Times Publishing gets nod for Penguin buys

Times Publishing must ensure that other retailers get a fair shot at selling books published under the Penguin umbrella.
Times Publishing must ensure that other retailers get a fair shot at selling books published under the Penguin umbrella.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Competition watchdog sets conditions for purchase of Penguin Random House units

Asia-based Times Publishing has received the green light to buy two Penguin Random House units, but with strings attached, the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) said yesterday.

The Fraser & Neave media group must ensure that other retailers get a fair shot at selling books published under the Penguin umbrella once it acquires the international publisher's Singaporean and Malaysian distribution arms.

It will have to apply the same recommended retail prices across the board and must also make sure that discounts are available in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner, with an independent auditor checking for compliance.

The $8 million deal between Times Publishing and Penguin Random House, which was proposed in January, ran into a roadblock when the commission flagged the potential concerns in its first round of reviews.

After the sale, the Penguin Random House and Penguin Books Malaysia units were to have inked an exclusive distribution deal for English books under the Penguin Books, The Random House Group, Dorling Kindersley and Penguin Random House imprints.

But Times Publishing is also behind the Times The Bookshop chain, and the watchdog noted that the company's ties to a specific retailer "may lead to the merged entity having greater ability and incentive to discriminate or restrict supply of the publishers' titles to other retailers".

The competition commission discussed with Times Publishing how the company would address such concerns and then held a public consultation on the company's suggested commitments, before giving the deal the thumbs up.

The conditional approval means Times Publishing will now be allowed to proceed with the buyout on the strength of its promise to see through and stick to the fair competition terms.

CCS, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is tasked with ensuring that mergers do not cause a substantial lessening of competition in Singapore, among other responsibilities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2017, with the headline 'Times Publishing gets nod for Penguin buys'. Print Edition | Subscribe