Open Access Transition

Meaning of the DEAL-Wiley-Contract for Open Access

The key takeaways from this article are


Open access transition means the most comprehensive possible transition of the academic publishing system to open access.


Numerous measures and actors are contributing to this transition.


Transition is fuelled by its implementation in practice with clear objectives.

Open Access Transition

Open access transition means the most comprehensive possible transition of the scholarly publishing system to open access. This implies moving away from the traditional subscription and acquisitions model whereby libraries pay for access to scholarly works. Although current efforts are focused on the area of scholarly journals, a complete transition to open access presupposes the inclusion of all publication types. Moreover, all regions of the world must also be included.

At the EU level and in Germany, respectively, the transition to open access has for some time now been an established policy goal of the European Commis­sion, the German Federal Government, and the governments of the German federal states (see our Open Access Policies page), research performing organisations, and research funders (see our Research Funders and Open Access page). 

The development is dynamic and is shaped by numerous approaches and actors. Criticism has been voiced from different perspectives: whereas some publishers and professional associations have urged a slowing-down of the process or the granting of exemptions, other stakeholders have drawn attention to the possibly unintended consequences of the transformative approaches. These include the further strengthening of the position of major publishers, possible lock-in effects, and a further increase in publication charges, which are already too high.

Video on the current state of open access. [German] (CC BY 3.0 DE)
Source: Hacker, A. & Tullney, M. (2020). “Stell Dir vor, es ist 2020 und Open Access läuft immer noch nicht.“

Instruments for the Transition

The basis of many transformative approaches is the repurposing of acquisitions funds. The underlying idea is that no additional funds are needed, but rather that the current (global) funds will be used for open access publications. To be able to implement this, publishers must be encouraged to convert their publications to open access models. The transition of existing publications to open access allows publishers to take the acquired reputation and experiences with them.

Transformative agreements with which part of the content of subscrip­tion journals is made open access and the expectation is that the propor­tion will gradually increase to 100%, are currently the instrument that has attracted the most attention and has the greatest open access effect. How­ever, it is not always clear whether such a transformation will be achieved in a binding way. The German initiative Projekt DEAL (see below) belongs in the field of transformative agreements. The focus on the publication output of individual institutions or countries urgently requires similar and complementary activities in other countries. The hope is that, in this way, a critical threshold will be exceeded, above which the publishers will convert their entire portfolios to open access (Schmeja & Tullney, 2020).

In addition, individual journals can be established as transformative journals with a clear goal of achieving a steadily growing open access share (see Plan S).

For individual journals, the immediate conversion to open access, so-called journal flipping, is the quickest way of transitioning to open access. Depending on the position the publisher takes, and on who owns the title rights, the flipped journal can continue under the same name, or the editors can be withdrawn and the journal can start anew at a different location.

Starting open access publications from scratch: New journals, book series, or conference proceedings are planned as open access products from the very beginning.

These instruments are driven by various actors and supported by them over and above the provision of extensive publication funding:

Research performing organisations (RPOs) support this process by operating publication services, university presses, journal platforms, etc. These offerings are non-commercial and may even be subsidised if the RPO covers the operating costs, thereby reducing the cost pressure and increasing scientific control.

Research funding organisations limit their funding of publications to open access journals and books. Through open access mandates (or, weaker, requests), they support decisions of authors to provide open access to their works.

Libraries negotiate all kinds of open access agreements, conduct publi­cation and cost monitoring, and develop new open access models. They increasingly use acquisitions funds for open access (see German Library Statistics 2018–2020). Procedures are put in place to monitor the trans­ition to open access in accordance with institutional and statutory provi­sions, and compliance with open access policies.

Libraries and commercial actors operate consortia or jointly finance open access publications.

Open access repositories continue to serve as venues for the self-archiving of contributions in parallel with publication with a publisher (green open access), and thus enable research funders’ open access requirements to be met (see also Plan S and the Rights Retention Strategy).

As is the case in almost all other aspects of the open access debate, scholarly journals are also dominant in the transition context. In principle, all instruments are also applicable to books and book series as well as other types of publica­tions, such as conference proceedings. However, in the individual case, new complexities arise. Thus, all actors are urged to include all publications in their open access transition measures.

Although various transition approaches can be applied in parallel, they occasio­nally also collide. This happens especially when in the case of scarce resources or strategic orientations. Whereas transformative agreements focus more on large bundles or entities (large journal packages, large publishers), approaches such as journal flipping tend to emphasize aspects such as scientific control or a complete and immediate transition to open access. One challenge faced by all approaches is the permanent search for sustainable funding opportunities following on from and further developing the existing acquisitions structures.

Consequences of the Transition

The major consequence of the open access transition is a growing share of freely available and possibly reusable scholarly literature (see our Reasons and Reservations page).

Within research performing organisations, the transition to open access may change work steps and responsibilities, and there may be a need to redistribute financial resources across institutions. The background for this is the fact that the costs of scholarly publishing are increasingly distributed based on the publication output rather than purely on the basis of the size of the research performing organisation.

New tasks are arising, especially for scholarly libraries, where acquisitions funds must be repurposed and the development of the publication output must be examined. Transformative agreements have to be managed, and some tasks have to be redistributed among publishers, libraries, and authors. Open access changes from being a special topic to being a core topic for libraries.

Key Actors and Efforts

Launched in 2015, OA2020 is a global initiative that is committed to acce­lerating the transition to open access. The OA2020 declaration (Expression of Interest) recommends transformative agreements as one means to achieve this goal. The most important element of the Expression of Interest is its emphasis on the repurposing of resources currently spent on subscription fees. The Expression of Interest has been formally en­dorsed by numerous organisations in Germany, for example the German Research Foundation (DFG), the German Rectors Conference (HRK), the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Associa­tion, the Max Planck Society, the German Council of Science and Humani­ties (Wissenschaftsrat), and several universities and university libraries. One main point of reference is a Max Planck Digital Library white paper published in 2015 (Schimmer et al., 2015).

Projekt DEAL is a project commissioned by the Alliance of German Science Organizations. Led by the German Rectors Conference, its aim is to conclude uniform nationwide licensing agreements with the largest commercial publishers of scholarly journals in respect of their entire (digital) journal portfolios. The agreements that the project is concluding on behalf of over 700 eligible organisations include an open access component: members of the participating institutions can publish open access in the publishers’ subscription journals (so-called hybrid journals) without having to pay any additional publication fees (which will lead to a high proportion of open access articles in the publication output of German institutions). Moreover, they obtain access to the publisher’s entire journal portfolio. Two DEAL agreements have been concluded to date – with Wiley and Springer Nature.

Plan S is an initiative of an international consortium of research funding and research performing organisations (cOAlition S). Its aim is to achieve with effect from 2021, or 2022 at the latest, immediate open access to all publications resulting from research funded by grants. Joint implemen­tation guidelines are implemented in the respective funding policies of the participating research funders. The core element is the rejection in principle of hybrid open access (exceptions are provided for only in the case of discernible transformative arrangements). Under Plan S, three basic ways of providing open access to their works are open to authors: they may publish in gold open access venues (publication fees are then covered by the funders or the research institutions); they may immedia­tely deposit their publications in an open access repository; or they may publish their works open access in a journal that has a transformative agreement (publication fees may possibly be covered). Great importance is attached to the transparency of the publication fees charged by publishers. Thus, Plan S also reflects the general trend that funding organisations currently have the most effective and simplest instruments – by linking awards of third-party funding to open access obligations, they can intervene decisively. However, German research funding organisations are not officially participating in cOAlition S.

SCOAP³ – Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics is an international consortium led by CERN that is com­mitted to promoting open access in the field of high energy physics (HEP). It is a unique global initiative within the framework of which several key HEP journals have been converted completely to open access without authors’ having to pay article processing charges (APCs). Libraries and organisations from all over the world contribute financially to the project. Contributions are calculated based on the respective publication outputs of the research institutions. 

In recent years, the "Digital Information" Initiative of the Alliance of German Science Organisations (Alliance Initiative for short) has published several position papers on the transition to open access (in particular, Bruch et al., 2016). The key demands were: the anchoring of open access in libraries, in licensing practice, and in acquisitions budgets; the gradual repurposing of acquisitions funds; the disclosure of subscription and open access fees and publication figures; and the development of scalable processes in libraries.

The Transition to Open-Access in Practice

What the many different approaches to the open access transition have in common is the aim that in future the largest possible share of scholar­ly publications will be freely available. In order to be able to assess the measures and develop them further, they should be as transparent as possible. This includes information on possible intermediate steps on the path to complete transition to open access (especially in the case of transformative agreements), the anchoring of irreversible steps to increase the share of open access publications, and transparency with regard to the underlying publication figures. Cost-cutting mechanisms should be incorporated in order to prevent a further rise in publication charges.

The creation of a network of actors should be aimed for, without funda­mentally limiting the diversity of the options. However, new initiatives would be well advised to obtain advice and support. The project offers opportunities for networking and individual advice via the Forum and the Helpdesk. Moreover, the scholars and librarians in the Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) support editors who are interested in transitioning to open access. The FOAA can be contacted here.

Because the open access transition is clearly anchored as a public policy goal and as an intention of the research funding and research perfor­ming organisations, all actors in the science landscape are called upon to take appropriate action in their respective areas of activity. Many aspects have to be taken into account when transitioning to open access – from freedom of science, through scientific control, sustainable and fair fun­ding, and additional tasks in institutions, to calls for the redistribution of financial resources across institutions. However, the immediate criterion remains: Will the most comprehensive possible transition to open access succeed?


  • Bruch, C., Geschuhn, K., Hanig, K., Hillenkötter, K., Pampel, H., Schäffler, H., Scheiner, A., Scholze, F., Stanek, U., Timm, A., & Tullney, M. (2016). Empfehlungen zur Open-Access- Transformation. Strategische und praktische Verankerung von Open Access in der Informationsversorgung wissenschaftlicher Einrichtungen. Empfehlungen der Ad-hoc-AG Open-Access-Gold im Rahmen der Schwerpunktinitiative „Digitale Information“ der Allianz der deutschen Wissenschaftsorganisationen.
  • Schimmer, R., Geschuhn, K. K., & Vogler, A. (2015). Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access. A Max Planck Digital Library  Open Access Policy White Paper.
  • Schmeja, S., & Tullney, M. (2020). Publikationsmonitoring. In K. Lackner, L. Schilhan, & C. Kaier (Eds.), Publikationsberatung an Universitäten. Ein Praxisleitfaden zum Aufbau publikationsunterstützender Services (pp. 203–216). transcript.

Further Reading

  • Hacker, A., & Tullney, M. (2020). “Stell Dir vor, es ist 2020 und Open Access läuft immer noch nicht.“.
  • Knoche, M. (2021). Raus aus den DEAL-Verträgen! Sieben Gründe für den Ausstieg. Aus Der Forschungsbibliothek Krekelborn.
  • Mittermaier, B. (2017). Aus dem DEAL-Maschinenraum – ein Gespräch mit Bernhard Mittermaier. LIBREAS. Library Ideas, 32, 1–7.
  • Oberländer, A., & Tullney, M. (2021). Gemeinschaftliche Open-Access-Finanzierung als Aufgabe für Bibliotheken.
  • Pampel, H. (2021). Strategische und operative Handlungsoptionen für wissenschaftliche Einrichtungen zur Gestaltung der Open-Access-Transformation. Philosophische Fakultät  der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
  • Schimmer, R., & Geschuhn, K. (2017). 3c. Open-Access-Transformation: Die Ablösung des Subskriptionswesens durch Open-Access-Geschäftsmodelle. In K. Söllner & B. Mittermaier (Eds.), Praxishandbuch Open Access (pp. 173–180). de Gruyter.