What a Difference a Decade Makes: the Evolution of STEM Publishing

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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A decade ago, I would proudly tell a stranger that I was a STEM textbook publisher. I was proud of my work supporting educators and students, especially in such a critically important field. As a publisher in this area, it was commonly understood that I produced big, fat print textbooks that a student would use in a course on campus. If someone approaches me today, however, I would say that I’m a STEM courseware publisher. What’s changed? 

I explain that now I participate in creating an instructor’s entire course—content, pedagogy, assessment, interactivity, and more. The changes in my role underscore the fact that our entire industry has shifted. We haven’t simply migrated content from print to digital. We are now taking on the role of creating, from beginning to end, the entire course. We aren’t just publishing finite textbooks, but content, tools, assessment - full solutions that can be accessed anywhere.  With this model, instructors are now empowered to instantly measure what their students are (and are not) learning, and then make adjustments for better outcomes. 

Ten years ago, when I described my job, most people would then comment on the “expensive textbooks.” Today, a typical one-term STEM course costs (on average) approximately $70; a far cry from the infamous prices of print textbooks of years ago. We are now in a new era where students pay less for a better product. And the educational solutions companies (publishers) that have invested wisely in their people, technology, and customer outcomes are the companies that are flourishing.

What I’m describing is actually really simple math. For students, courseware costs significantly less than a print textbook. For publishing solutions companies, however, our investment in better educational tools has grown. And although we still stand by providing our customers with the tools that support their specific courses and needs, digital or print, the dominant model in STEM is now lower priced courseware. Every student pays the same amount instead of one student paying for new while the rest pay for used material. Now, every student is paying a fair price for content, and publishing solutions companies can afford to continue to invest to continuously improve the learning experience. 

Learning technology is changing rapidly. We have seen the educational landscape change dramatically in the past few years. Our goal now has to be integrating learning technology seamlessly into the teaching and learning experience because who wouldn’t be excited about measuring learning in real time and adapting courseware to constantly become better? So what felt like a pipedream ten years ago is a reality that, as a publisher in STEM, I am enormously proud of, and excited about, where we go next. 

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