WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Justice Department tries to convince a federal judge that the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would harm the careers of some of the most popular authors, it relies in part on the testimony of a writer who prospered like few others: Stephen King.
Author of “Carrie”, “The Shining” and many other favorites, King willingly, even impatiently, opposed Simon & Schuster, his longtime publisher. He was not chosen by the government solely for his fame, but for his public criticism of the $2.2 billion deal announced in late 2021, joining two of the world’s largest publishers in what rival CEO Michael Pietsch of Hachette Book Group called a “gigantic” entity.
“The more publishers consolidate, the harder it is for independent publishers to survive,” King tweeted last year.
One of the few widely recognizable authors, known for his modestly sized glasses and gaunt features, King is set to take the witness stand on Tuesday, the second day of a federal antitrust lawsuit scheduled for the last two to three weeks.
He may not have the business knowledge of Pietsch, the DOJ’s first witness, but he’s been a published novelist for almost 50 years and knows well how much the industry has changed: some of his former editors have been acquired by larger companies. “Carrie,” for example, 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 brand that joined Penguin Random House when Penguin and Random House merged in 2013.
King’s affinity for small publishers is personal. While continuing to publish with Scribner, publisher Simon & Schuster, he wrote 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 doing cartwheels,” Hard Case co-founder Charles Ardai recalled thinking when King contacted him.
King himself would likely benefit from the Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster deal, but he’s used to prioritizing other priorities beyond his material well-being. He has long been critical of tax cuts for the rich, even though “the rich” surely include Stephen King, and has openly called on the government to raise taxes.
“In America, we should all pay our fair share,” he wrote for The Daily Beast in 2012.
On Monday, lawyers for both sides offered contrasting views on the book industry. Government lawyer John Read cited a dangerously thin market, narrowly led by the Big Five – Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishing, Macmillan and Hachette – with smaller or start-up publishers unlikely to break through .
Lawyer Daniel Petrocelli argued for the defense that the industry was in fact diverse, profitable and open to newcomers. Publishing does not only mean the Big Five, but also mid-sized companies such as WW Norton & Co. and Grove Atlantic. The merger, he argued, would in no way upset the ambitions so many people have for literary success.
“Every book begins as an expected bestseller in the glint of an author’s or publisher’s eye,” he said.