By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams
American literati recoiled in howls of articulate indignation Monday following news that multinational mass media conglomerate Paramount Global has agreed to sell venerable publishing house Simon & Schuster to KKR, described by one critic as “possibly the most vile example of a private equity firm that acquires, eviscerates, and kills off companies for profit.”
The New York Times reports KKR will pay $1.62 billion in an all-cash deal for the 99-year-old publishing giant, which was first put up for sale in 2020.
Last October, a proposed $2.2 billion sale to Penguin Random House (PRH) collapsed after a federal judge sided with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which opposed the deal on antitrust grounds.
“I guess all of corporate book publishing is beholden to investors above all else but this really makes it blatant,” tweeted Maris Kreizman, host of the Maris Review literary podcast. “As we saw in DOJ v. PRH, the people at the top truly don’t know how the sausage gets made. And now a private equity firm will be at the tippy top. What could go wrong?”
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Dashka Slater, the New York Times bestselling author of The 57 Bus—which won the Stonewall Book Award in 2018—said she was “horrified” to get an email from Simon & Schuster “announcing their acquisition by kleptocrats KKR.”
“This is a dark day for publishing,” Slater added.
According to Words Rated, an international data and analytics research group focusing on the publishing industry, over 80% of the nearly $91.4 billion annual U.S. book trade is controlled by the “Big Five” publishers—Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster.
Often referred to as “vulture capitalists” because they target financially floundering companies for acquisition before gutting their operations and personnel to maximize profit, private equity firms own or control scores of publishers, according to the market research site mergr.
KKR media chair Richard Sarnoff called the deal “a compelling opportunity to help Simon & Schuster become an even stronger partner to literary talent by investing in the expansion of the company’s capabilities and distribution networks.”
Jamie Ford, another Times bestselling author, had just “one question for the KKR board.”
“What,” he asked, “was the last book you read?”
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.