Stephen King Will Be Star Witness in Publishing Antitrust Trial

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(Newser)

The government and publishing titan Penguin Random House exchanged opening salvos in a federal antitrust trial Monday as the US seeks to block the biggest US book publisher from absorbing rival Simon & Schuster. The case comes as a key test of the Biden administration’s antitrust policy, the AP reports. The Justice Department has sued to block the $2.2 billion merger, which would reduce the Big Five US publishers to four. The government’s star witness, bestselling author Stephen King, is expected to testify at Tuesday’s session of the weekslong trial in US District Court in Washington, DC. King’s works are published by Simon & Schuster.

At Monday’s opening session, opposing attorneys for the two sides presented their cases before US District Judge Florence Pan. Justice Department attorneys called the merger “presumptively wrong” because it would shrink competition and, inevitably, the vital public discourse that books help engender. Penguin Random House countered that the new company would “enhance” competition because the combined company could turn out books more efficiently. The government contends that it would hurt authors and, ultimately, readers if German media titan Bertelsmann, of which Penguin Random House is a division, is allowed to buy Simon & Schuster, the fourth-largest publisher, from US media and entertainment company Paramount Global.

The Justice Department contends that as things now stand, No. 1 Penguin Random House and No. 4 Simon & Schuster, by total sales, compete fiercely to acquire the rights to publish the anticipated hottest-selling books. If they are allowed to merge, the combined company would control nearly 50% of the market for those books, it says, hurting competition by reducing advances paid to authors and diminishing output, creativity, and diversity. The Big Five—the other three are Hachette, HarperCollins, and Macmillan—dominate US publishing. They make up 90% of the market for anticipated top-selling books, the government says.

(Read more publishing stories.)

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