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TRANSFER Code of Practice Aims to Facilitate Journal Transfers

Ed Pentz, CrossRef | Aug 01, 2009

Many librarians have experienced the pain of losing access to online journal content when it changes from one publisher to another. Often librarians are not even aware that journals are moving publisher until they hear from angry users. Other problems encountered after journal transfers include losing access to archives, differing access rights and establishing correct subscription information.

Journal transfers are also not easy for publishers who certainly don’t want to cause their customers problems and have their own struggles with getting electronic files in adequate time to load them onto online journal platforms.

According to the 2008 ALPSP report Academic Journal Publishers' Policies and Practices in Online Publishing, the average number of journals transferred in 2008 was 17.6 per large publisher, 1 per medium and 1 per small. If one multiples those numbers by the numbers of publishers worldwide, one can see that a significant number of journals changes hands each year.

The TRANSFER Working Group gets underway

As a result of problems associated with journal transfers, the UKSG established the TRANSFER initiative and set up the TRANSFER Working Group in 2006 to take a look at the issue. The group’s goal was to develop a comprehensive, effective and voluntary code of practice representing the concerns of all stakeholders involved in journal transfers. In 2008, I took over from Nancy Buckley, with Burgundy Information Services, as chair of the group, but I had been involved in it from its beginning.

The Working Group included librarians, along with representatives of nonprofit and commercial publishers and subscription agents. The group got underway by identifying the key steps, organizations and data involved in a journal transfer. Quickly, the group realized that journal transfers are complex, with no two transfers exactly the same, and identified problem areas to be addressed at a high level.

The TRANSFER Code of Practice gets developed

The code’s initial draft was released in 2007 and immediately endorsed by a small group of publishers. Other publishers expressed support for the code’s goals and the STM (International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers) and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers) associations provided feedback on the draft. Clearly the devil was in the detail. Hence, discussions continued.

Public comment periods took place in 2007 and 2008, and US and European antitrust reviews took place in 2008 to ensure that the code and its development process were inclusive and fair and didn’t affect the competitive market for journal transfers or supplant contractual terms. This step was crucial (though expensive) because journal transfers are commercial transactions with many parties involved, including publishers, societies and libraries.

Finally, after more than 2 years of work, Version 2.0 of the TRANSFER Code of Practice was released in 2008, and publishers were asked to endorse and follow the code.

The TRANSFER Code of Practice offers guidelines to help journal transfers

The code’s main goal is to establish a set of standards that would apply whenever a journal is transferred from one publisher to another.

The code’s other goals include:

  • Establishing guidelines to help publishers make more efficient transfers;
  • Ensuring that the journal transfer process occurs with minimum disruption;
  • Ensuring that journal content remains easily accessible by librarians and readers when there is a transfer; and
  • Ensuring that perpetual access rights that have been granted are honored.

The code outlines obligations for publishers on both sides of a transfer. The main parts of the code deal with access to content during a transfer, the transfer of digital files and subscription information, updating URLs and CrossRef DOIs, and appropriate and timely communications. Further, the code ensures as far as possible that users won't lose access to content and any granted perpetual access rights will be honored, though the code doesn't take a position on how the access rights will be honored. In some cases the transferring publishers do this and in others the receiving publishers do.

Publishers and librarians support TRANSFER compliancy

UKSG encourages the publishing industry to embrace the standards set forth by the TRANSFER Code of Practice as a baseline level of quality and performance. About 20 publishers, including Elsevier and together representing 8,000 journals, have signed up to the code as of June 2009. This involves publicly endorsing the code and applying it in practice and thereby becoming “TRANSFER Compliant.”

By asking publishers whether they have endorsed the code, librarians are playing a role in getting publishers to sign up to TRANSFER. Libraries should also consider asking for TRANSFER compliancy to be among requirements when licensing journals.

Assessing impacts of the TRANSFER initiative

So will the TRANSFER Code of Practice help make journal transfers less problematic? It is still early days but a look at the UKSG email list lis-e-resources shows that postings about difficulties relating to journal transfers have declined since the code was finalized in 2008. Moving forward, UKSG will continue to monitor the impacts of TRANSFER and report on them.