Horror Author Stephen King Testifies Against $2 Billion Penguin Merger


The proposed deal could allow the largest book publisher, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, to acquire the fourth largest.

Through Bloomberg

Best-selling horror author Stephen King testified against Penguin Random House’s proposed $2.18 billion acquisition of Simon & Schuster, saying it would weaken competition in the publishing industry.

The author of “Carrie” and “It” acted as a government witness on Tuesday in the Justice Department’s antitrust case to block the deal. He said consolidation in the publishing industry over the course of his career has resulted in lower pay for authors.

“It’s getting harder and harder for writers to find enough money to live on,” King testified in federal court in Washington.

If the deal closes, Penguin, the largest book publisher and part of Bertelsmann SE, would acquire Simon & Schuster, the fourth largest. The government argues that the combination will lead to lower advance payments for authors and fewer options for consumers.

Pressed independents

King’s own books are largely published by Simon & Schuster’s Scribner imprint. He said he stayed with them because they had published authors he idolized and were “muscular” in their dealings with booksellers.

But much of King’s testimony focused on difficulties he noted for lesser-known authors. He said the top five publishers have largely supplanted independent stores, making it harder for budding authors to get into print.

“Those are the minor leagues for writers,” King said of independent publishers, though he added that new opportunities were emerging in television streaming services. “The streaming networks have been a gold rush for writers,” King said.

‘No, after you’

The companies claim that internal competition between the Simon & Schuster and Penguin imprints will continue after the merger. King mocked that claim in the stands.

“You might as well say your husband and wife are bidding against each other for the same house,” he said. “It will be very friendly. It will be: ‘After you. No, after you.’”

U.S. District Judge Florence Pan hears the case without a jury. The trial, which is expected to take three weeks, comes as the Biden administration has taken a tougher stance against a trend of consolidation within industries.

The case is US v. Bertelsmann SE, 21-cv-02886, US District Court for District of Columbia.

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