Stephen King testifies in Penguin Random House merger trial

Bestselling author Stephen King testified in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department to stop Penguin Random House from buying Simon & Schuster, saying the merger of two of the nation’s largest publishers would make it harder for writers to make a living.

Mr. King testified as a witness for the government, which filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to stop the $2.18 billion takeover.

The firms are among the largest of the so-called Big Five publishers and are part of an industry that has already been reshaped by consolidation. Penguin Random House, owned by the German company Bertelsmann, is the result of a merger in 2013.

“Consolidation is bad for competition,” King said of why he agreed to testify.

Penguin Random House argues that the acquisition would benefit authors and readers. Their lawyers say that under the deal, Simon & Schuster authors would have access to Penguin Random House’s supply chain and distribution networks, and that the savings created by combining the two companies would translate into higher wages for authors. authors.

Government attorneys used Mr. King’s testimony to illustrate their argument that consolidation in the publishing industry has hurt authors and the industry.

The testimony of the famed writer of titles including “It” and “Pet Sematary,” dressed in a gray suit and gray walking shoes, occasionally drew laughs from the audience in the courtroom gallery. Penguin Random House attorneys declined to question King after he had spent about half an hour testifying.

Mr. King said that when he started in the publishing business in the mid-1970s, there were hundreds of imprints in business and he bought his work without an agent. Since then, the number of publishers has dwindled, he said, as competing companies have been subsumed or collapsed.

With fewer publishers vying for the business, advances have slowly tapered off, he continued, particularly for writers without a sales track record.

Not that advances, money paid to writers up front based on anticipated earnings from royalties, were particularly generous for unknown writers. King said he received a combined $10,000 in advances for his first few books, including “Carrie” and “The Shining.”

“It’s getting harder and harder for writers to find enough money to live on,” he said.

Over the ensuing decades, Mr. King has written numerous bestsellers and made a fortune from his books. That financial security, King said, allows him to publish books with smaller independent publishers, the kind that emerging writers often choose to break into the publishing business.

He said he accepted the smaller advances offered by independent publishers because he wanted those labels to survive.

“There comes a point,” he said, “if you’re very, very, very lucky, you can unfollow your bank account and follow your heart.”

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