Author Stephen King Testifies Against Big Five Merger

Testimony from famed author Stephen King in the trial against the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. What would this merger mean for authors everywhere?

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When you go into a bookstore, do you pay attention to the publisher of the book you’re buying? Do you buy your books based on where they’re from or the content they contain? Most book lovers typically don’t pay attention to the brand name, just the book itself. Of course, we do have our favorites but let me bring your attention to something that could majorly impact the book and publishing industry. Two of the Big Five publishing houses – Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster – are attempting to complete a merger that could spell disaster for authors everywhere.

Merger Background

Penguin Random House has been the largest book publisher in the United States for a good long while. However, they just aren’t satisfied with their reach up to now. Back in 2020, Penguin Random House filed to the courts that it planned to buy its competitor, fellow Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster. Penguin Random House attorneys claimed that the merger would benefit “authors, booksellers, and readers.”

To gain a bit more perspective on the situation, Penguin Random House is a merged company itself. And under the umbrella that is Penguin Random House, they have nearly 275 imprints– an imprint of a publisher is a trade name under which it publishes a work. The ones you’ll find most often are Berkley Publishing, Penguin Classics, Writer’s Digest Books, and so many more. Just the imprints of PRH publish around 185k different titles, spanning digital, print, and electronic.

Unfortunately for Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, creating a mega-publisher and monopsony — when a market is dominated by a single buyer with controlling advantage that drives consumption — wasn’t on the Department of Justice’s bingo card. So in November of 2021, they sued to stop the $2.2 billion buy so that the Biden administration would have a bit more time to look over the impact.

The Department of Justice stated that the merger would “harm best-selling authors, since they could potentially receive lower pay with one fewer publisher competing to acquire their books.” Now it makes a bit more sense as to why Mr. Stephen King, world-renowned author in the horror genre and player in the game for the last fifty years, would be testifying on behalf of the Justice Department.

King’s Testimony

King emphasized how different the landscape of the book publishing world is today, with just the Big Five publishers competing against each other, to his early days in the game.

He recalled the excitement of the book bidding process because so many publishers were putting in offers.

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When the court case first came out, Penguin Random House stated that they would still allow Simon & Schuster to bid against their imprints. This is something the company allows its imprints to do currently. However, King had things to say about this statement as well:

You might as well say you are going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for a house. It’s a little bit ridiculous.

Stephen King during testimony for the Department of Justice against PRH and Simon & Schuster merger

Stephen King has been openly against the merger ever since the first court filing back in 2020. Now he’s just gaining a larger (more legal and formal) platform to state his opinions. No one here at the Bookstr team is shocked that King is coming out in support of authors. Everyone had to start somewhere, and King is no different.

Tuesday in court, King took the opportunity to reminisce about the early days of his career. The King of Horror wasn’t always one of the richest authors in the world. In the early 1970s, King was a struggling author (like many today). He didn’t have an agent, but he was lucky enough to get Carrie picked up by Doubleday for a $2,500 advance.

Introducing himself as a “freelance author” was a deliberate choice, in my opinion, to align himself in favor of the authors. Really that’s what this trial is about. The DOJ is attempting to keep the authors, booksellers, and readers’ interests at the forefront. While Penguin Random House has said this will benefit everyone, none of us are buying it.

This case is predicted to last around three weeks. Be sure to check back here for more updates on the Penguin Random House trial.