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FirstFT: US regulators sue to stop creation of mega-publisher

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US regulators have sued to block the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, which would have created a mega-publisher in the US books market, in one of the Biden administration’s most significant antitrust moves yet.

Bertelsmann, which owns Penguin Random House, last November struck a $2.2bn deal to acquire Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS, significantly outbidding Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in a deal that aimed to merge some of the world’s most popular authors, from EL James and Stephen King to George Orwell and F Scott Fitzgerald.

The justice department alleged that the two companies would control more than two-thirds of the market for acquiring publishing rights after merging, squeezing advances and resulting in “substantial harm to authors of anticipated top-selling books and ultimately, consumers”, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday at Washington federal court.

The DoJ complaint said a senior Penguin Random House executive told a colleague: “I would not want to be a big author at Simon & Schuster now.”

Do you agree with the Biden administration’s decision to try to block the merger? Write to me at firstft@ft.com and tell me what you think. Thanks for reading FirstFT Asia — Emily

Five more stories in the news

1. Facebook to shutter facial recognition system The social media platform will shut its facial recognition system and delete data collected from 1bn users that has been used to identify them in photos posted on the platform, citing growing regulatory scrutiny of the field.

Do you agree with Facebook’s decision to shutter its facial recognition system? Tell us in our latest poll.

2. CDC advisers back Covid vaccine for younger children A panel of top US scientific experts has backed the use of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 years, paving the way for the nationwide rollout of jabs for younger children. The Biden administration plans to begin vaccinating children as early as this week.

3. TikTok owner restructures after tough year ByteDance has announced its first restructuring since its founder stepped back in May. In an internal memo, acting chief executive Liang Rubo announced that the internet company would split into six business units, including content creation, education and gaming.

4. Australian central bank tightens monetary policy The Reserve Bank of Australia has dumped its policy of yield curve control, becoming one of the first large central banks to act against a post-pandemic surge in prices.

5. Citi prepares for Asia retail retreat The group is preparing to shed 16,000 staff and hundreds of thousands of customers in the region, drawing a curtain on former chief executive Sandy Weill’s ambitions to be a global consumer bank.

  • Related reads: The departing head of the American chamber of commerce in Shanghai has warned of an exodus of western executives from China. Separately, Yahoo Inc announced it would pull out of China because of the regulatory and legal environment. (FT, WSJ)

COP26 digest

Explore the FT Global Gallery: COP26 Edition, a digital exhibition that reflects the themes and goals of this year’s high-stakes summit featuring multimedia interpretations of FT journalism, thought-provoking films, interactive data visualisation and exclusively commissioned art.

The day ahead

Federal Reserve policy meeting The Fed will announce today a scaling back of its enormous pandemic-related stimulus programme amid uncertainty over persistent inflationary pressures and whether the US central bank will need to raise interest rates sooner than expected.

Winner of Booker Prize for Fiction announcement To judge the Booker Prize this year, the FT’s Horatia Harrod had to read 158 books in four months, or about a book a day. Horatia spoke about the experience on the FT Weekend podcast. Listen here.

Sydney Film Festival opens The festival will commence today after being postponed twice because of the pandemic. (ABC)

What else we’re reading

South Korea plots next entertainment blockbuster The rise of the nation’s entertainment industry echoes the country’s success stories in manufacturing. Now, having given the world K-pop, Parasite and Squid Game, it wants to create global platforms to distribute its own content.

Russia’s excess mortality soars since start of pandemic The country has recorded 753,000 excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, one of the highest tolls in the world, according to analysis of government data by the Financial Times that highlights the stark impact of the disease as Moscow imposes fresh restrictions to curb its spread.

Chart showing that Russia’s pandemic excess death toll ranks among the highest worldwide

Law firms in Hong Kong in the line of fire The Mayer Brown controversy over the Tiananmen monument case highlights a dilemma for multinationals as Beijing demands more ideological loyalty from its commercial sector, writes Primrose Riordan.

​​Into the metaverse: how sci-fi shapes our attitudes to the future From the Terminator to Japanese manga, powerful narratives drive fear or reassurance around tech. But the point of sci-fi — like all fiction — is not to predict the future, but to teach us what it really means to be human in a changing world, writes Madhumita Murgia.

Hong Kong takes risk in shutting itself off to the world Amid the fight against Covid-19, a city such as Hong Kong cannot stay isolated forever. Ultimately, it would have to choose between opening to the outside world or opening to China. Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, has chosen the latter option.

Film

Kumail Nanjiani, the Pakistan-born actor and comic, has new title: action figure. He is delighted that his role in Marvel’s new Eternals film has been immortalised as a tiny toy — even though racial politics still weigh heavily. FT film critic Danny Leigh sat down with Nanjiani to discuss the porous line between life and art, identity, the actor’s love for super heroes and his new physique.

Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo in ‘Eternals’ © Sophie Mutevelian

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