Stephen King testifies in Simon & Schuster’s antitrust trial

King Stephen.
Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As expected, Stephen King knows a thing or two Platform. The author testified to the government today in an antitrust trial that will decide whether two of the nation’s largest publishing houses can be merged. King has publicly criticized the proposed $2.2 billion acquisition of Penguin Random House by his publisher Simon & Schuster. After introducing himself as “Stephen King, freelance writer,” the author was questioned for 45 minutes by a Justice Department attorney. “I came because I think merging is bad for competition,” he said Tell Court according to journalist John Maher. “This is my understanding of the book sector, and I’ve been working around it for 50 years.”

Penguin Random House, the nation’s largest publisher, is itself the result of the 2013 merger of Penguin and Random House. The Department of Justice argues that allowing Simon and Schuster’s absorption also would lead to a buying monopoly, which occurs when a single buyer has too much control over the market. The court claims that fewer competitors for the rights to the book will mean less compensation for authors, especially those earning $250,000 or more in advances against anticipated best sales.

In his testimony, King compared the “Big Five” in the current publishing industry – Penguin Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan – with the competitive bidding landscape from earlier in his career. Now that there are fewer publishers, he has claimed that acquiring the rights to the books is less of a competition and more of what he describes as “after you.” “No, after you” the situation. New writers who start working at independent publishers struggle to make a living by progressing, he added, referring to a 2018 study by the Authors Foundation that put the median income of full-time authors at $20,300.

Penguin Random House argued that the deal would actually increase competition because greater efficiency would allow it to pay more money to its authors. The publisher also pledged that it would allow Simon & Schuster to bid against other Penguin Random House monuments after the merger. (According to Deadline, the publisher does indeed allow internal competition when there is an outside bidder involved.) However, the Department of Justice and its high-profile witness don’t buy into that logic. “You might also say that you would have a husband and wife competing against each other for a home,” King testified. “It’s a little silly.”

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