How Open is Open?

A closer look at Transformative Agreements, Hybrid Journals, and OpenAPC

For approximately the past two decades, with a sharp increase over the past five years in particular, open access articles are becoming more and more commonplace. So much so, in fact, that notoriously large, subscription based publishers such as Elsevier and Springer, have started offering a different model for accessing journal articles that does provides more access for the extremely high cost of subscription. Now, these companies have begun to make available new contracts with universities that allow for broader access for all affiliated scholars, and discounts or removals on Article Processing Charges (APCs) that are required to help fund the publication of open access articles.

On the whole, these “Transformative Agreements” break down barriers for access to students and save money for institutions so that they can spend their collection budgets on one-time purchases, rather than having their budgets tied up in subscription costs each year. And many journals indeed have made the transition from a Transformative Journal to fully Open Access. However, most Transformative Agreements tend to stop short of being fully open access – particularly when published by a major, well-known, well-funded publisher. Many make use of the Hybrid Journal model – which sees some of the content of a journal open access, and some still subscription based. Additionally, these agreements sometimes limit the publishing accessibility to a particular population affiliated with an institution; while fully open access publications are readily available with an internet connection and a URL. Recently, Boston College has signed a Read and Publish Agreement with Cambridge University Press.

Costs of Open Access

The costs associated with publishing open access can vary a great deal as well. In 2020, Springer was under fire in the public eye for listing an APC at 11,000 USD, when the average is closer to 2,000 USD. First, this again presents a barrier to access – as only institutions with liberal publication budgets, or professors who don’t mind going very deep into their own pockets – are able to meet this. Additionally, as major publishers try to maintain their subscription model while promoting open access – smaller independent publishers who are committed to publishing scholarly fully open access are left out of the picture. Publication funds that are generally meant for developing open source repositories and communal methods of sharing are instead going back to the same publishers pushing their subscription models.

OpenAPC is a project to gather data about APCs being paid to different publishers by institutions all across the world. While it is not comprehensively used, this data shows different trends in APC payment data, and create a narrative about how effectively librarians and research institutions are using open access publishing funds create more accessible work via publishers that are working explicitly to create open models for publishing.

This Treemap from shows the breakdown of funds used to cover Article Processing Charges across different countries, publishers, and funding institutions.

Plan S

In 2018, cOAlition S was launched. Composed of different national research funding institutions throughout Europe, the coalition’s main principles focus on making open access publication a reality. This coalition centered around Plan S – which has the goal of making public all research and publications that are supported through grants by national research institutions; making published researched immediately accessible to everyone and anyone with an internet connection. This – and efforts like it – amount to building pressures on publishers to offer open, immediately published options for authors looking to publish their work, which in turn creates a wider, globally accessible portfolio of scholarly work.

Supporting Open Access at Boston College

At Boston College, we publish seventeen open access journals and provide funding to authors via an Open Access Publishing Fund. Our E-Journals are free to read all over the world and can be found at Additionally, scholarship that has been published open access via our publishing fund can be found on our Open Access Publishing Fund LibGuide. If you want to start an E-Journal or submit an article to an open access journal – get in touch with the Digital Scholarship Team here at the O’Neill Library!