Department of Justice Sues to Block PRH Acquisition of S&S

I have to admit that I had no clue what to think when I saw the Publisher’s Weekly News e-mail about the Department of Justice suing to block the Penguin Random House acquisition of Simon and Schuster. It made me wonder when was the last time when the DOJ was worried about writers and our advances. No, really. When?

The Backstory

Penguin Random House is the world’s third largest publisher, and they are the largest trade publisher. Clearly this could be problematic when agents try to interest multiple editors in a single project.

But PRH Global CEO Markus Dohle said the company would allow editors to bid against each other. Really? A Putnam editor could bid against a Random House editor, no holds barred. I find it hard to believe.

The DOJ Steps In

The DOJ filed a suit on November 2, 2021 in Washington, D.C. The worry is that if Bertelsmann would acquire Viacom’s Simon & Schuster, it would cause “substantial harm to authors.”

Not that they are worried about all of us, mind you. I loved this quote. “If consummated, this merger would likely result in substantial harm to authors of anticipated top-selling books and ultimately, consumers.”

First things first, the publisher that could accurately predict a best-seller probably wouldn’t have to take part in bidding wars. They could just slip on over and make an offer.

Ah, well. The part that totally cracked me up is from acting assistant attorney general Richard A. Powers of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. According to Powers, this suit is intended to block further consolidation in an industry with a “history of collusion.”

Maybe it says something about my personality but this guy either has a great sense of humor (a politician who talks about collusion!) or he has none at all.

To read the whole story, you can click through to Publisher’s Weekly here.

I don’t think that allowing PRH to buy S&S would do any of us any good. But the fact that they are only looking out for best-selling authors also makes me think that they are looking out for themselves – politicians and celebrities who are looking to cash in.

Call me cynical if you want but there are a lot of publishers out there who are looking to serve their market without getting into a huge bidding war over the latest tell all.