Master of horror and enormously wealthy writer Stephen King took the stand to testify in a monumental trial today, in defense of the United States. Per Variety, he was testifying on behalf of the Justice Department under the current Biden administration in an anti-trust lawsuit against the publishing house Penguin Random House. Currently, Penguin Random House is attempting a multibillion-dollar merger to absorb one of its biggest rivals, Simon & Schuster, and has run afoul of the Justice Department’s duty to monitor potential monopolies. Stephen King took the stand to state his beliefs as one of the most popular living authors in the country (and the world) that the proposed merger was, in a word, bad.
Specifically, Stephen King testified his opinion that “consolidation is bad for competition,” or, in other words, reducing the number of markets that a writer can go to is bad for their opportunities to make money from it. For many years, the publishing market in America was dominated by what was known as the “Big Six” publishing houses (Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan). In 2013, Penguin absorbed Random House, resulting in the “Big Five.” Now, the combined Penguin Random House would like to absorb Simon & Schuster, further reducing the marketplace to four giant companies.
According to Stephen King, allowing a giant company to acquire a giant rival will logically diminish the opportunities for writers to choose what company they want to work with and further reduce writers’ abilities to bargain for better deals. For its part, Penguin Random House is defending itself against the antitrust suit by stating that Simon & Schuster will operate independently under their ownership, so it will totally be a competitive field for writers, even though they are fundamentally the same company with different branches.
To this, Stephen King rebutted “You might as well say you’re going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for the same house,” using those famous wordsmith skills. Stephen King has associated with Simon & Schuster for many years, so he doubtlessly has some skin in the game here. However, he is also one of the most successful writers in the world and has much more ability to leverage his selling power and reputation than basically anyone not named J.K. Rowling or James Patterson. This gives Stephen King at least a little more freedom to state his opinions without fear of being punished by a massive corporation.
Despite one of the best-selling bibliographies in the world, Stephen King has shown no signs of slowing down. He published two novels in both 2021 (Later and Billy Summers) and 2022 (Gwendy’s Final Task and Fairytale), and has at least one more scheduled to be released next year. There are (as ever) a multitude of Stephen King adaptations currently in production, including a sequel to the reboot of Pet Sematary, a new version of his vampire novel Salem’s Lot, and The Boogeyman starring Sophie Thatcher and Chris Messina. We can probably expect a new novel about the legal system with a writer protagonist sometime in the next year.