Britain probes publisher Penguin’s $2.2 billion Simon & Schuster deal

Penguin books are seen in a used bookshop in central London
FILE PHOTO: Penguin books are seen in a used bookshop in central London October 29, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

March 22, 2021

By Tanishaa Nadkar

(Reuters) – Britain’s competition watchdog is investigating whether Penguin Random House’s $2.2 billion takeover of Simon & Schuster may hurt competition, it said on Monday, amid concerns that the deal could disadvantage writers and damage the publishing industry.

Penguin owner Bertelsmann last year outbid Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in a contest for the publisher of Dan Brown, Hillary Clinton and Stephen King, which Viacom had put on the block.

The deal is the second major move by Bertelsmann Chief Executive Thomas Rabe to expand the 185-year-old publisher after it took full control of Penguin Random House, the world’s biggest bookseller, from Pearson last year.

He had said the merged entity would have a U.S. market share of less than 20%, making the transaction “approvable”.

“We expect the regulatory approvals to close during 2021,” a Bertelsmann spokesman told Reuters on Monday.

However, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson had criticised the deal, saying Bertelsmann was “buying market dominance as a book behemoth” and that it had an “anti-market logic”.

A representative for Penguin Random House, which was formed in 2013 when Bertelsmann and Pearson combined their publishing businesses Random House and Penguin Group, said the group was working with Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority in its review.

It is now the world’s biggest trade publisher, with more than 15,000 new publications and over 600 million books sold a year.

The Authors Guild said last year the deal would mean fewer competing bidders for manuscripts and lower pay, urging the U.S. Department of Justice to challenge it as well as refuse to allow further deals in the U.S. publishing industry.

It said that the number of large mainstream publishing houses would go down from five to four.

Size is important in publishing as bestseller lists become dominated by a handful of blockbusters, such as Penguin’s edition of ex-U.S. President Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land.

(Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru and Klaus Lauer in Berlin; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Jan Harvey)