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Books! The Podcast

On the state of publishing and the failed merger of Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House

Christian Lorentzen sat through the entirety of United States v. Bertelsmann, et al., an antitrust case taken up by the Department of Justice to block Penguin Random House’s purchase of Simon & Schuster. In this episode, he discusses the industry—born in the 1920s as part of a middlebrow revolution, and consolidating in the 1970s to ultimately become today’s Big Five publishing houses. “This corporate agglomeration seems almost inevitable,” Lorentzen explains. “If we lived under a different intellectual property regime and a different system that wasn’t capitalism, maybe things would be different.”

But does lack of competition between publishing houses really harm authors? This is the question at the heart of the trial and Lorentzen’s argument. Though the government ultimately blocked the merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, the trial made public some questionable practices of the Big Five, such as how publishers can prevent their imprints from upping bids against one another. For better or worse, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette, and HarperCollins are here to stay, influencing all parts of the world of books—what readers read, and what writers create for the mass market.

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August 2022

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