Advertising, video, short formats: digital is changing literature

The advent of the web, the development of social networks, and the democratisation of digital uses have reconfigured literary creation, which now lives off advertising, appears in videos, and uses formats that are sometimes very short.

“YouTube is a laboratory of creation where on-the-screen writing is being born and multiple traditions, from art video to happening are crossing paths”

The spread of IT into our everyday lives as of the 1980s, followed by the advent of the web in the 1990s, have led to a “reconfiguration” of literary creation, according to Marcello Vitali-Rosati, a professor in the Department of French Literature at the University of Montréal and chairholder for the Canada Research Chair on Digital Textualities. What does it mean to write in the digital era?

A change in economic model

In the first instance, “economic models changed radically”, he stresses. Designed to support editors, distributors, and booksellers, the copyright system facilitated a content production and distribution infrastructure within which an author could sometimes enjoy a professional status. “This system is no longer the only one in existence, and it has even become the minority”, Marcello Vitali-Rosati specifies. “Today, a large part of literary work is no longer based on copyright. All of the productions circulating on proprietary social networks live on the basis of an economic model based on advertising.”


In parallel to this change in economic model, with digital, literary production has found other modes of distribution than the printed book. Contemporary writers use personal websites and blogs to disseminate their printed works and enrich them by providing drafts, manuscripts, interviews, and university studies. Some authors, such as François Bon with his Tiers-Livre (Third-Book), Arnaud Maisetti, Jean-Yves Fick or Cécile Portier, are breaking from print and offering natively digital literary creations.

This production is deployed in particular across online writing forums (“Jeunes Écrivains”; “Le Monde de l’écriture”), collaborative writing platforms (such as Wattpad) and social networks. For Gilles Bonnet, professor of modern and contemporary literature at University Lyon 3 where he is head of the Marge group and author of Pour une poétique numérique (For digital poetics), “YouTube has well and truly become, among a thousand other things, a socio-literary network”. He talks of “LittéraTube” when referring to current experiments of video-writing. Within this “laboratory of creation”, “on-the-screen writing” is being born and “multiple traditions, from art video to happening” are crossing paths. Web-literature in video format produces personal journals (for example, the vlogs of Arnaud de la Cotte or Michel Brosseau), video-poems (Gwen Denieul or Marine Riguet) and performances (Charles Pennequin or Studio Doitsu).

Works combining short formats

As well as the evolutions in practices and media, there is an influence on the formats themselves. “We are witnessing the emergence of short formats, of romans-fleuves written in fragments, as well as works that combine both short and very long formats”, remarks Marcello Vitali-Rosati.

As evidenced by the success of sentimental literature series After, written by American Anna Todd on her iPhone, this brevity, the hallmark of writing on social networks and messaging systems, has found its audience.

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