Justice Dept. Sues Penguin Random House Over Simon & Schuster Deal

The Biden administration’s rejection of the proposed publishing merger reflects a changing atmosphere in Washington toward consolidation.,

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In one of its first major antitrust lawsuits, the Biden administration on Tuesday sued to stop Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in the United States, from acquiring its rival Simon & Schuster, signaling a broader view of checking corporate consolidation than the one that has prevailed in Washington for decades.

In a publishing landscape dominated by a handful of mega corporations, Penguin Random House towers over the others. It operates more than 300 imprints worldwide and has 15,000 new releases a year, far more than the other four major U.S. publishers. With its $2.2 billion proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House stood to become substantially larger.

The deal was challenged amid a shifting atmosphere in Washington toward consolidation, where there has been increased scrutiny on competition and the power wielded by big companies like Amazon and Facebook. The move provides a window into how the Biden administration will handle these concerns going forward.

Rather than concerns solely over harm to consumers, the Department of Justice said the acquisition could be detrimental to producers — in this case, authors — in what is called a monopsony, as opposed to a monopoly. The Biden administration filed its case against Penguin Random House in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

Penguin Random House said it planned to vigorously fight the challenge and hired Daniel Petrocelli as its trial lawyer. Mr. Petrocelli successfully defended AT&T and Time Warner against the Justice Department when it tried to block their $100 billion merger.

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