I set out to measure the small press failure rate today because I needed a task to keep my mind off itching and missing the On Demand conference. I was going to use my old PMA directory, but I didn't have it with me and it's too darn large anyway. I settled on the Yahoo! Literary Small Press directory from September 2000 as my starting point, since Yahoo! had human beings vet the entries and would remove garbage on request.
Of the 132 publishers listed in that directory, 67 have an active web presence today. That doesn't mean that the other 65 websites are no longer accessible, only 25 of them will result in a browser error. Of the 40 that still load a page, 29 have been taken over by fake directory sites and other spam. Most of these include pop-ups and there may have been a hijack attempt blended in there, I didn't stick around long enough to find out.
Fully fifteen of the missing small presses never purchased their own domain name, they used a hosting service like AOL or a subdirectory at a University and never grew passed it. A few did and redirected their old homepage to the new domain. In one case, the old homepage was real, the new domain had expired and gone to the devil. Five small publisher sites were parked or mothballed, the registrations had time to run, but they were no longer active. Six were redirected to sites that may have been a new effort of the publisher, in one case, a lawyers office, in another, an art gallery.
I calculated a 49% failure rate for small publishers since September 2000 and 22% of those have already had their old sites taken over by the dark side. Three of the domains on the list were currently available but didn't have any incoming links, so they aren't worth the bad guys wasting time on. It's just sad to read down the original descriptions of the small press websites, most of which include several of the following words: independent, quality, literary, non-profit, serious, fiction, poetry, contemporary, dedicated, drama.
And what's sadder still, is the outcome of the work many of those small press editors did in begging and swapping links to raise their visibility on the web. Those relationships they built are now feeding into various get-rich-quick schemes of professional domain jockeys who buy them by the barrel and play the numbers game. There's nothing illegal about it, but seems analogous to reading somebody else's mail because they didn't pay for a forwarding address. If you stop paying for a website you own, you'll end up leaving all of your ex-friends linked into a bad neighborhood. I suppose some white knight publisher might land an expiring domain and redirect to their own site, but that's a long odds proposition given the competition.