The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust suit to stop the merger of publishers Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has not gained as much attention as cases targeting “Big Tech” companies, but it nevertheless illustrates antitrust authorities’ renewed confidence that they can use the law to stop any mergers between large companies. Yet, the case also reveals the weakness of such an approach to competition, and suggests that, far from seeking to strengthen antitrust law, policy makers should be looking to weaken it.
Both Penguin Random House (itself the result of a recent merger) and Simon & Schuster are currently owned by conglomerates, respectively the German giant Bertelsmann and ViacomCBS. The latter has bet its future on streaming services and is looking to sell its publishing arm. As The New York Times reports, “The top three contenders were Bertelsmann, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, and Vivendi” (a French company with a stake in publisher Hachette, which publishes J.K. Rowling). In other words, whichever contender come out on top, there would be a degree of further consolidation within the industry. The “Big 5” publishers would become the Big 4.