Stephen King testifies for government in books merger trial

  • Author Stephen King arrives at federal court before testifying for the Department of Justice Tuesday as it bids to block the proposed merger of two of the world's biggest publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — Bestselling author Stephen King gingerly stepped up to the witness stand Tuesday in a federal antitrust trial. Tracing his own history, he laid out a portrait of a publishing industry that has become increasingly concentrated over the years while richly rewarding his creative endeavors.

“My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer,” King said as he began his sworn testimony as a witness for the U.S. Justice Department. The government is bidding to convince a federal judge that the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and rival Simon &Schuster, two of the world’s biggest publishers, would thwart competition and damage the careers of some of the most popular authors.

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King has been published for years by Simon &Schuster. Some of his former publishers were acquired by larger ones. The $2.2 billion merger of Penguin Random House, the biggest U.S. publisher, and fourth-largest Simon &Schuster would reduce the “Big Five” U.S. publishers — which also include HarperCollins, Macmillan and Hachette — to four.

Over two days, attorneys for the two sides have presented contrasting views of the book industry to U.S. District Judge Florence Pan.

King’s appearance in U.S. District Court in Washington — highly unusual for an antitrust trial — brought a narrative of the evolution of book publishing toward the dominance of the Big Five companies. As government attorney Mel Schwarz walked King through his history starting as a new, unknown author in the 1970s and his relationships with agents and publishers, King homed in on a critique of the industry as it is now.

Wearing all gray — suit, sneakers and tie — King crisply answered Schwarz’s questions, with some moments of humor and brief flashes of gentle outrage, as he testified during the second day of the trial expected to last two to three weeks.

“The Big Five are pretty entrenched,” he said.

Under questioning later in the day, Simon &Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp detailed a world of fiercely competitive bidding among publishers.

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