The Complete History of Penguin Random House vs. Simon & Schuster 

2022 brings the end to an ongoing bid for publishing house 

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Claire Arneson, Editor

Have you ever looked at a book you were reading and looked at the small image on the spine? What did it look like? Was it a penguin? Is someone shooting a bow & arrow? Maybe it was a letter. This represents the company that published the book in your hand. The company that worked with the writer, edited their work, marketed, compacted, and presented a hard or paperback copy of a story to the world. There are many publishing houses across the globe. Some are local and publish a specific kind of novel, such as Coffee House Press in Minnesota. Some are journalistic like the news you are reading right now, and some are the big guns, well-known houses in the book community.   

Two of the main publishing companies, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, recently went through a legal battle. Penguin wanted to buy out Simon & Schuster, which would turn them into a mega-corporation. Not only would this lead to one of the big 5 publishing companies to turn into the big 4, but many of those opposed to this merger believed that the publishing industry would turn into a monopoly. With one of the biggest houses increasing in size, they would have larger control of the authors who write the books, the books that would reach the shelves, and most importantly the voices we would read.   

Penguin Random House (PRH) grew into the publishing powerhouse we know today dating back to the 1800s. In 1838, George Palmer Putman founded G. P. Putnam’s Sons. According to the timeline on their website, some of the well-known authors they housed were Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, and Charles Dickens. After going through more and more name changes, they became the loveable flightless bird we know today.   

PRH was officially established in 2013 after the shutdown of shareholders Pearson and Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann is now the main owner of the company. According to their website, their mission is that “Penguin Random House is the international home to more than 300 editorially and creatively independent publishing imprints. Our mission is to ignite a universal passion for reading by creating books for everyone. We believe that books, and the stories and ideas they hold, have the unique capacity to connect us, change us, and carry us toward a better future for generations to come” (2022). Some notable titles from them include the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin, The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, and even Becoming by Michele Obama.   

As of 2021, some of their noticeable accomplishments include opening new imprints in Germany, India, and the U.K. They have established the “We Need Diverse Books” winners. Their LinkedIn says they employ 10,000 people globally and have won more than 80 Nobel Prizes. With so much success, the question of why take over a whole other corporation arises.   

Simon & Schuster came to be in New York City in 1924. Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster published their first book, The Cross Word Puzzle Book, and quickly rose to popularity. On their company history page, they explain how they grew into the imprint they are today and how they have many divisions. Divisions such as Atria Books is the main publisher for Colleen Hoover and Scribner, which just published Fairy Tale by Stephen King. S&S claim to be giving the buyers many different books by many different authors, making them a very diverse house.   

Something you may not know is that they are actually a part of the CBS corporation. Simon & Schuster and CBS are “subsidiaries” of Paramount – a fancy way of saying a holding company making them the ruler of media. That being said, the James Cordon late night show and a publishing house are owned by the same people.  

With so many divisions and sub-divisions, it was shocking to hear Bob Bakish, Viacom CBS CEO, say that they wanted to sell Simon & Schuster. In March 2020, from The Wrap, Bakish says, “is not a core asset. It is not video-based. It does not have significant connection for our broader business.” Them selling this subsidiary would make sense since as he said, it is not “video based.”   

Many companies expressed interest in purchasing S&S. Bertelsman Germany, owners of PRH were the winners of the bid. At $2.17, Simon & Schuster sold to them closely following them in taking control of Penguin Random House. Some were overjoyed by the prospects of this merger. Mainly PRH executives, and owners. An article from The Guardian dating back to in November 2020 expresses the views of the chief executive who was outbid. Robert Thomson cautioned onlookers saying “that a Bertelsmann win would lead to an anti-competitive “behemoth of books” that would control one-third of the US book market” (Guardian, 2020).   

In November 2021, the United States Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to stop PRH from getting Simon & Schuster. From the Office of Public Affairs, United States Department of Justice explain its position by saying, “as alleged in the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, this acquisition would enable Penguin Random House, which is already the largest book publisher in the world, to exert outsized influence over which books are published in the United States and how much authors are paid for their work” (2021).   

A year later, the presiding judge blocked the merger between the two companies. As covered by the Vulture, Judge Florence Y. Pan stated, “the Court finds that the United States has shown that ‘the effect of [the proposed merger] may be substantially to lessen competition in the market for the U.S. publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books’” (Bekiempis, 2022). The assistant attorney general, Jonathan Kanter commented “the proposed merger would have reduced competition, decreased author compensation, diminished the breadth, depth, and diversity of our stories and ideas, and ultimately impoverished our democracy.”  

The employed main witness by the government, the as before mentioned Stephen King, rejoiced after hearing the news. He tweeted “I am delighted that Judge Florence Pan has blocked the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. The proposed merger was never about readers and writers; it was about preserving (and growing) PRH’s market share. In other words: $$$” (King, 2022).  Media outlets have been covering this story since the beginning, and the publishing community has been thoroughly involved throughout it all. Publishing Perspective, an online magazine that covers all things going on in the book world, has been a close monitor of the trial. In their most recent article covering the trial, they covered those on the opposing side, PRH, who claimed that the whole ordeal would “be a setback for readers and authors,” while Simon & Schuster says the same. These two corporations are upset about the decision made by the government. Neither of them saw the issues with having one mega corporation, but Simon & Schuster said they will continue to thrive and will continue to let voices be heard and words to be read.   

Whether you have no idea what this article is about or it has been a good while since you picked up a book, we can agree that they are important to society through the authors who’s words are heard and the readers who pick them up. As of now, they are working on an expedited appeal, which means they wish to go to a higher court that will overrule the decision. All there is to do now is to follow the news and read more books.  

 

Claire Arneson is a Dakota Student Editor and Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]

  

Works Cited  

  • Anderson, P. (2022, November 1). Court blocks PRH-Simon & Schuster acquisition. Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://publishingperspectives.com/2022/10/court-blocks-penguin-random-houses-simon-schuster-acquisition/   
  • Baysinger, T. (2020, March 4). Viacomcbs to sell publisher Simon and Schuster. TheWrap. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.thewrap.com/viacomcbs-to-sell-publisher-simon-and-schuster/   
  • Bekiempis, V. (2022, November 1). Judge shuts book on Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster merger. Vulture. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.vulture.com/2022/11/judge-blocks-prh-simon-schuster-merger.html   
  • OAP. (2021, November 2). Justice Department sues to Block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of rival publisher Simon & Schuster. The United States Department of Justice. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-sues-block-penguin-random-house-s-acquisition-rival-publisher-simon   
  • Staff. (2020, November 25). PRH owner Bertelsmann to buy Simon & Schuster in $2bn deal. The Guardian. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/25/prh-owner-bertelsmann-to-buy-simon-schuster-in-2bn-deal