Penguin Random House is Buying Simon and Schuster. Why Should We Care?

I have never wanted to use my English degree for something that society deems “practical”. I hate kids far too much to be a teacher, and as much as I wish I could be Elle Woods, law school has never seemed like the right path. Instead, when asked what the heck I want to do as an English major, my answer is usually that I want to work in the book publishing industry. So when I heard the news that ViacomCBS is selling Simon and Schuster to Penguin Random House for a deal of about $2 billion, I was, quite simply, shook. 

But Greta, you may be asking, why on God’s green earth should I ever care about drama in the publishing industry? Excellent question. But first, to understand the significance of this deal, we have to have a basic knowledge of the Big Five. Composed of Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan, the Big Five are the five most powerful publishing companies in the game. But with the merging of two of these powerhouses, the Big Five will become the Big Four, and a new “mega publisher” will be created. 

The first reason this is an issue is because it hurts more unknown authors. When the most powerful publishing house is being presented with so many manuscripts, of course the big name authors and series will receive more attention. As smaller publishing houses are stamped out, smaller authors are harmed as well, and thousands of incredible stories that could affect so many lives are never given the time of day. 

Another topical issue in today’s landscape is the danger of limiting the diversity of speech. It is incredibly important in a healthy society to limit business monopolies, but also to limit monopolies of thought. Simon and Schuster published several controversial anti-Trump texts that were largely fought by the former president’s legal team, and the house is known for putting out political texts. Now, they will be acting under the voices and perspectives of a massive company looking to support their own interests. It’s incredibly important that we have a broad range of voices in the publishing world, and if these houses continue to grow and absorb exponentially, this range will dwindle.

Someone holding a book on a yellow bed. Photo by fotografierende from Pexels

It also makes everyone’s job more difficult: the agent, the author, and even the new publishing intern looking for a job. Less competition means less competitive prices, and since few people break into the publishing world looking to get rich, this is a scary possibility for many in the industry.

Unfortunately, this deal is far from an isolated incident. Buyouts and mergers in the publishing world are making giant super-houses seem more like a reality everyday. And, of course, a large reason for this move can be traced back to everyone’s favorite e-commerce site, Amazon. Due to both its extreme convenience and the US Justice Department’s fixation on low prices, Amazon has become a major buyer and retailer for publishers’ books. This means that often publishers have to bend to Amazon’s negotiations rather than the other way around. It’s easier for the biggest publishing houses to keep up with the ever-growing hunger of Amazon, so these are most often the ones that survive. 

It’s sad and scary to be a reader in today’s dodgy reading landscape. The smaller creators that produce some of the most wonderful books are being left to the trenches, and it’s frightening how little seems to be done about it. What can be done, though, is to keep fighting the toxic conditions Amazon continues to create in the American economic sphere, and to keep reading for pleasure rather than popularity. I don’t know what the publishing world is going to look like if I’m able to enter it in a few years, but I hope the passion of devoted readers is enough to save it.

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/penguin-random-house-is-buying-simon-and-schuster-thats-bad-for-readers/2020/11/25/e53d5382-2f40-11eb-860d-f7999599cbc2_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/25/books/simon-schuster-penguin-random-house.html