In November 2019, the alliance of European academic research funders, cOAlition S, who are leading calls to increase the degree to which there is open access to academic research findings, invited learned societies, publishers and other interested parties to respond to their proposed guidance  new guidance on ‘transformative journals’.


The PSA has responded to the cOAlition S consultation on their draft framework for transformative journals criteria in Plan S. We were grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the development of the framework through this process, full details of which are available here. The survey closed on Monday 6 January 2020.


The consultation offered three areas for comment on elements of the framework. The PSA responses to these are reproduced below in full.


Q.1 The draft framework specifies that a Transformative Journal must demonstrate an annual increase in the OA penetration rate of at least eight percentage points year-on-year, measured on a three year rolling period. If you disagree that this is fair and reasonable, then please specify what target you would support, and why:


We are pleased that cOAlition S has engaged with the academic community and expanded the available mechanisms for Plan S compliance. The PSA agrees, in principle, that transformative journals can be a useful and viable route towards Open Access (OA) and supports the concept, in principle. However, we feel strongly that the framework as currently written and set out in this consultation is not workable.

The success of any transition to OA requires long-term commitments on library funding for non-subscription models and rewiring existing subscription spend in favour of OA. This requires ‘buy-in’ not only from libraries but also senior staff at universities and institutions around the world. Without that, there is limited incentive (and considerable risk) for any publisher – let alone a not-for-profit, society publisher – to commit to a change in approach.



Q.2 In addition to the 8% increase on OA penetration, year-on-year, the publishers of Transformative Journals must agree to either flip them to OA either when 50% of the content is OA, or by 31st December 2024. To what extent do you agree that these are fair and achievable? If you disagree with this, please specify what target (percentage of OA, or date) you would support, and why.


The PSA strongly disagrees that it is possible, as proposed in the framework, for a transformative Journal to demonstrate an annual increase in the OA penetration rate of at least eight percentage points per year for three years.


OA article numbers are driven by the prevalence of author, institution and funder mandates around the globe and the availability of funding to support those mandates. Much of the growth in OA derives from authors in well-funded institutions in Europe, while much of the overall growth in article output is from authors in countries like China, India and Brazil. Unless Plan S-style policies (and appropriate funding) become commonplace globally, journals will be unlikely to generate eight per cent growth in OA per year. Hybrid journals can (and do) encourage OA but do not ultimately control uptake. We are, therefore, unable to identify a suitable mechanism that would allow us to guarantee compliance with such a growth target. It has been suggested that journals should consider rejecting articles from authors who wish to publish their articles behind a paywall; this breaches the concept of editorial independence and, by discriminating against unfunded authors and those from poorer nations, would be unethical and against the original intentions of the OA initiative.



If you have any further comments on the proposed framework for Transformative Journals, please add them here: 


The PSA also strongly disagrees with the proposal for the publishers of Transformative Journals to flip them to OA when 50% of the content is OA, or by 31st December 2024.


In our view the ability to flip a hybrid journal to OA depends on many factors, including the global OA policy landscape, funding availability, subject coverage, authorship demographics and others. Hybrid journals in social science and beyond are making progress to OA at very different rates. Thus, having a fixed date by which all journals must have flipped is not realistic.


The idea of a percentage threshold is, in principle, much more sensible. However, determining exactly what that percentage should be is difficult as the threshold will depend on the journal and discipline. It is the PSA’s view that 50% is not viable for social sciences where a minority of research is grant-funded. Hybrid journals in political science continue to establish author communities and a majority of the authorship base in long-standing titles is unused to the APC (article processing charge) requirement. Flipping in a fair way depends on funding being available for all authors, not just those funded by signatories to Plan S. In sub-fields where only a minority of research is grant-funded (e.g. political philosophy), and in cases where most submissions are from authors whose institutions do not have OA funding available, flipping a journal at 50% would exclude the majority of authors. Those conducting research requiring less funding for example, for theoretical work, policy analysis, small n empirical work or qualitative work would also find it difficult to access APC support. Moreover, access to APC funds is likely to disadvantage early career researchers and those on fixed-term contracts.”



The PSA also contributed to the response made by the Academy of Social Sciences (who represent a number of learned societies) and the Society Publishers Coaliton (SocPC):



cOAlition S will publish the responses to their consultation in due course, once they have been used to inform changes to the framework.



Colleagues may also be interested in the following:


  • SpringerNature Open Letter on Transformative Journals in response to the consultation (17 December 2019);
  • cOAlition S response to the Springer Nature letter (17 December 2019);
  • PSA response to Plan S consultation (8 February 2019)