Renowned author Stephen King is set to give evidence at a competition trial over the proposed merger of two publishing giants.
King is scheduled to be a witness for the US justice department in Washington, DC, as it bids to block the proposed merger of two of the world’s biggest publishers: number one US publisher Penguin Random House and the fourth-largest, Simon & Schuster.
The writer has expressed displeasure with the deal, even though he is likely to benefit: the author has been published by Simon & Schuster for years.
But King, one of the world’s best-selling authors for decades, worries the merger would hurt smaller companies. Some of King’s own former publishers were acquired by larger ones.
The author of Carrie, The Shining and many other huge bestsellers which also became hit movies, King has willingly placed himself in opposition to Simon & Schuster, his long-standing publisher.
He was not chosen by the US government just for his fame, but for his public criticism of the 2.2 billion dollar (£1.7 billion) deal announced in late 2021, joining two of the world’s biggest publishers into what rival CEO Michael Pietsch of Hachette Book Group has called a “gigantically prominent” entity.
“The more the publishers consolidate, the harder it is for indie publishers to survive,” King tweeted last year.
One of the few widely recognisable authors, King is expected to take the witness stand on the second day of a US federal antitrust trial anticipated last two to three weeks.
He may not have the business knowledge of Mr 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.
Carrie, for instance, was published by Doubleday, which in 2009 merged with Knopf Publishing Group and now is 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 blurb, but King instead offered to write a novel for them, The Colorado Kid, released in 2005.
“Inside I was turning cartwheels,” Hard Case co-founder Charles Ardai would remember thinking when King contacted him.
King himself would likely benefit from the Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster deal, but he has a history of favouring other priorities beyond his material well-being.
He has long been a critic of tax cuts for the rich, even as “the rich” surely 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, attorneys for the two sides offered contrasting views of the book industry. Government attorney John Read invoked a dangerously narrow market, ruled tightly 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 defence that the industry was actually diverse, profitable and open to newcomers.
Publishing means not just the Big Five, but also such medium-size companies as WW Norton & Co and Grove Atlantic.
The merger, he contended, would in no way upend the ambitions so many hold for literary success.
“Every book starts out as an anticipated bestseller in the gleam of an author’s or an editor’s eye,” he said.