Along with most everyone I know who works in or otherwise relies on book publishing for their livelihood, I’ve been following the Biden administration’s antitrust case against the proposed Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster merger. Last week, as John H. Maher of Publishers Weekly live-tweeted us through the opening days of the trial, my timeline was filled with [skull-emoji] quote-tweets of things that many of us aren’t used to hearing folks in publishing say out loud. PRH lawyers have argued that “after the merger, the market dynamic will be just the same,” while the DOJ maintains that combining two of the “Big Five” publishers into one would decrease the number of offers an author might receive, lower book advances, and make it harder for writers to support themselves. In a pretrial brief, the DOJ stated that if the merger goes forward, it “would … give the merged company control of nearly half of the market to acquire anticipated top-selling books from authors”—a point underlined by Stephen “My name is Stephen King, I’m a freelance writer” King when he took the stand last Tuesday. “Consolidation is bad for competition,” he said.

Last year, King tweeted about another possible side effect of big publisher mergers: “The more the publishers consolidate, the harder it is for indie publishers to survive.” In his testimony last week, he stated, “When I started in this business, there were literally hundreds of imprints, and some of them were run by people with extremely idiosyncratic tastes, one might say. Those businesses were either subsumed one by one or they ran out of business. I think it becomes tougher and tougher for writers to find enough money to live on.”

A majority of authors won’t find themselves fielding multiple major offers from big-name publishers vying for their books. Many of us will get far more modest deals from the Big Five, or publish with smaller independent presses or micro presses. Some will remain with indies for their whole careers; others may debut with an indie publisher before moving to a larger house that can offer a higher advance. (It can also go the other way: Authors may be less than thrilled with their publication experience at a bigger publisher and move to an independent or academic press in part because they hope to receive more focused or sustained attention, or help finding a new readership.) As an indie-press debut author and former employee, I winced a bit at arguments comparing independent publishers to “farm teams” that are merely helping talented writers make it to “big time” publishers. What’s undeniable is that many writers have been able to publish books and build careers because an indie-publishing team saw something in our work and decided to run with it.

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