MacMillan tries to Destroy Itself

Source: Pando Daily, Jul 2012

Macmillan Publishing has taken an entirely different route altogether. It’s one that, until now, has remained relatively under the radar. The company hired Troy Williams, former CEO of early e-book company Questia Media, which sold to Cengage. Macmillan gave him a chunk of money and incredibly unusual mandate:

Build a business that will undermine our own.

The publishing giant has given Williams a sum greater than $100 million (he won’t say exactly how much) to acquire ed-tech startups that will eventually be the future of Macmillan. The plan is to let them exist autonomously like startups within the organization, as Macmillan transitions out of the content business and into educational software and services. Through the entity, called Macmillan New Ventures, Williams plans to do five deals this year and 10 to 15 over the course of the next five years.

He’s buying companies that will help Macmillan survive as a business once textbooks go away completely.

But what do those inside Macmillan think about his plan to kill their business?

Long pause. “I don’t know.”

“At the highest levels, everybody thinks it’s where we need to go. But they think it’s 15 to 20 years off,” Williams says. “I think it’s seven to ten. The people at the very top plan to be retired in 20 years so they think they have enough runway.”

There are a few macro-trends that Williams expects to affect education. Data and analytics will big the biggest. Content is becoming commoditized (as evidenced by the existence of companies like Boundless, which create textbook equivalents using open source materials). Real value will happen when companies can measure success of content through software and learning tools.


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