In late 2022, an unusual scene unfolded in a New York courtroom: Author Stephen King, in an almost grandfatherly way, recounted a decades-ago lunch during which a publisher laughed at his proposed terms and walked out.
Does the publisher regret losing out on an early-career Mr. King?, the judge asked.
To laughter in the courtroom, Mr. King said the man “retired shortly thereafter.”
What had brought Mr. King to court that day was a big fight: The U.S. Department of Justice, which would go on to win, had sued to block the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House, a megamerger that would have resulted in a giant with nearly 50 per cent of the market for top-selling books.
Mr. King’s testimony underscores what was at stake: Rejected rudely by a short-sighted publisher, Mr. King had gone on to have a successful career with a rival, in a marketplace teeming with individual book producers. But with a merged Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster dominating the market, that scenario would be less likely. In other words, competition within industries is important.
It’s a sentiment that has echoed far and wide in recent years. The case of the publishing merger was just one milestone in a growing global antitrust movement that has produced a sprawling lawsuit against Google’s alleged monopolization of digital ad technology, two continuing German investigations into Amazon.com Inc.’s marketplace practices and new rules governing the conduct of major digital platforms in Europe.
In February, antitrust made it into the U.S. President’s State of the Union address for the first time since 1979.
Aimed at curbing the power of monopolies and empowering citizens, this movement could not have found a riper moment: a year of skyrocketing living costs, record corporate profits, the rolling onset of a housing crisis across many Western countries and, seemingly, everyone trying to buy each other, from Microsoft Corp. bidding for Activision Blizzard Inc., to a plethora of gold-mining deals and even proposed mergers between the big companies behind Korean pop stars.
Here in Canada, this antitrust movement might find its footing, too. It is, after all, what one would expect when 2022 was capped off with the Competition Tribunal’s approval of the merger of Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. in our oligopoly telecommunications market, and disastrous holiday travel conditions across what is, in effect, our duopoly air travel market.
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