Penguin snaps up Simon & Schuster, creating mega publisher

BERLIN — German media giant Bertelsmann said today that its Penguin Random House division is buying rival Simon & Schuster, in a mega deal that will likely reshape the U.S. publishing industry.

Penguin Random House, already the number one American publisher, will buy the New York-based firm, whose authors include Stephen King, Hillary Clinton and John Irving, from ViacomCBS for $2.17 billion in cash.

“Simon & Schuster strengthens Bertelsmann’s footprint globally, and (particularly) in the U.S., its second-largest market,” the Guetersloh-based company said in a statement.

The purchase of Simon & Schuster reduces the so-called Big Five of American publishing — which also includes HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan — to four.

The move will create a new publishing superpower and requires approval from the US Justice Department. No U.S. publisher in modern times would approach the power of the new company.

Bertelsmann’s rival News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, slammed the deal.

“There is clearly no market logic to a bid of that size – only anti-market logic,” News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson said in a statement. “Bertelsmann is not just buying a book publisher, but buying market dominance as a book behemoth.”

“This literary leviathan would have 70% of the U.S. literary and general fiction market,” Thomson added. “There will certainly be legal books written about this deal, though I wonder if Bertelsmann would publish them.”

Agents and authors often worry that a concentration of power in publishing could mean less competition for book deals, and lower advances.

“As an organization of writers it’s important to us that the publishing industry (thrives), and that there be multiple, robust outlets to bring the widest variety of books to audiences,” said Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of PEN America. “To the extent that efficiencies are garnered through consolidation, it is our hope that they are a catalyst to enable greater investment in authors, books, and outreach to readers.”

Penguin Random House chief executive Markus Dohle told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Simon & Schuster would retain its editorial independence and that individual imprints within Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster could continue to compete with each other for book deals.

Under the new company, authors would range from John Grisham and Stephen King to Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Every living former or current American president, from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump, will have published a book with the new company. So will first ladies such as Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.

Dohle declined to say whether there would be any layoffs, said it was too soon to speculate.

Simon & Schuster was founded in 1924 and put up for sale earlier this year. Its current president and chief executive, Jonathan Karp, will continue to lead the publishing house, Bertelsmann said.

The German conglomerate, which was founded in 1835 and also owns a broad portfolio of broadcast, music and online businesses, has been the sole owner of Penguin Random House since April.