Horror author Stephen King has testified at a trial to block a $2.2billion merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster calling the proposed plans post-merger ‘a little bit ridiculous.’
King, author of ‘The Shining,’ ‘Carrie’ and other blockbusters, told a court that if the two mammoth publishing houses merge and still bid against each other for books it will be like ‘a husband and wife’ trying to ‘buy the same house.’
He is among a group of people standing against the $2.2billion merger at the antitrust trial, along with publishing executives and authors’ agents.
Penguin Random House, the largest book publisher in the United States, said it planned to buy rival Simon & Schuster in November 2020.
The publishing house is owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann. Simon & Schuster is owned by ViacomCBS, now Paramount Global. The Justice Department filed its lawsuit in a bid to block the merger in November 2021.
King is fighting against his own publisher Simon & Schuster, who has represented him for years – as many fear that the ‘Big Five’ publishing houses becoming four will do harm to the industry.
Horror author Stephen King, 74, arrives at court today to testify against his own publisher, Simon & Schuster, on behalf of the government during a trial in which the US Department of Justice is trying to convince a federal judge to prevent the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster
Stephen King, known as the King of Horror because of his best-selling books, signs an autograph for a fan outside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC
If the merger goes ahead, it’s feared the combined company would produce a disproportionate percentage of top-selling books in the US.
This means authors who normally have the two houses fighting for their titles would no longer reap the benefits from that competition.
Defense lawyer Daniel Petrocelli is expected to argue that the merger will only make the market for books and bidding over titles even more competitive, claiming that Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster ‘are rarely the top two bidders’ for top author’s new titles.
Government attorney Mel Schwarz questioned the top author during the trial, where there were moments of humor and brief flashes of gentle outrage.
Wearing an all gray suit, Stephen King started his testimony and the courtroom chuckled when a Department of Justice attorney asked King to state his occupation.
He told them: ‘My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer.’
The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington DC heard that Penguin Random House promised that its imprints will still bid against Simon & Schuster for authors’ titles – even if merger goes through and the companies effectively become one.
When asked about the prospect, King called the idea ‘a little bit ridiculous,’ and added: ‘You might as well say you’re going to have a husband and wife bidding against other for the same house.’
He quipped, gesturing with a polite sweep of the arm: ‘It would be sort of very gentlemanly and sort of after you, and after you.’
Telling the room why he is testifying, the author said: ‘I came because I think consolidation is bad for competition. It becomes tougher and tougher for writers to find money to live on.
‘The Big Five are pretty entrenched. That’s my understanding of the book business, and I’ve been around it for 50 years.’
In a surprising move, defense attorney Petrocelli said that he did not have any questions for him in the cross-examination.
In the publisher merger trial, the government has focused not on what consumers pay for books – but on advances paid to the most successful authors, especially those given $250,000 or more.
In a surprising move, defense attorney Petrocelli said that he did not have any questions for the author in the cross-examination
Penguin Random House, the largest book publisher in the United States, said it planned to buy rival Simon & Schuster in November 2020. The Justice Department filed its lawsuit in a bid to block the merger in November 2021
US publishing powerhouse Simon & Schuster also own a number of smaller sub publishing units – for both adults and children
Some of the most highly-paid authors from both publishing houses include Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and Bruce Springsteen – who were all allegedly paid over $10million in advances for their books.
Typically, celebrities, politicians, and award-winning authors are those who earn $250,000 or more in book advances, since publishing houses can already gauge their sale potential.
The government said in a pretrial brief: ‘The evidence will show that the proposed merger would likely result in authors of anticipated top-selling books receiving smaller advances, meaning authors who labor for years over their manuscripts will be paid less for their efforts.’
The government also intends to show there was concern among the merging parties that the deal is not legal.
King has long spoken out against the $2.2billion merger, tweeting last year: ‘The more the publishers consolidate, the harder it is for indie publishers to survive.’
The top five publishers are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Hachette, with Walt Disney Co and Amazon.com Inc also in the market. HarperCollins is owned by News Corp.
Judge Florence Pan of the US District Court for the District of Columbia will decide if the deal may go forward. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.
Simon & Schuster also own a number of smaller sub publishing units – for both adults and children.
They include: Adams Media, Atria, Emily Bestler Books, Enliven, Folger Shakespeare Library, Free Press, Gallery, Howard, Jeter Publishing, One Signal, Scout Press, Avid Reader Press, Scribner, Simon Element, Threshold and Touchstone.
For children’s books, the company also owns 11 additional publishing units, including Paula Wiseman Books, Atheneum, and Saga Press.
Penguin Random House is the home to nearly 275 editorially and creatively independent publishing imprints – including Penguin Classics, Writer’s Digest Books, and Harmony Books.
It’s not believed that this merger would necessarily impact how much consumers are charged for books they buy. Instead, it’s thought authors will be paid less for their work.
Some of the top authors who have been paid large sums in advances include Jennifer Egan. He novel Manhattan Beach was published by Simon & Schuster in 2017, and she allegedly was given a $1million advancement for the book.
In 2016, Penguin Random House paid author Emma Cline an advancement of $2million for her novel The Girls.
Bruce Springsteen was paid a reported $10million advancement by Simon & Schuster for his 2017 book Born to Run.
Simon & Schuster also published Hillary Clinton’s Living History – in which they paid her a reported $14 million in advance.
And her husband and former President received a $15million advance from Penguin Random House subsidiary publisher Alfred A. Knopf for his title My Life, published in 2004.
The trial continues.