Are You There, Aryeh? It’s Me, Shari…

Who would be a logical buyer, if anyone, of the slimmed-down Paramount Global?
Who would be a logical buyer, if anyone, of the slimmed-down Paramount Global? Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
August 9, 2023

As I predicted back in June, the private equity behemoth KKR is walking off with Simon & Schuster, the legendary 99-year-old book publisher. It was obvious after the botched sale of S&S to Penguin Random House (my book publisher), first announced in November 2020, that parentco Paramount Global would not once again run the risk of attempting to sell S&S to one of the other so-called Big Five publishing houses. In retrospect, Paramount probably shouldn’t have tried to sell S&S to PRH in the first place. It was obvious—at least to me, anyway—that there was no way the new Biden administration’s antitrust regime, run by Lina Khan, was ever going to allow the largest book publisher to buy the third-largest book publisher, even if, at nearly $2.2 billion, it was hardly the largest or most earth-shattering deal of the year. 

It should have also been obvious to PRH’s then-management, and its swarm of high-priced lawyers and bankers, that the deal would not fly and should never have been attempted. But PRH found out the hard way. It lost at trial, got embarrassed with lots of damning emails, and had to pay Paramount a $200 million termination fee and also cough up many more millions in legal fees. 

The subsequent fallout at PRH was material: Markus Dohle, then the C.E.O. of PRH and the architect of the S&S deal, resigned in December 2022, just weeks after a federal judge blocked the combination. A few weeks after Dohle exited, in January 2023, Madeline McIntosh, the C.E.O. of PRH in the U.S. and Dohle’s direct report, also resigned. Since then, PRH has continued to restructure its businesses, offering buyout packages to a variety of senior employees—those over 60 years old and who have been working for the company for a number of years—and then outright firing others (including my editor).