WASHINGTON (AP) — Bestselling author Stephen King gingerly stepped up to the witness stand Tuesday in a federal antitrust trial. Tracing his own history, he laid out a portrait of a publishing industry that has become increasingly concentrated over the years while richly rewarding his creative endeavors.

“My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer,” King said as he began his sworn testimony as a witness for the U.S. Justice Department. The government is bidding to convince a federal judge that the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and rival Simon & Schuster, two of the world’s biggest publishers, would thwart competition and damage the careers of some of the most popular authors.

King has been published for years by Simon & Schuster. Some of his former publishers were acquired by larger ones. The $2.2 billion merger of Penguin Random House, the biggest U.S. publisher, and fourth-largest Simon & Schuster would reduce the “Big Five” U.S. publishers — which also include HarperCollins, Macmillan and Hachette — to four.

Over two days, attorneys for the two sides have presented contrasting views of the book industry to U.S. District Judge Florence Pan.

King’s appearance in U.S. District Court in Washington — highly unusual for an antitrust trial — brought a narrative of the evolution of book publishing toward the dominance of the Big Five companies. As government attorney Mel Schwarz walked King through his history starting as a new, unknown author in the 1970s and his relationships with agents and publishers, King homed in on a critique of the industry as it is now.

Wearing all gray — suit, sneakers and tie — King crisply answered Schwarz’s questions, with some moments of humor and brief flashes of gentle outrage, as he testified during the second day of the trial expected to last two to three weeks.

“The Big Five are pretty entrenched,” he said.

Under questioning later in the day, Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp detailed a world of fiercely competitive bidding among publishers — including between his firm and Penguin Random House — for authors’ works, sometimes besting each other by millions of dollars for high-profile writers.

He rejected the “Big Five” moniker, calling it “parochial and ethnocentric.”

“I think there are a lot of good publishers all over the country. It’s not all about us,” Karp said.

As an example, he said the nearly 100-year-old Simon & Schuster has endured more aggressive competition recently from Amazon’s book publishing business.

But Justice Department attorney Jeff Vernon brought forward a message Karp had sent to John Irving, his favorite author, saying he didn’t think the government would allow Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House to merge. “That’s assuming we still have a Department of Justice,” Karp wrote in the message.

At one point, the judge appeared to support the government’s argument that greater concentration in the industry could reduce the compensation paid to authors. Through two days of testimony, Pan said, “there’s a sense that competition raises the amounts of advances” and less competition lowers them.

King’s displeasure about the proposed merger led him to voluntarily testify for the government.

“I came because I think that consolidation is bad for competition,” King said. The way the industry has evolved, he said, “it becomes tougher and tougher for writers to find money to live on.”

King expressed skepticism toward the two publishers’ commitment to continue to bid for books separately and competitively after a merger.

“You might as well say you’re going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for the same house,” he quipped. “It would be sort of very gentlemanly and sort of after you, and after you,” he said, gesturing with a polite sweep of the arm.

Attorney Daniel Petrocelli representing the companies told King he had no questions for him and demurred on a cross-examination.

Turning out around 60 bestsellers starting from his first book in 1974, King has thrived like few other writers.

The author of “Carrie,” “The Shining” and many other favorites, King has willingly — even eagerly — placed himself in opposition to Simon & Schuster, his longtime publisher. He was not chosen by the government just for his fame, but for his public criticism of the $2.2 billion deal announced in late 2021, joining two of the world’s biggest publishers into what rival CEO Michael Pietsch of Hachette Book Group has called a “gigantically prominent” entity.

“The more the publishers consolidate, the harder it is for indie publishers to survive,” King tweeted last year.

He may not have the business knowledge of Pietsch, the government’s first witness on Monday, but he has been a published novelist for nearly 50 years and knows well how much the industry has changed as some former publishers were acquired by larger companies. “Carrie,” for instance, was published by Doubleday, which in 2009 merged with Knopf Publishing Group and now is part of Penguin Random House. Another former King publisher, Viking Press, was a Penguin imprint that joined Penguin Random House when Penguin and Random House merged in 2013.

King’s affinity for smaller publishers is personal. Even while continuing to publish with the Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner, he has written thrillers for the independent Hard Case Crime. Years ago, the publisher asked him to contribute a blurb, but King instead offered to write a novel for them, “The Colorado Kid,” released in 2005.

King himself would likely benefit from the Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster deal, but he has a history of favoring other priorities beyond his material well-being. He has long been a critic of tax cuts for the rich, even as “the rich” surely includes Stephen King, and has openly called for the government to raise his taxes.

“In America, we should all have to pay our fair share,” he wrote for The Daily Beast in 2012.