journal of choice or check the journal’s website. Asking their librarian is another good option, as they will know if a TA agreement includes a particular journal. Some online tools also exist to help, but they don’t always contain correct or up-to-date information.

4. TAs don’t always cover the costs of publishing OA

This is not entirely a myth, but its prevalence has come to the fore due to the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic. It has arisen because some publishers and libraries agreed caps that limit the number of papers that may be published OA.

When Covid hit, there was a tremendous spike in the number of published research articles, and some institutions reached the limit of papers they were able to publish OA earlier than expected. This meant that authors did not know for certain when they submitted whether they would be eligible to be part of the TA at all. Having unlimited publishing as part of a TA arrangement will hopefully soon resolve this situation.

It is understandable that there is still a lot of confusion about TAs. But with OA publishing becoming increasingly popular, knowing the availability and general opportunities of TAs at an institution can save researchers time, and help inform their decision as to where to publish their research openly. 

Daniel Keirs is head of journal strategy and performance at IOP Publishing 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com

This article also appeared in Research Europe