Corps de l’article

On September 29, 1652, the first printed editions of Jean Loret’s weekly newsletter in verse began to circulate, printed, in Paris.[2] Its form was unique for a printed gazette: in contrast to other outlets before him, which relayed news anonymously without mentioning a recipient, Loret opened each of his letters by figuring the reader to whom the content was addressed—his dedicatee, Marie de Nemours, also known as Mademoiselle de Longueville:

Princesse blanche comme ivoire…
Depuis le glorieux moment
Ou j’eus l’honneur et l’allégresse
D’être logé chez Votre Altesse…
Je fais dessein de vous écrire
Les bruits qui courent quelquefois
Parmi la cour et les bourgeois.[3]

This conceit, which I refer to below as a kind of addressed information, was a marketing tour de force: it gave the veneer of a private, intimate correspondence to a public, printed product.[4] Its success appears to have been immediate and long‑lasting. In 1655, Loret’s newsletter was copied in Lyon. From 1656 onward, the form was imitated by Charles Robinet in his La Muse royale, a gazette dedicated to the Princesse Palatine (in this case, Anne de Gonzague of Clèves), and it was taken up in the following decade by the “continuateurs de Loret”[5]—journalists who continued to address their versified newsletters to a variety of aristocratic dedicatees after Loret’s death in 1665. In 1672, the form gave rise to the epistolary prose format of Donneau de Visé’s Mercure galant. It then became commonplace in later European printed newspapers, as shown by Marion Brétéché with the Dutch Lettres historiques, and in the eighteenth‑century media in general.[6] In the case of the Mercure galant, notably, the female reader addressee was no longer a high‑ranking lady of the court, but rather an “amie de province”: someone anonymous, and—above all else—fictional. This evolution, from a readily identifiable aristocratic female addressee to an unnamed woman from the province, suggests that the core of Loret’s formula depended less on the identity of the stated addressee and more on the mere fact of addressing his news to someone—and, in particular, to a woman. Indeed, this surprising and innovative form distinguished Loret’s Lettre en vers and its successors from other competing French and European outlets, in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive printed information market.[7] In doing so, Loret transformed information culture by offering audiences an unprecedented means of relating to and consuming information: one that was at once affective and agentive, both entertaining and engaging.[8]

Taking Loret’s Lettre en vers as a case study, this essay considers representations of readers in seventeenth‑century newspapers as a productpositioning strategy, instead of as a reflection of an actual readership.[9] A key step in any strategic marketing process, product positioning refers to the sum of decisions and actions undertaken—from design to promotion—to separate a product from its competition and to connect it to predetermined market segment(s).[10]Segmentation, in this sense, emerges as another key concept in this study. The operation consists in approaching the market by subdividing it according to relevant criteria (for instance, age, gender, professions, common interests) and designing products directed at these segments.[11] Applied to seventeenth‑century literature, the concept of segmentation therefore reminds us that consumer groups are neither uniform nor fixed. It allows us to go beyond the vaguely defined, monolithic blocks on which audience criticism often relies, such as the “public mondain” or “les doctes”: indeed, a mondain and a docte can be the same person, depending on how a product targets them. Of course, the dedication to the Marie de Longueville cannot be considered a purely commercial undertaking; the rhetorical device has clear social and political implications. In addressing his letter to Mademoiselle de Longueville, Loret granted its dedicatee material visibility and fame. This had profound political implications for Marie de Nemours, because it compensated for her father’s machinations to diminish her position.[12] But Loret’s Lettre en vers is also a product, printed (a process that implies investment and labour), sold, and bought.[13] To approach the Lettre en vers in terms of positioning means to consider representations of readers not as a reflection of the actual readership, but as an action,[14] which, in turn, highlights how addressed information enabled Loret to distinguish his newsletter from its competitors. In this article, what will be at issue is the question of “desired positioning”—that is, the product design strategy as opposed to its effective success or the real perceptions of consumers. What is at stake, in other words, is a question concerning the cultural imaginary: understanding the “desired positioning” of French newspapers from the seventeenth century requires that we identify and analyze the cultural setting Loret drew on to make his product stand out. Such an approach has the advantage of circumventing a frequent pitfall for seventeenth‑century studies—namely, the dearth of reliable data about audiences and readership. My approach to the seventeenth‑century print market will therefore not be quantitative, but qualitative. Marketing concepts will allow me to study the conception of Loret’s newsletter in relation to its competitors and to define, on the one hand, the product’s intrinsic attributes and, on the other hand, the audience segments these attributes actually target. In what follows, I therefore use the term audience to refer exclusively to the audience targeted and constructed by the newspapers, never in the sense of their actual, real readership.[15]

While the use of a concept from the study of marketing might seem, at first glance, anachronistic, the methods and questions of the discipline correspond to widespread discourses and practices in the seventeenth century and thus offer considerable hermeneutic value.[16] Studying fifteenth‑century book trade, Kathleen Rassuli reminds, in reference to Stanley Hollander’s work, that “many marketing phenomena … have existed in one form or another in centuries.”[17] Contrary to some of its common connotations, marketing is neither a synonym for (false) advertising, nor necessarily a matter of money. In fact, it encompasses the research, design, and techniques employed to maximize a product’s capacity to reach its target audience within a given market. In other words, marketing concepts prove relevant as soon as there is a market, competition, and the desire to attract consumers—whether to sell a product or to gain political support. Printed information in the seventeenth century corresponds exactly to this definition: Gilles Feyel has demonstrated both the extent and the complexity of this information market in France, a “dual” setting in which numerous gazettes, newspapers, and periodicals circulated, competing on both national and international scales.[18] The existence and survival of such publications was not a given, and many gazettes saw only a handful of issues before disappearing.[19] A gazette’s ability to exist hinged on its ability to set itself apart from in its competitors in terms of form, or content. To survive, in other words, a gazette had to position itself effectively, reach out to defined reader segments, or conquer new ones.[20]

In what follows, I provide a brief overview of the various positioning strategies used in the seventeenth‑century press, highlighting the absence of representations of readers in a vast majority of gazettes. I then reframe Loret’s formal experiment, the textual originality of his newsletter, as a marketing innovation in terms of positioning. Finally, I expand this analysis to encompass additional representations of other readers in Loret’s work, as well as in that of his imitators and successors: how do these ancillary representations of readers participate in the positioning of the publication and what do they contribute to the representation of the main recipient identified at the outset of the newsletter?

Positioning Strategies in the Seventeenth‑Century Press: A Brief Overview

To fully grasp the specificity of Loret’s formula, we must first acknowledge that his model of addressed information was rather singular, and immediately separated him from his competitors in the print news market. In the vast majority of seventeenth‑century European media outlets, the reader’s presence is marginal (relegated to paratexts), indirect (referred to in the third person), or implied (in cases where the content suggests a certain kind of reader).[21] The reader, in other words, typically lacks a diegetic centre in the text. As we will see below, the Mercure français and the Gazette de Renaudot, for instance, privilege a neutral style of information (“Le 29 du [mois] passé, le foudre tomba sur…”[22]), as do The Parliament Scout (“The Commons took into consideration, that part of the Directory to marriage…”) and The Faithful Scout (“It is certified from Cambridge, that two Petticoat‑Preachers…).[23] Readers are only referred to in the journal’s paratexts, often indirectly. The numerous English newspapers from 1640 to 1660 studied by Joad Raymond similarly did not address their news to an identifiable reader.[24] Even the Danske Mercurius—the Danish Mercury—launched in 1666 and whose versified form was directly inspired by Loret’s newsletter (by then succeeded by Robinet’s, Subligny’s, and other versified outlets), did not retain the explicit address which characterized Loret’s original publication.[25] Two noteworthy exceptions include, on the one hand, the Mazarinades,[26] whose dizzying political context, the period of civil war known as the Fronde, encouraged experimentation with form, and, on the other, the Extraordinaires of the Gazette.[27]

In fact, the various European newspapers published during this period, including those of Loret and his successors, drew on many other strategies besides representing an identifiable reader in order to position themselves effectively on the print market. The paper’s title, whether a full page or a typeset banner, is the most obvious example: a Journal des savants does not target the same market segments as a Gazette or as the Nouvelles ordinaires; this is not to say that these publications are not ultimately read by the same people, only that the positioning is different. Moreover, these printed works commonly played with the identity of the fictional messengers, whether it is the god Mercurius, or an anonymous emissary: the Mercure français, the Mercure galant, the Kingdom Faithful And Impartial Scout, or the Mercurius pragmaticus each target different audience segments. Geographical origin, often emphasized in the title, fulfills a similar audience‑targeting function: the fact that a gazette comes from Leiden or Amsterdam implicitly promises information other than what is available in a gazette from France.[28] The formatting and typesetting of a journal equally serve to position the publication: for example, Renaudot favoured the in‑4° format to distinguish his gazette “from all the occasionnels spreading throughout Paris,”[29] and the elegant central border and italicized letters of the verses visually signal the more refined, literary quality of the information in his paper as opposed to the compact paragraphs of small, rank‑and‑file Roman typeface that characterized the rest of the Gazette.[30] Formal aspects, too, served as a means of distinction: the idea of presenting information in verse rather than in prose is a clear example, since it adorns potentially identical content with the appeal of verse and rhyme. Indeed, when Loret republished his Lettre en vers in 1658 under the new title La Muse historique, the “rebranding” emphasized the poetic and historical quality of the missives in order to differentiate the outlet from gazettes composed in prose.[31] In the framing prefatory texts, one also builds a case for the newspaper in question, by sketching the contours of the target audience—occasionally by directly addressing the reader—or detailing the quality of the paper’s content by explicitly juxtaposing it to that of its competition. Finally, we might also note that the type of news offered by a paper obviously differentiates it from other publications—Loret’s literary and theatrical news is neither the political news of the Gazette, nor the scholarly reviews of the Journal des savants. This differentiation in content, however, is not really “positioning” unless it is made visible and rendered salient to the consumer—hence the various signalling strategies discussed above.

The infrequent representation of readers in seventeenth‑century European newspapers is rather striking when we consider that the structure of European newspapers had its origins in correspondence. The “articles” published in the Gazette de France were in reality compilations of letters received from various correspondents.[32] For this reason, one might expect to find representations of authors and readers, senders and receivers—textual traces of correspondents and recipients. Renaudot, however, effaces such traces in his paper, and the vast majority of articles present the following neutral style of discourse, which is typical of the Gazette:

De Varsovie. On nous écrit de L’Ukraine que les Tartares voyant que les Kalmuks… sont aussi rentrés dans la Crimée, [sont] fort joyeux d’avoir été si tôt délivrés de ces ennemis qui ont presque toujours eu l’avantage sur eux.[33]

While a nous occasionally grounds the enunciation, most of the content of the paper is relayed without an explicit narrator, often by means of the impersonal third‑person pronoun on. The decision to eliminate traces of an identifiable reader and correspondent stems at least in part from a question of positioning. In order to fight private correspondences and gazettes à la main[34]—handwritten gazettes or gazetins that circulated clandestinely—, a printed newspaper such as the Gazette presents its news as the objective truth—which, of course, is only another form of positioning. The news does not originate from any specific correspondent, is not addressed to any one person in particular, and no specific reader is represented; it appears as public, unmediated information. In fact, the disappearance of some direct address found in the Gazette in its first years—such as “je vous l’avais bien promis que mes premières nouvelles seraient”[35]—stems from the directive given to Renaudot that he stick to “a simple narration of facts” and avoid any political analysis or stated point of view.[36]

The relative scarcity of reader representations does not, therefore, mean the absence of a target audience—quite the opposite, in fact. But segmentation was based above all on usefulness, social and professional categories, political sympathies, or the demand for news in general—what Marion Brétéché aptly calls “l’appétit nouvelliste.”[37] From a gender perspective, the absence of reader representations and the predominance of positioning strategies based on professional activity aligns the seventeenth‑century press quite closely with the twentieth‑century media landscape: ungendered press is mostly a sign of a fundamentally “masculine” press. [38]

Addressed News as a New Positioning Strategy

In directly addressing his news to a high‑ranking noblewoman and celebrating her in his verses, Loret thus bucks the conventions of printed press in his time. In order to transcend the traditional positioning strategies based on segmentation by social and professional categories, or by the usefulness of the gazettes to a given (male) sector of society—statesmen, merchants, men of letters, Protestants, Catholics, and so on—Loret instead targets anyone who adheres to a shared set of values and representations: those constructed by the galanterie, the new French cultural paradigm.[39] Such positioning has the capacity to reach any reader, man or woman, bourgeois or noble; people of the sword (gens d’épée), of the robe (robins), or of letters; and many more: indeed, anyone who identifies with this new cultural paradigm. Moreover, Loret appeals to all these categories simultaneously by offering a novel relationship to information—something different than the utilitarian approach on which his competitors relied.

First, by adopting the form of a letter addressed to a woman, Loret gives the veneer of private, even intimate correspondence to a decidedly public product. In a Europe where “Gazettes et journaux supplantent les correspondances privées comme sources d’information du plus grand nombre,”[40] one begins to find, both in France and in England, the expression of a healthy skepticism towards printed news outlets and some suggestion that private correspondence is more reliable, less mercenary, and gives more unmediated access to news, as if providing first‑hand knowledge.[41] In 1684, Madeleine de Scudéry underscored this division when she proposed what resembles an audience segmentation, between those who

ne se soucient guère de ces grands événements qu’on trouve dans les gazettes [et ceux] qui aiment mieux ce qu’on appelle les nouvelles du cabinet, qui ne se disent qu’à l’oreille et qui ne sont bien sues que par des personnes du monde bien instruites, qui ont le jugement exquis et le goût délicat.[42]

The difference between the two audiences sketched by Scudéry is as much a matter of content as it is of mean. It is transmitting information directly “to the ear” (à l’oreille) that makes something nouvelles du cabinet, which is precisely the kind of intimacy simulated by Loret’s Lettre en vers. Though printed and sold, Loret’s newsletter presents itself as a missive penned to “plaire à une grande princesse et à un petit nombre de personnes de sa confidence qui méritaient que l’on eût soin de leur agréer.”[43] However obvious it might seem, the significance of this conceit should not be underestimated. Within a given market, consumers “trust more their beliefs than the objective features of a product.”[44] And indeed, readers were taken in: in 1678, Pierre Bayle, intrigued by the epistolary structure of the Mercure galant, quite seriously asked his brother “si la dame à qui il écrit n’est pas une supposition pour avoir lieu de donner l’air de lettre à son Mercure.”[45] In a society where the Gazette makes undifferentiated information widely available, Loret’s letters in verse promise first‑hand nouvelles du cabinet—information seemingly close, targeted, intimate. If the type of news presented in Loret’s letters does indeed differ from that of other gazettes, it is the simulacrum of the reader, the addressee’s inscription in writing, that makes this difference immediately perceptible: this is not “just everybody’s” news, but precious information whispered directly into the “ear” of “Mademoiselle de Longueville, princesse de haute naissance et de rare mérite,”[46] now suddenly made available to the public, as if by a happy accident.

The Lettre en vers in this way presents itself as the outlet of a certain sector of society, offering the reader the appeal of belonging—if only in the time‑space of the gazette—to the circle of one of the most captivating personalities of the court. This is another advantage of addressed information. The process largely corresponds to Geoffrey Turnovsky’s analysis of Madeleine de Scudéry’s novels and short stories: namely, that the (textual) representation of a small circle of intimates does not reflect the actual readership of these works, but rather constituted a way of a attracting a large audience of readers who dreamt of basking in the intimacy of a princess’s entourage—the same audience who made Scudéry’s novels bestsellers.[47] Loret stokes precisely this desire for intimacy and proximity when he portrays his addressee in great detail:

Dimanche, lorsque pour vous voir
J’arrivai dans votre parloir,
Soudain une belle lumière
Me vint donner dans la visière.
En fus‑je, alors, tout ébloui ?
Si je le fus ? oui, vraiment oui.
Je crûs voir à travers les grilles
La chaste Diane et ses filles,
Qui jetaient vers moi tant d’éclat
Que j’en pensai tomber tout plat ;
Mais, enfin, un respect extrême
Me vint saisir à l’heure‑même,
Qui me secourut de tout point,
Et fit que je ne tombai point.[48]

In this “salon de papier”[49] in the fullest sense, Loret promises to visit Longueville’s parlour and to see her “in person,” by the conjuring magic of text and print.

The other fundamental element of Loret’s formula is the gender of his recipient. Historiography has long taken the framing representation of female readers as a straightforward reflection of actual readership, often positing the Mercure galant as a forerunner to women’s magazines.[50] However, the trope of addressing news to a female dedicatee does not mean that an exclusively female readership is being targeted. This distinction can be readily gleaned from the careful positioning at work in the Muse historique, in which it is actually the diversity of the reading public that is described at length: “les princes et les princesses, les grands seigneurs et les dames de notre cour, les hommes mêmes de longue robe et de profession sérieuse et studieuse, quittent leurs autres emplois pour quelques moments afin de se récréer à [la lecture de la Lettre en vers].”[51] Representations of female readers correspond instead to the model described by Stephen Neale in 1980 of a contract between the producer and the public. Representing a woman recipient produces specific expectations, triggers certain cultural associations, on which Loret relies to differentiate his Lettre en vers from its competitors.[52]

What kind of reader expectations are created by the gender of Loret’s addressee? First, the female‑gendered addressee signals content that is both interesting and readily accessible, in concert with the elegant visual presentation of the Lettre en vers (border, columns, italics). In stereotypical representations in the seventeenth century, women were often depicted as being unable to concentrate for long periods of time and as lacking the education necessary to tackle overly technical subjects.[53] Loret draws on gendered expectations about female readership during the period. Addressing news to a woman implied the material would be pleasant and accessible, and that it would avoid endless descriptions of military feats or tedious technical details—all stereotypes which Loret’s newsletter both profits from and reinforces. Therefore, by marking the gender of the reader, the outlet paradoxically positions itself as “unmarked,” intended for non‑specialist readers without discouraging specialized readers, and ultimately targets the widest possible audience. Because Loret’s newsletter concerns Mademoiselle de Longueville, however, the news discussed will nevertheless be perceived as important and of high quality: the daughter of Henri II of Orléans is knowledgeable about war and politics, and she has a keen eye for arts and culture—a status sought by many. In other words, Loret promises quality news adapted to match the “available reading time” of multiple subsets of the population.[54]

The “contract” between Loret and his reader also inscribes the news within an affective, engaging, and playful relationship, thereby ensuring a novel “proximity” to the reader that is still crucial in today’s press marketing.[55] With the Lettre en vers, reading the news no longer appears to be a serious, off‑putting, or purely informational affair—a practice that would not conform to the expectations invoked by representations of a female reader. Loret manages to imbue print news with the allure of what private correspondence used to offer: an intimate social pastime, a form of entertainment that solicited the emotional reactions of readers. Certainly, the fact that Loret’s news is presented in verse plays an essential role, but it is the reader representations that allow Loret to promote, week after week, this active and pleasant mode of reading. In his addresses to the princess, he worries about pleasing her and adequately “entertaining” (divertir) her, offering her verses which she will deem “soit mauvais, soit bons.”[56] By emphasizing form above all else, the representation of the reader increases the efficacy of Loret’s vers burlesques. Reading the Lettre en vers, as opposed to the arid prose of the Gazette, is not merely about learning things, but also about appreciating the way these things are told. The Lettre en vers, in this sense, is properly a literary endeavour.[57] Through the figure of his addressee, Loret constructs, letter after letter, an original, pleasing relationship between the audience and his news. Here again, his brand identity strongly differs from the utilitarian seriousness or importance of competing gazettes and which, ultimately, manages to target a much larger audience. This is the thrust of Loret’s claim when he claims he writes “pour vous divertir,” when he regrets that “N’ayant rien à mettre… que des sujets fort sérieux,” that “les lignes suivantes / Ne soient pas beaucoup ravissantes,” or when he is afraid of “ennuyer Votre Altesse.”[58] He goes so far as to blur the line between fact and fiction, mixing news with “quelques contes nouveaux / soit qu’ils soient vrais, ou qu’ils soient faux.”[59]

Finally, representations of the reader’s reactions to Loret’s endeavour give additional value to the Lettre en vers. A seventeenth‑century version of celebrity brand endorsements, the patronage of Mademoiselle de Longueville attests to the quality and relevance of Loret’s news. And Loret would not fail to regularly note the favourable judgment of his dedicatee, explaining by means of a characteristic understatement how the Duchess had “gracieusement accepté, chaque dimanche, mes ouvrages,”[60] noting that his verses owe his thanks to her.

The subsequent adjustments to Loret’s model of direct address that his successors later would implement largely confirm the characteristics of addressed information outlined above, especially as they relate to gender. Charles Robinet, for instance, who dedicated his newsletter to “Princesse Palatine” and later to “Madame,” used the Loret formula without modification. Mayolas, who immediately followed Loret, likewise retained the model of his predecessor. But when he began dedicating his letters to the king in the early 1670s, Mayolas had to compensate for this change in the recipient’s gender by adding fashionable texts at the end of his letters, such as thoughts on a mirror or a watch. Finally, the Mercure galant, which designated an anonymous and fictional female recipient, reaped the same benefits of Loret’s model, with the exception of the valorization provided by a prestigious name. As if to compensate for this loss, Donneau de Visé increased the number of important dedicatees at court throughout 1677 and, from 1678 onward, he slipped into his speeches to the Dauphin, his dedicatee and reader, praise for the Mercure.

A Wider Audience: Representing the Readership Community

In addition to his main addressee, Mademoiselle de Longueville, Loret also represents a community of readers—and this primarily for the purposes of positioning. Such representations appear in the preface to the Muse historique but also in the body of Loret’s letters. By acknowledging a wider community of readers, Loret risks a priori mitigating the private and intimate interpersonal quality of the Lettre en vers. To avoid this pitfall, he mostly speaks of his audience in the third person, creating a salient grammatical difference (and distance) that allows him to avoid a dilution of the specificity, and intimacy, of his framing address to the Duchess:

Princesse, à présent que mes vers
Sont vus de cent lecteurs divers,
Le métier qu’il faut que je fasse
Bien plus qu’autrefois m’embarrasse.[61]

The form is rather ingenious, for it allows Loret to highlight his success and to pique a mimetic desire while maintaining the illusion of intimacy with his original dedicatee. Moreover, he manages to present his gazette as a matter for heated debate when he complains that:

Quelques beaux esprits tempérés
Souhaitent qu’ils [his verses] soient modérés.
D’autres veulent que la Gazette
Sente un peu l’épine‑vinette.
D’ailleurs ma rime n’est point bonne
Quand je n’égratigne personne.
Bref, mes vers, tant ici qu’aux champs,
Sont méchants s’ils ne sont méchants.
Voyez quelle est mon infortune !
Si je pique un peu j’importune,
Et lors que je ne pique pas
Mes vers sont froids et sans appâts.[62]

By representing a community of readers debating his Lettre en vers and claiming to pen verses that “égratine,” he positions himself as discordant voice, embodied, less neutral—and therefore more interesting—than that of Renaudot’s Gazette. This conceit also corresponds to the tastes that Sorel would identify 20 years later among his contemporaries:

Quand les sujets dont on écrit sont plausibles, comme si c’est une question du temps, ou une critique de quelque ouvrage nouveau, cela est fort recherché, tant les esprits du siècle aiment à voir que les personnes les plus remarquables soient censurées.[63]

Through his depictions of public debate revolving around his “vers méchants”—nasty verses (and certainly not “méchants vers”—bad verses), Loret presents his Lettre en vers as both a timely publication and as one that comments on noteworthy people.

The representation of Longueville as arch‑arbiter of his verses had helped develop an affective relationship to the news. This is a positioning function that he also now confers on his “other” readers:

Ma faible et journalière tête
Ne peut pas produire toujours
De ces raisonnables discours
Qui charment lecteur et lectrice,
Car cela dépend du caprice.[64]

Establishing readers as judges of his verses corresponds to the modern marketing strategy of engaging a “participatory public,” first in the sense of “interaction with media content” and, now, in the sense of “participation in media production.”[65] By representing debate and judgement, Loret invites his public to select, to reject, but also to approve—in short, to have a form of agency, which mobilizes readers’ attention, builds their loyalty, and creates a personal relationship to his Lettre en vers. In 1656, the famous episode of the shepherdess Nanon pushed this positioning strategy even further. Yves Giraud has retraced several weeks’ worth of verses between Loret and a mysterious lover, the bergère Nanon.[66] Fictional or not, this Nanon sequence is a masterstroke, since, in addition to securing the loyalty of the readership around this episodic romance, it gives the Lettre en vers and its author the sheen of galanterie, which again further distinguishes Loret’s publication from other newspapers. This is a positioning component that the representation of Longueville alone could not have fulfilled: the daughter of a pair de France and of a Bourbon‑Condé never could have declared her love for Loret—especially not in print.

However, it was in the publications of Loret’s successors and, in particular, in Donneau de Visé’s Mercure galant, that the marketing potential of readership representations was most fully realized. For instance, represented readerships effectively took over the function and content traditionally assigned to prefaces. In 1672, in the first issue of the Mercure galant, Donneau de Visé addressed his fictitious reader and enumerated the diversity of subjects covered in his newspaper, which offered something to “please everyone.”[67] In the first volume of 1677, after a three‑year hiatus, he augmented such prefatory speech, and this time distributed it among various characters assembled in a refined space. The advantage here over the original monologue lies in the possibility of representing the reactions of his fictional readers: De Visé no longer is limited to evoking the varied contents of his publication, but additionally can portray the enthusiastic responses from a valorized and diversified audience and, by extension, encourage an equally positive reaction from the reading public.[68] Another example: in 1673, Donneau de Visé was still looking for an ideal marketing formula that would enable him to transform the Mercure galant into the most effective cultural and political platform of Louis XIV’s government. After two volumes mostly dedicated to the king’s military campaign in Holland, De Visé pivoted, devoting his publication to more literary content. To promote this “repositioning,” he chose to represent a community of readers reacting to his Mercure galant:

– Ah ! ne me parlez point, dit une femme en s’adressant au reste de la compagnie, du second et troisième tome du Mercure Galant ! Ils sont, à ce qu’on dit, trop remplis de guerre et de nouvellistes, et je n’ai pas seulement voulu les lire.
– [To which a man answers:] Si les Ruelles veulent des histoires, on trouve des Mélancoliques qui les traitent de bagatelles. Mais comme le nombre de ces derniers est moins grand, l’auteur en mettra beaucoup dans les volumes qu’il donnera dorénavant au public, et réduira en peu de lignes toutes les autres nouvelles.
– L’auteur fera bien, reprit la première qui avait parlé, de mettre à l’avenir beaucoup d’histoires dans les tomes du Mercure qu’il donnera au public. Les femmes en veulent, et comme ce sont elles font réussir les ouvrages, ceux qui ne trouveront point le secret de leur plaire, ne réussiront jamais.[69]

Interestingly, this text represents what we would now call “market research.” Donneau de Visé breaks down his audience into different segments (e.g., women, the “mélancoliques”) to which he attributes different characteristics. He then determines the contents of his periodical based on the most promising segments: women, but not the melancholics, who are not in high enough number. Through a fictitious market study, De Visé shows his work in perfect harmony with the desires and affections of the valorized market segment—the best part of the reading public—which the reader is implicitly invited to join.

This kind of representation of readers uniquely reinforced the community positioning of seventeenth‑century European newspapers—from Loret’s Lettre en vers to Donneau de Visé’s Mercure galant. A fundamentally collaborative work, the Mercure galant published, each month, pieces sent by readers as well as the public’s reactions to them.[70] The origins of this “user‑generated content” avant la lettre could have been effaced, or neutralized, however. In other words, De Visé could just as easily have chosen to withhold the names of correspondents and contributors as Renaudot did in his Gazette. In contrast, by insisting week after week on the names of the readers sending songs, énigmes, and pièces galantes, the Mercure presented itself as the dynamic and fashionable news outlet of a gallant society—a society in which, through reading, consumers of the journal are invited to participate. Among Donneau de Visé’s competitors the opposite was also true, and representations of readers would be used to foster a different kind of community, this time among the Mercure’s detractors, as a means to denigrate the periodical:

Ce sot livre qu’on voit dans les mains des bourgeois
Règlement à toutes les lunes
N’est‑ce point l’égoût du Parnasse françois ?[71]


In contrast to a European press characterized by its neutral and anonymous enunciative frameworks—news that appears to emanate from no one and to be addressed to no one in particular—and which targeted audiences solely based on the usefulness of a newspaper’s content, Loret’s marketing formula appealed instead to both affect and intellect. It set itself apart by virtue of the intimate quality of its information—transmitted as if à l’oreille. Pleasant in its form and serious in its content, at once private and public, Loret’s Lettre en vers targeted readers who adhered to the values that would soon become those of la France galante. The gradual construction of this positioning was based on a number of interrelated elements—typography, the gradual incorporation (and versification) of news items—but the reliance on “addressed information,” presenting news through a direct and intimate second‑person address to an identified reader, undoubtedly represents a new and innovative element in this constellation of positioning strategies. Loret’s revolution in information culture relies on marketing strategies, on make‑believe, and on exploiting the representations and desires of an entire society—paradoxically, the truth lies in the appearance.