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Hybrid and Transformative Journals: What they are and how to work with them

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Hybrid and Transformative Journals: What they are and how to work with them

Open access (OA) journals exist in three primary forms: hybrid, transformative and pure OA. Each form represents a proposed solution for OA publishing for a constituent audience and owner group. The underlying question these three models attempt to answer is this:

Given that OA publishing is here to stay, how can a given form of publishing adapt and develop structurally to promote greater diversity, equity and inclusion amongst authors and end users? How can a given publishing model embrace and champion a growing diversity of knowledge, practices, workflows, languages and outputs? 

While touching briefly on the pure OA journal, this article focuses on the hybrid and transformative journals. (For a primer on OA journals, read: Introduction to open access journals.)

Pure OA journals

This type of journal publishes all of its content via the internet, free of charge to any end user. All editorial and publishing costs are covered via article processing charges (APCs), paid by authors or other funding agencies. Initially, many proponents of traditional, subscription-based journals with controlled circulation and access were convinced that such OA journals would fail. However, the success of pure OA journals — especially highlighted by the Public Library of Science journals (PLOS), which publish thousands of highly cited articles yearly — has proven the viability, value and robustness of pure OA journals. 

Hybrid journals

The second major form of OA journal is the hybrid journal. These are essentially traditional subscription-based journals which offer the option to publish original research articles as OA. Such journals endeavour to retain their subscriber base (and revenues) while providing an avenue for OA articles. 

Many traditional, subscription-based/controlled access journals have excellent reputations and gravitas; as a result, researchers desire to publish with them. Symbiotically, those journals eagerly strive to receive and publish the results from large studies, which typically are funded by governmental or industry agencies.

Making the shift to hybrid

Recent mandates from many governmental, public and even private funding agencies, however, stipulate that publications arising from sponsored research must be published as OA offerings. If public funds sponsor research, then the results of that research belong to the public. The only way to make the results truly available to the general public is through OA. Thus, to attract and retain these large, funded research studies, traditional journals have been forced to make OA an option. 

Initially, many groups advocated that the hybrid model would serve as a bridge, enabling publishers to move away from subscriptions and towards OA. In reality, this has not happened. Data from the Open Access Directory shows that of Wiley's stable of 1600 journals, only eight have moved from toll access to OA. Of Elsevier's collection of over 2200 journals, only seven have transitioned to OA.

Nevertheless, publishing OA articles in hybrid journals presents itself as an attractive option for researchers. Authors and articles benefit from the cachet of the journal’s reputation, while simultaneously disseminating their article to the world via OA. For the foreseeable future, it seems that established journals with the hybrid OA option are here to stay. 

Transformative journals

A transformative journal (TJ) is a subscription/hybrid journal that is actively committed to transitioning to a fully OA journal

Additionally, TJs must:

  • gradually increase their share of OA content, and 
  • offset subscription income from payments for publishing services (translation: funds coming from libraries and scholarly societies which formerly were used to pay for subscriptions are redirected to pay for OA services). 

TJs also differ from hybrid journals in that they provide transparent metrics for published articles and comparative metrics for OA articles compared to subscription content, and facilitate greater transparency on the services covered by the APCs.

By nature, TJs have limited lifespans. By design, they advocate structural equity in scholarly publishing by pointing to a future in which all content will be OA in nature.

Plan S and TJs

Plan S is an initiative for OA publishing launched in September 2018 and formally activated in January 2021. The plan is supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funders. Plan S requires that scientific publications resulting from research funded by cOAlition S funders’ grants must be published in compliant OA journals or platforms. cOAlition S endorses the TJ approach


Developments in open knowledge and science are happening rapidly and progressing in multiple directions. Data clearly support that OA publishing will continue to grow. Authors wishing to support structural equality for truly open knowledge and open science have multiple OA outlets for their work. In agreement with Rick Anderson, librarian at Brigham Young University and past President of the Society for Scholarly Publishing, we can look forward to a continued diversity of access models in the marketplace of scholarship, which is probably a good thing.


Read previous (fourth) in series: Gold and Green Open Access: What they mean and imply for researchers

Read next (sixth) in series: How open access publishing bridges academia with industry and public policy


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