US author Stephen King has testified against his own publishing company in competition proceedings over the planned merger of two book giants.
The 74-year-old appeared as a government witness in the federal cartel proceedings against the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, the long-standing King’s publishing house.
“My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer,” King said when asked to identify himself.
The Justice Department is trying to convince District Judge Florence Pan that the proposed combination of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would thwart the competition and hurt the careers of some of the most popular authors.
King’s career, with so many bestsellers to appreciate, has come amid waves of industry consolidation.
As he noted in his testimony in court in Washington DC, when his seminal novel Carrie came out in 1974, there were dozens of publishers in New York, and he has seen many of them either bought out by larger corporations or put out of business .
Today, New York’s publishing industry is often a story of the so-called Big Five—Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishing, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan.
Carrie’s publisher, Doubleday, is now part of Penguin Random House. So did another former King publisher, Viking Press.
During the first two days, lawyers from both sides presented contrasting views of the book industry.
video of the day
The Justice Department sees an increasingly limited market for bestsellers, with the Big Five dominating. Penguin Random House sees book publishing as dynamic and open to many, with limited impact from the proposed merger.
King’s appearance before the US District Court in Washington provided a narrative on the evolution of book publishing towards the dominance of the Big Five companies.
As prosecutor Mel Schwarz guided King through his story, beginning as a new writer in the 1970s, and his relationships with agents and publishers, King focused on a critique of the industry as it is today.
“The Big Five are pretty entrenched,” he said.
Questioned later in the day, Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp described a world of fiercely competitive bidding among publishers — including between his firm and Penguin Random House — for author’s works, sometimes bidding millions of dollars for high-profile authors.
With his potential future boss, Penguin Random House Markus Dohle, among the courtroom onlookers, Karp dismissed the “Big Five” moniker, calling it “ecclesiastical and ethnocentric.”
“I think there are a lot of good publishers across the country. It’s not just about us,” Karp said.
You might as well say that you will have a man and woman bidding against each other for the same houseStephenKing
As an example, he said that nearly 100-year-old Simon & Schuster has recently faced more aggressive competition from Amazon’s book publishing business.
But Justice Department attorney Jeff Vernon brought up a message Karp sent to John Irving, his favorite author, saying he didn’t think the government would allow Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House to merge. “That assumes we still have a Justice Department,” Karp wrote in the message.
King’s displeasure with the proposed merger prompted him to volunteer to testify for the government.
“I came because I think consolidation is bad for competition,” King said. Of the way the industry has evolved, he said, “it’s getting harder and harder for writers to find money to live on.”
King expressed skepticism about the two publishers’ commitment to continue bidding separately and competitively on books after a merger.
“You might as well say that a man and a woman will bid against each other for the same house,” he joked. “It would be kind of very gentlemanly and kind of ‘after you’ and ‘after you’,” he said, gesturing with a polite arm movement.
https://www.independent.ie/style/celebrity/celebrity-news/stephen-king-gives-evidence-against-own-publisher-in-us-merger-case-41886690.html Stephen King testifies against own publisher in US merger case