Image by Science Europe and CC BY

This post is by Library Research Support Advisor, Kirstine McDermid


From January 2021, Plan S funders will fund Open Access publishing in hybrid/subscription journals so long as they fall under a transformative agreement or become a transformative journal. The previous 2024 deadline for hybrid/subscription journals to flip to fully OA content has been removed, but Plan S funders will not fund publication costs in hybrid journals after the 31 December 2024. Publishers must prove year on year growth of increased Open Access content. Nature has signed up to Plan S.

Plan S, the initiative set in motion in 2018 by several research funders of the ‘COAlition’ including UKRI and Wellcome, to make funded research available immediately Open Access has revised its requirements. Following a period of public consultation, the COAlition released updated guidance for transformative arrangements on the 7 April 2020.

‘Transformative Arrangements’ include read and publish or publish and read agreements which package together access to a publisher’s subscription content with the option of publishing Open Access in journals without paying APCs (article processing charges).  These type of publishing agreements are usually negotiated nationally by Library consortia. In the UK, JISC Collections have negotiated several of these types of transformative agreements with many publishers including Wiley and Springer. Funds previously used to pay for subscriptions are being redistributed to cover both costs of Open Access fees and subscriptions, instead of libraries having to pay for both subscriptions and Open Access publication costs separately.

From January 2021, Plan S funders will allow publication in hybrid journals as long as they have signed a transformative agreement, whereby the publisher is committing to the transition to Open Access. Plan S funders will not fund publication in hybrid after December 31, 2024.

The COAlition has now acknowledged that transformative agreements may not be the way for all publishers to transition journals to full Open Access content. For example, societies may not have sufficient resources to negotiate transformative agreements.

Also, some international publishers may be unwilling to provide a Plan S publishing option for all its authors. In response to these issues, the COAlition has permitted another way for journals to comply, by becoming a ‘transformative journal’. A transformative journal is classed as a hybrid journal which has committed to becoming a fully Open Access journal, demonstrating a year on year growth (5% in absolute terms and at least 15% in relative terms) of Open Access content and offsetting subscription income from payments for publishing services.  This avoids ‘double dipping’, through which publishers reap payments for both subscriptions and publishing costs.  Pricing for OA content should be transparent and publishers must show that institutions are only paying for Open Access publishing and the remaining subscription content.  The transformative journal needs to inform its authors of the number of downloads, altmetrics and citations accrued by their works. In addition, transformative journals are expected to produce annual reports showing the comparisons of usage statistics between the Open Access articles and existing subscription content.  This annual report should be presented on the journal’s website.

If you are a journal editor wishing to become Plan S compliant,  you can apply for transformative journal status. Nature is one of the latest major publishers to sign up to Plan S under the new ‘transformative journals’ route.  It is hoped that this softer approach will lead to several more publishers, big and small, to sign up to Plan S, transitioning more journals to Open Access.

Plan S has pledged to support alternative existing Open Access journals and platforms, some of which do not charge for publication costs.  This is especially important to ensure high quality publishing venues for unfunded researchers and the future development of Scholarly Communications.

Should you have any questions regarding Plan S, please don’t hesitate to contact us: