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CEO DATELINE – Authors, booksellers speak out against publisher merger

Nov. 30, 2020
By Walt Williams

Groups representing authors and independent booksellers are raising alarms about a proposed merger of two of the nation’s largest publishers, saying it will give the combined company too much power over which books are published and sold, the news site Publishers Weekly recently reported.

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Penguin Random House parent company Bertelsmann recently won a bidding war to acquire publisher Simon & Schuster, offering $2.2 billion for the company, according to PW. There are currently five major publishers in the U.S., but the merger will reduce that number to four. The combined company could control roughly a third of the U.S. book market.

The Authors Guild is among the opponents of the deal. In a statement, the group said the merger means “there would be fewer competing bidders for (authors’) manuscripts, which would inevitably drive down advances offered.”

"Less competition would make it even more difficult for agents and authors to negotiate for better deals, or for the Authors Guild to help secure changes to standard publishing contracts—because authors, even best-selling ones, wouldn’t have many options, making it harder to walk away," the group said.

The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, also spoke out against the deal. CEO Allison Hill said the merger “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,” she said.

PW noted the response to the proposed merger from the Association of American Literary Agents was less critical, with the group not calling for Justice Department involvement. Still, the group said it had “grave concerns that the continued consolidation of the industry into fewer corporate hands may narrow the choices open to authors, harm their ability to sell their work, and diminish the diversity of viewpoints and the vibrancy so essential to the future of books."