As the US Department of Justice (DOJ) works to convince a federal judge that a merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would damage the careers of some of the world’s most popular authors, it is leaning in part on the testimony of a writer who has thrived like few others — Stephen King.
- The DOJ is suing to block a merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster in a key test of the Biden administration’s antitrust policy
- Their star witness, bestselling author Stephen King, is expected to testify at the trial
- King’s works are currently published by Simon & Schuster, but he has voiced opposition to the merger
The author of Carrie, The Shining and many other favourites, King has willingly—even eagerly—placed himself in opposition to Simon & Schuster, his longtime publisher.
He was not chosen by the government just for his fame, but for his public criticism of the US$2.2 billion (more than $2.8 billion) deal, announced in late 2021, to join two of the world’s biggest publishers into what rival CEO Michael Pietsch of Hachette Book Group called a “gigantically prominent” entity.
“The more the publishers consolidate, the harder it is for indie publishers to survive,” King tweeted last year.
One of the few widely recognizable authors, King is expected to take the witness stand on Tuesday, the second day of a federal antitrust trial anticipated to last two to three weeks.
He may not have the business knowledge of Mr Pietsch, the DOJ’s first witness, but he has been a published novelist for nearly 50 years and knows well how much the industry has changed: Some of his former publishers were acquired by larger companies.
Carrie, for instance, was published by Doubleday, which in 2009 merged with Knopf Publishing Group, and is now part of Penguin Random House.
Another former King publisher, Viking Press, was a Penguin imprint that joined Penguin Random House when Penguin and Random House merged in 2013.
King’s affinity for smaller publishers is personal. Even while continuing to publish with the Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner, he has written thrillers for the independent Hard Case Crime.
Years ago, the publisher asked him to contribute a blurb, but King instead offered to write a novel for them, The Colorado Kid, released in 2005.
“Inside I was turning cartwheels,” Hard Case co-founder Charles Ardai would remember thinking when King contacted him.
King would likely benefit from the Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster deal, but he has a history of favoring other priorities beyond his material wellbeing.
He has long been a critic of tax cuts for the rich, and has openly called for the government to raise his taxes.
“In America, we should all have to pay our fair share,” he wrote for The Daily Beast in 2012.
On Monday, attorneys for the two sides offered contrasting views of the book industry.
Government attorney John Read pointed to what he said was a dangerously narrow market, ruled tightly by the “Big Five” — Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishing, Macmillan and Hachette — with little chance for smaller or start-up publishers to break through.
Attorney Daniel Petrocelli argued for the defense that the industry was actually diverse, profitable and open to newcomers.
Publishing means not just the Big Five, but also such medium-size companies as WW Norton & Co and Grove Atlantic.
The merger, he contended, would in no way up-end the ambitions so many hold for literary success.
“Every book starts out as an anticipated bestseller in the gleam of an author’s or an editor’s eye,” he said.