ABA to Call on Justice Department to Challenge Penguin Random House Purchase of Simon & Schuster

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Below is a letter from American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill in response to the news that Bertelsmann’s global trade book publishing group, Penguin Random House, plans to purchase Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS for $2.175 billion. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close during 2021. 

On November 17, I sent a letter to the Honorable Joseph Simons, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, to express ABA’s concern about the antitrust implications of a potential Simon & Schuster sale to Ingram, Amazon, or any of the “Big 5” publishers. I explained that the consolidation of publishing that this sale could represent threatens to undermine competition in the book industry, harm the interests of American consumers, and put bookstores and authors at risk.

The announcement today that Penguin Random House, the biggest of the “Big 5” publishers, is buying Simon & Schuster is alarming. As the dominant player in the publishing industry, PRH’s purchase of another “Big 5” publisher, further reducing the market to the “Big 4,” will mean too much power over authors and readers in the hands of a single corporation.

ABA will be calling on the Justice Department to challenge this deal and to ensure that no further consolidation of power be allowed in the U.S. book publishing industry.

Similarly, Open Markets Institute Executive Director Barry Lynn issued a statement following the announcement of the potential sale of S&S to PRH.

“Bertelsmann’s plan to take control of Simon & Schuster poses multiple dangers to American democracy and to the interests of America’s authors and readers. By bringing three of the big six publishers under one roof, the deal will concentrate vastly too much power over the U.S. book market in the hands of a single, foreign-owned corporation. The deal will make it harder for authors and editors to attract the support they need to research, write, and prepare the sorts of books Americans need to address the many serious political and economic crises we now face. It will also threaten the ability of independent booksellers — who are already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and other pressures — to stay in business,” said Lynn.

“Antitrust enforcers should block this deal. There’s ample evidence that concentration in the book industry is already harming readers and authors. Allowing more consolidation among the big publishers will further reduce the range of books and ideas that find their way into print and into the hands of readers,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “There is a growing consensus among the public and lawmakers that concentrated economic power is a serious threat to the nation’s well-being and that our antitrust laws must be strongly enforced. This proposed merger will be a test of whether the antitrust agencies have gotten that message.”