Horror author Stephen King says writers are hurt by book publishing mergers

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Novelist Stephen King walks out of court the day he testifies in an antitrust case against a publisher merger, in U.S. District Court in Washington, August 2, 2022.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

Horror author Stephen King said writers will have fewer places to buy their books if Penguin Random House is allowed to merge with Simon & Schuster, during testimony Tuesday in a trial to determine whether the agreement can go forward.

In a trial that began on Monday, the US Department of Justice is trying to convince a federal judge to block a $2.2 billion merger between two of the “Big Five” book publishers. He argued the deal would lead to lower advances for some authors who earn $250,000 or more rather than a more traditional argument that consumers pay more for books.

King, author of ‘The Shining’, ‘Carrie’ and other blockbusters, has challenged promises the companies have made to allow publishers Simon & Schuster, essentially different book brands, to continue bidding against Penguin Random House from independently for the books.

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

Looking more like an accountant than the spine-chilling author of “Misery,” King’s appearance in a merger lawsuit shifted the conversation from dry discussions about the economics of publishers to competing for books at auction to a famous author recounting how a publishing executive once scoffed when he asked for a $2 million advance for two books.

King modestly said he wasn’t sure how many bestsellers he had written, but admitted it was over 60.

The defense, led by attorney Daniel Petrocelli who defeated the Trump administration’s 2018 attempt to block AT&T from buying Time Warner, had no questions for King. Publishers have rejected the idea that the biggest booksellers will be able to reduce advances.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks. Upcoming witnesses include testimony from the chief executives of both publishers.

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