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Authors Guild Wants DOJ To Stop Simon & Schuster & Penguin Random House Deal

 |  January 31, 2021

On Friday, January 29, the Authors Guild and the National Writers Union, along with four other writers’ groups and the nonprofit Open Markets Institute, sent a letter urging the Department of Justice to block the imminent publishing deal between literary giants Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House, the third and first largest trade book publishers in the country. 

“The deal would bring well more than half of key U.S. book markets under the control of a single corporation, which poses a variety of potential threats to freedom of speech and democracy in the United States,” the letter stated. “The takeover falls clearly within the standard of illegality set by the Clayton Act and should be summarily rejected.”

The Clayton Antitrust Act, passed in 1914, defines unethical business practices like forming monopolies and colluding to fix prices. Antitrust laws generally require companies to report large deals to the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission for a review, without which they cannot be finalized.

The Authors Guild is a 109-year-old organization dedicated to advancing writers’ interests in copyright control, free expression and fair contracts. Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Western Writers of America, and the Horror Writers Assn. also signed the letter. 

The signatories argue the merger of two of the Big Five publishing houses is part of a wider effort to consolidate the entire publishing industry — including bookselling, which Amazon reigns over — and has gone too far. 

ViacomCBS announced in November its plans to sell Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House for US$2.18 billion in a merger expected to be finalized this year. Its public rationale? The dominance of Amazon. A bigger company wields more bargaining power when dealing with online retailers.

But the letter argued that the dominance of Amazon only strengthened its case for more regulation across the board. “Power over the purchasing decisions of America’s readers, the livelihood and liberty of expression of America’s authors, and the viability of America’s independent bookstores is already far too concentrated,” the organizations wrote. “[T]he time has also come to recognize that simply blocking takeovers is no longer sufficient.”