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Stephen King says writers hurt by book publishing mergers

novelist stephen king appears to testify at u.s. district court antritrust case in washington
Novelist Stephen King outside the US District Court in Washington

Horror author Stephen King said writers will have fewer places to shop their books if Penguin Random House is allowed to merge with Simon & Schuster, in testimony on Tuesday in a trial to determine if the deal may go forward.

In a trial that began on Monday, the U.S. Justice Department is trying to convince a federal judge to block a $2.2 billion merger of two of the “Big Five” book publishers. It has 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 would pay more for books. Read full story

King, author of “The Shining,” “Carrie” and other blockbusters, took issue with pledges that the companies have made to allow Simon & Schuster imprints, basically different brands of books, to continue to bid against Penguin Random House independently for books.

“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.

Looking more like an accountant than the blood-curdling author of “Misery,” King’s appearance in a 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.

King modestly said he wasn’t sure how many best sellers he had written but acknowledged it was more than 60.

The defense, led by lawyer Daniel Petrocelli who defeated the Trump administration’s 2018 bid to stop AT&T Inc 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.

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

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