As the Justice Department tries to convince a federal judge that the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would hurt the careers of some of its most popular authors, it is leaning in part on the testimony of an author who has thrived like few others: Stephen King .
The author of “Carrie,” “The Shining” and many other favorites, King has willingly — even eagerly — placed himself in opposition to Simon & Schuster, his longtime publisher. He was not chosen by the authorities just for his fame, but for his fame. his public criticism of the $2.2 billion deal announced in late 2021, joining two of the world’s biggest publishers into what rival Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch has called a “gigantic high-profile” 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 modest glasses and gaunt features, King is expected to take the stand Tuesday, the second day of a federal antitrust trial expected to last two to three weeks.
He may not have the business savvy of 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 own former publishers were 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 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 text, but King instead offered to write a novel for them, “The Colorado Kid”, published in 2005.
“Inside, I was turning 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 has a history of favoring other priorities beyond his material well-being. He has long been a critic of tax cuts for the rich, although “the rich” certainly includes Stephen King, 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, lawyers for the two sides offered contrasting views on the book industry. Attorney General John Read invoked a dangerously narrow market, tightly controlled 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.
Lawyer Daniel Petrocelli argued for the defense that the industry was indeed diverse, profitable and open to newcomers. Publishing means not only the Big Five, but also medium-sized companies such as WW Norton & Co. and Grove Atlantic. The merger, he argued, would in no way nullify the ambitions so many have for literary success.
“Every book starts as an expected bestseller in the twinkle of an author’s or an editor’s eye,” he said.