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As you may or may not know, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing to prevent Penguin Random House (PRH) from acquiring/merging with Simon & Schuster, on the grounds that it will lose authors money. Unlike many antitrust suits, it is not concerned with monopoly (not enough sellers) but monospony (not enough buyers). I explained in more detail when the trial was first announced.
The trial began last week, and journalist John Maher has been live tweeting it. Although I highly doubt that anything I have to say about the following could possibly be more amusing/infuriating/damning than the statements themselves, I do hope to provide a service in A) saving you the time of reading through the thread if all you want is to be enraged, and/or B) amusing you.
All quotes come from Maher’s thread. Commentary is my own unless otherwise attributed.
Right out the gate, while defining terms, PRH’s lawyer described “backlist” as meaning “Books that were published a very long time ago.” (Backlist is anything more than a year old by most definitions, but it can mean anything that isn’t brand new.)
DOJvPRH Day 2: “My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer.”
— John Maher (@JohnHMaher) August 2, 2022
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This is the tweet heard round the world, isn’t it? First a brief explanation: all witnesses are asked to identify themselves this way, by name and (relevant) occupation. So he didn’t do anything wrong here.
Now back to snark. Imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself this way. Actually, imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself the way “freelance writer” suggests. “My name is Stephen King. I can’t afford health insurance.” “My name is Stephen King and I work in coffee shops.” “My name is Stephen King. Will do novels for food.” “My name is Stephen King and last month I made negative 73 dollars.”
[cries in actual freelance writer]
(Another noteworthy thing from the trial: the PRH defense team declined to cross-examine Stephen King, who was a witness for the DOJ. That seems like a pretty big statement to the effect that they know they’re lying about this merger being good for authors, but what do I know?)
Simon & Schuster CEO Jon Karp said quite a few outrageous things, most of which involve his testimony contradicting his earlier deposition. None of them are particularly quote-worthy without context (read the thread!) but I was delighted that the DOJ lawyer apparently hurt his feelings by saying, “I should have guessed you’d have a big vocabulary, as head of a publishing house.”
Karp also called self-publishing “more of a threat than I thought” in reference to Brandon Sanderson’s $50 million Kickstarter — something that literally no other self-published author is capable of achieving, yay — and, in defending the idea that publishers don’t guarantee a marketing budget, said, “It’s like taking credit for the weather. You can’t promise success to the author.”
And I haven’t even gotten to the worst part! The quote heard round the world, part two: $100,000 is, according to Karp, a “fairly small advance.” Lilith Saintcrow breaks down why that is a lie — and the implications.
[screams in $305.60 earned for fiction last year]
DOJvPRH Day 3: Actual Jon Karp quote: “I’m not a game theorist, but….” Honestly, the man is hilarious. Asked if he has calculated Amazon’s market share: “I haven’t. I wish somebody would!” Govt isn’t taking the bait, but Karp is definitely pushing buttons.
— John Maher (@JohnHMaher) August 3, 2022
I…y’all, I can’t. This man has the power to hire someone to do exactly that. I have trouble believing he doesn’t already employ people who do exactly that. And if he actually doesn’t…dear gods.
Anyhow! Jon Karp is now my nemesis.
BUT WAIT, he may have to share that spot with PRH CEO Markus Dohle, who literally said they are called Random House because “everything is random in publishing.”
DOJvPRH Day 4: Sorry I’m taking so long, want to take just as diligent notes of the cross-exam. More ASAP. But here’s a fun tidbit in the interim. Dohle: “Everything is random in publishing. Success is random. Bestsellers are random. So that is why we are the Random House!”
— John Maher (@JohnHMaher) August 4, 2022
He said. Under oath. That is the reason they are called that. Y’all, I know this is a lie because if it was true they would have called themselves Random Penguin after that merger. Anyway. The only other interesting thing Dohle said is that PRH has no intention of keeping his promise not to merge imprints at S&S, but that he pinky promises he won’t do it. He seems like the absolute worst. Oh, and he lied about advances being split up into fourths!
The last witness of the week, Viking President Brian Tart, agreed with the judge that profit and loss is fake.
DOJvPRH Day 4: Best exchange of the trial so far. Judge Florence Pan: “The P&L is really fake. Am I wrong?” Tart, laughing: “No!”
So ends the first week of U.S. v Bertelsmann et al. Which is great, bc my brain is leaking out of my ears. Thanks for following along with me!
— John Maher (@JohnHMaher) August 4, 2022
And that was when my head exploded into ten thousand fiery shards.
For further commentary, see Kat Cho’s thread on stats derived from the trial and Cass Morris’s thoughts on capping advances.
Also, please note that Ash Dylan (whose Press Play is delightful) is doing the good work of piecing my poor brain back together with laughs. Por ejemplo:
Penguin Random House seen holding hands with Pete Davidson
— Ash Dylan (@AshDylanLit) August 6, 2022
And you probably want to know that this fanfic exists.
Next week, the trial will be covered by Maher and former Rioter BethAnne Patrick. Read along if you dare. I will be lying down in the dark under my heaviest blanket. Sorry I didn’t get around to discussing the fact that no one in publishing has ever heard of a “midlist,” whatever that is.