Stephen King weighs in as DOJ tries to quash merger of two publishing powerhouses

“Fewer people will get chances to break in [to the industry],” said one agent.

August 8, 2022, 2:52 PM

Famed horror novelist Stephen King is taking a stand against the publishing behemoths that have distributed his work.

King, 74, whose nearly 50-year career includes the best-selling novels, "Carrie," "It" and "Pet Sematary," testified Tuesday in a federal antitrust case against the possible merger of publishing powerhouses Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

He has been published by Simon & Schuster as well as imprints, or smaller publishers, owned by Penguin Random House.

King made the argument that consolidation of the book industry was bad for writers.

"When I started in this business, there were literally hundreds of imprints,” King testified, according to the Associated Press. “Those businesses were either subsumed, one by one, or they were run out of business."

“I came because I think that consolidation is bad for competition,” said King, who identified himself on the stand as a "freelance writer." The way the industry has evolved, he said, “it becomes tougher and tougher for writers to find money to live on.” King said the payments book publishers make to writers before their book is published, called advances, have dwindled.

PHOTO: Author Stephen King arrives to testify at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., August 2, 2022. King will testify on a trial to prevent the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.
Author Stephen King arrives to testify at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., August 2, 2022. King will 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.
MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutter

Literary agent Laura Zats told ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast that the proposed deal would mean “fewer people will get chances to break in [to the industry].”

“It becomes less about ‘I am going to take a chance and publish this really interesting piece of art,’” she said, “and it becomes more of ‘what will make the shareholders money next quarter?’”

The deal, worth $2.18 billion, would merge two of the largest publishing houses in the country, and further consolidate the industry. The Department of Justice said the merger “would share control of 90% of the relevant market” in its pre-trial brief.

The 2013 merger of Penguin Group and Random House to form Penguin Random House brought the number of major publishing houses from six to the “Big Five” -- and now it might become four.

“The proposed merger would likely result in authors of anticipated top-selling books receiving smaller advances,” the DOJ wrote in the brief, “meaning authors who labor for years over their manuscripts will be paid less for their efforts and fewer authors will be able to earn a living from writing.”

PHOTO: The Penguin and Random House logos are visible on the spines of books displayed on a shelf at Book Passage on Nov. 2, 2021 in Corte Madera, Calif.
The Penguin and Random House logos are visible on the spines of books displayed on a shelf at Book Passage on Nov. 2, 2021 in Corte Madera, Calif.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, FILE

“When I go out on submission with a book, I am submitting it to as many imprints as possible,” Zats told ABC News.

“When I get an offer on the book from one publisher, I can go to the rest of them and say, ‘Hello, would you like to enter into an auction'… and frankly, that's how authors eat.”

With fewer imprints, the Department of Justice is arguing, there would be less incentive to offer competitive advances for books.

While the Department of Justice is focused on best-selling books published by the major publishing houses, Zats is concerned that an increasingly consolidated industry would affect smaller book publishers and authors, as well.

“We are not talking about millions of dollars here for most people,” said Zats. “We're talking about being able to buy groceries over three years.”

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