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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
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Macmillan CEO says Penguin Random House-S&S merger may change dynamic of US publishing

Book prices, author advances and the types of competition at book auctions will be impacted “across the board" if the Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster $2.175 billion dollar merger is allowed, according to the CEO of one of their biggest rivals, Macmillan Publishers.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The CEO of Macmillan Publishers said Monday that he believes the dynamic of U.S. publishing will change if the country's top publisher, Penguin Random House, is allowed to acquire the fourth largest U.S. publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Testifying in the government’s attempt to block the $2.175 billion dollar proposed merger, Don Weisberg said if two of the major players in the U.S. publishing market become one — book prices, author advances and types of competition at auctions will be impacted “across the board.”

“My guess is less competition will bring the advance levels down,” Weisberg said.

And given the “magnitude” of the billion dollar deal, which Penguin Random House’s CEO testified would “cement” it as the nation’s top publisher, Weisberg said Macmillan’s relationships with agents would also “inevitably…have to change.”

“If I’m an agent and there’s one player that’s bigger than everybody else…you’ll have to change your behavior to deal with that,” he said.

Unless blocked by the court, he said the merger “potentially” could make it “harder for us to acquire books.”

According to the Department of Justice, the deal would turn Penguin Random House into a “monopsony” — a situation in which there is only one buyer in a given market — in violation of federal antitrust laws. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland warned that, “American authors and consumers will pay the price of this anticompetitive merger — lower advances for authors and ultimately fewer books and less variety for consumers.” 

During cross examination on Monday, Weisberg said he fears if the merger goes through, Macmillan will have to compete with a larger, more formidable competitor.

But when the defense asked if he thinks Macmillan “could do it” despite the fear, Weisberg said, “yes.”

Trying to further downplay Weisberg’s worries, the defense peppered him with questions in an apparent attempt to show that Macmillan — like Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster — is a “strong player” in the U.S. publishing market, where it ranks fifth out of the top publishing companies, known as the “Big Five.”

He confirmed that Macmillan has “high quality” publishing, famous authors like Oprah who draw readers, and that the publisher experienced “unprecedented growth and profit” over the last two years.

When the defense asked if his merger-related concerns over distribution, advertising and bidding are based on “your guess or just your gut,” the CEO conceded they are not data-based and are “just speculation."

Weisberg’s testimony came on the fifth day of the federal antitrust bench trial, which is expected to last up to three weeks.

After Weisberg, the Justice Department called internal economic analyst Nicholas Hill to the witness stand to walk the judge through the department’s economic analysis of the proposed merger, which he predicted would “significantly reduce competition.”

Last week, bestselling author Stephen King took the stand voluntarily for the government, arguing that the merger would be "bad for competition." Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp and Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle defended the merger when called to testify.

The trial is set to resume Tuesday with testimony from Harper Collins CEO Brian Murray.

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Categories / Business, Government, National

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