New Pages Weblog provides a very useful list of print literary magazines that have at least some minimal internet presence. (There's also an equally useful list of online magazines, and for other expansive lists of both print and online magazines see www.litline.org). What one discovers in going through this list is that very few of them make any of their actual contents availabe to web readers, and almost none of them make all of their contents available.
At first this might seem an entirely reasonable thing for these journals to do, since presumably they'd prefer to sell some copies to interested readers instead. But as we all know, very few copies of literary magazines are in fact ever sold to readers in the conventional over-the-counter way; at best some readers who are especially dedicated to supporting new writing subscribe to them (but of course only to a few of them), and in general most literary magazines would collapse from lack of circulation if they didn't manage to get themselves into a few libraries.
Literary magazines are still valuable, nevertheless, since they are usually the point of initial publication for lots of good and ultimately successful writers. (Although a perusal of the New Pages list also brings home the fact that ultimately more of these magazines, more with marginal influence, at least, are being published than is really helpful. Such a surfeit of lit mags only persuades many potential readers that there are too many to keep up with.) Clearly, however, they don't have the exposure to general readers--as opposed to creative writing students themselves eagerly trying to get published in them--that they ought to have, and I can't see why they wouldn't be willing to make their contents available on the web, if in fact getting readers for the writers they publish is really the goal.
Part of the explanation for why they aren't so willing is just old-fashioned elitism. Print's the thing, and cyber-printing, in the minds of many editors (and probably many writers) is an inferior alternative. But of course many lit mags published only online are fast achieving the quality of even the better print magazines. As Maud Newton says in a recent article in Doublethink, “I think the mainstream publications resist innovation and that the better stories generally are being published outside their pages. Some of the most vital short stories are published on the Internet these days.” If the print magazines insist on their own inherent superiority for too much longer, they may find themselves just plain irrelevant. (And then they'll come running to web publication.)
I myself still prefer print on paper for most longer essays and stories, just because I find it more convenient and less wearing on the eyes, and to the extent that literary magazines are resisting a cyberspatial presence for some similar reason I understand the reluctance. But ultimately most web-printed material can be made available in print-to-paper form, and then the only real objection remains a stubborn preference for traditional modes of publication. But I repeat: if getting readers for writers is the ultimate ambition of the literary magazine, then refusing to consider the many additional readers that might be available via web publication is only a way of thwarting that ambition. Furthermore, with all of the very good literary weblogs that are now up and running, the possibility that webloggers will gladly make their way through the cyberpages of these magazines and discuss in their blogs the poems, stories, and essays found there is so manifestly real that literary journals would likely get a kind of attention they've never gotten before.
I don't expect that many of the print lit mags will make their concessions to the internet very soon. (Although I have some hope that newer magazines such as Swink and The Black Clock may be smarter in their approach to the web.) Snobbery and luddism run deep in the literary world. But in my opinion such concessions are ultimately going to be necessary. At best in the battle between traditional print and the web, the partisans of print will manage only an uneasy truce. The print literary magazines might continue to exist, but their innate prestige value will diminish, and they'll only lose readers to the equally good online alternatives. Literature isn't literature because it comes to us on paper. It's an effort to make language yield compelling and challenging art. This can be done just as readily in cyberspace as on the printed page.