The National Writers Union, Authors Guild, Sisters in Crime and several others organizations representing book authors—along with a leading anti-monopoly think tank—teamed up to send a joint letter to the Biden Administration. Together we urged the US Department of Justice’s Anti-Trust Division to block a proposal by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann to buy Simon & Schuster for $2.2 billion and merge it with an entity it already owns, Penguin Random House.
This proposed purchase will be one of the first major tests of whether the Biden Administration will actively enforce our country’s antitrust laws, to which the Trump Administration turned a blind eye.
Here’s an excerpt from our letter to the Department of Justice, which was also co-signed by the Western Writers Association, the Romance Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the Open Markets Institute:
The deal would bring well more than half of key US 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 takeover falls clearly within the standard of illegality set by the Clayton Act [U.S. antitrust law] and should be summarily rejected…. 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 most significant monopoly in any sector of the book industry is, of course, the monopolization of e-book distribution, and to a lesser degree print book distribution, by Amazon.com. But competition in book publishing is also under severe threat. As our letter to the Department of Justice explains, mergers and acquisition in recent years have dramatically reduced competition and increased the market share of what are now the top five book publishers, which would become the top four if the Penguin Random House/ Simon & Schuster deal goes through.
Writers already have too little barganing power in lopsided “negotiations” with giant publishing companies. The greater the monopolization of the book publishing industry, the fewer the cases in which an author will have multiple publishing offers or options, and the greater the power of publishers to impose exploitative “take it or leave it” contract terms and rates. Book authors are the first and foremost victims of the book publishing oligopoly, but readers lose, too, when fewer writers can earn a living creating the books people want to read.
President Biden’s Justice Department should get off on the right antitrust foot by saying that enough is enough and put limits on consolidation.