The history of 20th century poetry is inextricably linked with the genre of the little magazine, and much of that genre’s history has been forgotten. We must remember that the little magazine was an outgrowth—and the necessary vehicle—of Modernism. When the Modernists attempted to publish their works in the general-circulation newspapers and magazines of their day and were rebuffed, they were forced to organize their own magazines in order to break into print. Ezra Pound was the very type and role model of this era; he was the midwife of 20th century literature by helping to found, edit, and fund dozens of literary magazines.
Many of them foundered, of course, though there are a few honorable exceptions still among us. . . .
The real problem with the present world of literary publications is, of course, cost and distribution. . . . Possessing a tiny readership, the little magazine cannot attract advertisers. Lacking advertisers, it cannot offset the costs of production. With no profit margin to encourage its sale and distribution, every issue of the little magazine begins its life stillborn as a commercial enterprise. . . . The result of this marketplace Darwinism is that the little magazine is almost a couture object in our society—both difficult to obtain and expensive to purchase.
Since there are literally thousands of little magazines, the cost of “keeping up” with the important literary periodicals of the day to the individual reader is prohibitive, and the cost to libraries is staggering. . . . The genre of little magazines, which was originally conceived to publish the difficult art of the Modernists, has ended up making literature itself inaccessible.
Terry Teachout, in the notes I linked to below, suggests that weblogs "will be to the 21st century what little magazines were to the 20th century," but he may have gotten the mechanism wrong. Because the hurdles that must be negotiated to create -- and, more importantly, to access -- a weblog are so modest, instead of having "influence . . . disproportionate to their circulation," the best weblogs may finally accomplish the feat of finding an audience large enough to match the caliber of their content.
Davis in his Mission Statement reminds us that T.S. Eliot's Criterion magazine had a peak circulation of 700; Pound and the Vorticists' Blast was presumably even smaller. Those journals' influence in the long term was out of all proportion to their circulation. Without the practical and financial impediments that Davis identifies, the potential influence of the right weblog at the right time could -- he said, thinking wishfully -- be even greater.
A random example, picked largely because he has actually voiced his goal in terms of audience size: Neocalvinist cultural observer Gideon Strauss is content to "dream of achieving my own little micro-readership of 250", a humble and seemingly achievable objective for many sites. If some significant percentage of even so small a core of readers have weblogs of their own, as is probable, a writer's best material will likely be linked and relinked, those links serving as levers with which the right post might move the world.