Horror author Stephen King says publishing house mergers hurt writers

Bestselling writer supports blocking Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster merger

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Horror author Stephen King said on Tuesday that writers will have fewer places to sell their books if Penguin Random House is allowed to merge with Simon & Schuster, as a trial determining the legality of the deal continues.

In the federal trial that began on Monday, the US Justice Department is seeking to block the $2.2 billion merger of two of the “Big Five” book publishers, arguing that the deal would lead to lower advances for some authors who earn $250,000 or more.

King, author of The Shining, Carrie and other popular works, took issue with pledges that the companies have made that would give Simon & Schuster imprints — essentially different brands of books — that would allow it to continue to bid for titles against Penguin Random House independently.

“You might as well say you're going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for the same house. It's kind of ridiculous,” he said in court.

King's appearance in the merger trial shifted the conversation from dry discussions of the economics of publishers competing for books in auctions to a celebrity author telling how a publishing executive once laughed at him when he asked for a $2 million advance for two books.

The writer's own books are largely published by Simon & Schuster’s Scribner imprint. He said he stayed with them because they had published authors he idolised and were “muscular” in their dealings with booksellers.

But much of King’s evidence focused on difficulties he perceived would face less well-known authors. He said the five biggest publishers have largely squeezed out independent shops, making it harder for fledgling authors to make it into print.

“That is the minor leagues for writers,” King said of independent publishing houses, though he added that new opportunities were cropping up at television streaming services.

“The streaming networks have been a gold rush for writers,” King said.

The defence, led by Daniel Petrocelli, who defeated the Trump administration's 2018 bid to stop AT&T from buying Time Warner, had no questions for King. The publishers have rejected the idea that the largest booksellers will be able to reduce advances, saying consumers would simply pay more for books.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.

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Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: August 02, 2022, 9:49 PM