“I am an independent writer”: Stephen King declared against the merger of two large publishers

Stephen King arriving to testify in Washington Court this Tuesday. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Stephen King cautiously sat on the witness stand in a federal antitrust trial and, recalling his own history, presented a portrait of an increasingly concentrated publishing industry over the years. “My name is Stephen King. I am a freelance writer,” he said as he began his testimony as a witness for the United States Department of Justice. The government is trying to convince a federal judge that the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and his rival Simon and Schustertwo of the world’s largest publishers, it would frustrate competition and affect the careers of some of the most popular writers.

King has been published for years by Simon and Schuster. Some of its old publishers were acquired by larger ones. The $2.2 billion merger of Penguin Random Housethe largest publisher in the country, and Simon and Schusterthe fourth would reduce the so-called “Big Five” (Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishing, Macmillan and Hachette) to four.

Stephen King appeared to testify in an antitrust case against a merger of publishers, in the United States District Court in Washington, United States.  REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Stephen King appeared to testify in an antitrust case against a merger of publishers, in the United States District Court in Washington, United States. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

King’s appearance in US District Court in Washington, highly unusual for an antitrust trial, brought a narrative of the evolution of book publishing into the dominance of the Big Five. While the government attorney Mel Schwarz guided King through his history beginning as an unknown first-time author in the 1970s and his relationships with agents and publishers, King focused on a critique of the industry as it is now. Dressed entirely in gray — suit, tie and shoes — King answered Schwarz’s questions firmly, with some moments of humor and brief flashes of mild indignation, as he testified during the second day of the trial that is expected to last two to three weeks. .

King’s discontent with the proposed merger led him to voluntarily testify for the government. “I came because I think this consolidation is bad for the competition,” he said. The way the industry has evolved, he noted, “it becomes more and more difficult for writers to make money to live on,” he said. He also expressed skepticism about the two publishers’ commitment to continue bidding on books separately and competitively after a merger. “You might as well say you’re going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for the same house,” he joked. “It would be something very chivalrous and something like ‘After You’Y ‘After You’he said, gesturing with a polite wave of his arm.

Novelist Stephen King walks out of a courtroom on the day he testifies in an antitrust case against a publisher merger, at the U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Novelist Stephen King walks out of a courtroom on the day he testifies in an antitrust case against a publisher merger, at the U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

In another surprising move, the lawyer Daniel Petrocelliwho represents the companies, told King he had no questions for him. the author of carrie, the glow (The glow) and many other well-known titles has volunteered, even enthusiastically, to testify against Simon and Schusterhis publisher for years. He was chosen by the government not just for his fame, but for his public criticism of the $2.2 billion deal announced in late 2021 to bring together two of the world’s largest publishers in which rival CEO Michael Pietsch of Hachette Book Group, called an entity “hugely prominent.”

He may not have the business savvy of Pietsch, the Justice Department’s first witness, but he’s a well-known novelist for nearly 50 years and knows just how much the industry has changed: Some of his former publishers have been bought by larger companies. carriefor example, it was published by Doubleday, which in 2009 merged with the 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.

Stephen King signs autographs outside the Washington Courthouse.  REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Stephen King signs autographs outside the Washington Courthouse. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

King has a personal affinity for smaller publishers. Even as he continues to publish with Simon & Schuster’s Scribner imprint, he has written thrillers for the independent Hard Case Crime. Years ago, the publisher asked him to contribute a publicity note, but King offered to write a novel for them, red boypublished in 2005.

King himself would likely benefit from the Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster deal, but he has a history of favoring other priorities beyond his material well-being. He has long been a critic of tax cuts for the rich, even as “the rich” surely include him, and he has openly called on the government to raise his taxes. “In America, we should all have to pay our fair share,” he wrote to the daily beast in 2012.

Sources: AP and Reuters

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