Publishing Perspectives has a good round-up piece about the Justice Department’s suit against the proposed merger of Simon & Schuster with Penguin Random House. The claim is not the usual anti-monopoly case that the merger will be bad for book customers — the claim in this case is that the merger will, by reducing the number of bidders, reduce the amounts paid to authors for their books when they are subject to rights auctions. Now of course, not all (not even many) books are “sold” by an auction, and the Justice Department seems to be riding bravely to the defense of the richest 1% of authors. PRH have asserted that they will continue to allow their individual imprints to bid against one another. They do this now, and say they’ll allow S&S imprints the same freedom.

Am I just being naïve when I object to this lawsuit on the basis that an advance is not a normal purchase? It’s an “advance against royalties“. If best-selling author A “sells” their book for an advance of $1,000,000 but their book ends up selling 2 million copies with a royalty of $2, the publisher will be happy to pay them another $3 million. In what way has this author been harmed by agreeing to an advance of a mere $1 million? Well, time is money, so there’s a little bit of interest loss, but the lawsuit seems to be based upon the misconception that if the publisher pays an advance of $1 million, that’s all the money the author’s going to get out of them. This is obvious nonsense. Maybe there are a significant number of book signings at auction which do result in guaranteed cash payments, not advances tied to royalties at all — this is not something about which I have any knowledge. Though we may have to accept that such a deal could be made, we couldn’t call it an advance.

Still Stephen King testified yesterday. I guess he’d know. Shelf Awareness‘s report makes it seem that his testimony didn’t really focus on the auction process at all. “I came because I think that consolidation is bad for competition” — an attitude many of us can share without any reference to the earnings of authors. “It becomes tougher and tougher for writers to find money to live on,” he said. On the subject PRH’s promise to allow S&S to bid against PRH imprints, he opined “You might as well say you are going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for a house. It’s a little bit ridiculous.” But of course it’s not like that at all, is it? Unless they are in divorce proceedings a husband and wife are not in competition: heads of imprints and divisions within a large corporation most certainly are.