Anti-Trust Regulators Need To Leave The Poor Book Publishers Alone

This doesn’t actually have anything to do with book publishing.

Photo by MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/GettyImages

A proposed merger between Random House and Penguin would create an English-language book publishing behemoth (and potentially a funny name—Penguin House? Random Penguin?) that already has people talking about anti-trust scrutiny.

I’ll say about this what I said about the DoJ’s ebook price-fixing lawsuit namely that worrying about anti-trust issues in the book publishing industry is like worrying about a horse-and-buggy cartel. On a forward looking basis all the establishment book publishers are going to be fighting for their lives against both the risk of diminished interest in books and the possibility of new entrants in a world where expertise in the printing and distribution of physical volumes is no longer an important part of the industry.    

If there’s anything to worry about, competitionwise, it has to do with the back catalog of old works. But that in my view is overwhelmingly a copyright issue. If we let old books enter the public domain, there’d be no need to worry about anti-trust policy for old works. And with regard to new works, there’s just nothing the traditional publishers can possibly do to avoid competitiion. Regulators ought to cut them some slack.