Like almost everyone I know who works in book publishing or depends on book publishing for their livelihood, I followed the The Biden administration’s antitrust case against the proposed Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster merger. Last week, as John H. Maher of Weekly editors live tweeted us through the opening days of the testmy calendar was full of [skull-emoji] quote-tweets from things that many of us aren’t used to hearing publishing people say out loud. PRH lawyers have argued that “after the merger, the market dynamics will be the same”, while the DOJ argues that the combination of two of the “Big Five” publishers into one would reduce the number of offers an author could receive, reduce book advances, and make it harder for writers to support themselves. In a pre-trial briefthe DOJ said that if the merger goes through, it would “give the combined company control of almost half the market to acquire authors’ best-selling books” – a point underlined by Stephen “My name is Stephen King, I’m a freelance writer” King when he spoke last Tuesday. “Consolidation is bad for competition,” he said..
Last year the king tweeted on another possible side effect of large publisher mergers: “The more publishers consolidate, the harder it is for independent publishers to survive.” In his testimony last week, he declared“When I started in this business, there were literally hundreds of imprints, and some of them were run by people with extremely idiosyncratic tastes, you might say. These businesses were either subsumed one by one, or they’ve gone out of business. I think it’s getting harder and harder for writers to find enough money to live on.
The majority of authors won’t find themselves having multiple major offers from big-name publishers vying for their books. Many of us will become much more modest offers Big Five, or publish with smaller independent presses or micro-presses. Some will stick with indies for their entire career; others may get their start with an independent publisher before moving to a bigger house that can offer a higher lead. (It can also go the other way: authors may be less than thrilled with their publishing experience at a major publisher and move on to an independent or academic press partly because they hope to receive more focused or sustained attention, or help find a new readership. .) As a newbie writer in the independent press and former employee, I cringe a bit at arguments comparing independent publishers to “farm crews” which only help talented writers get to “big time” publishers. What is undeniable is that many writers have been able to publish books and build careers because an independent publishing team saw something in our work and decided to take inspiration from it.
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