Penny stocks tend to bring out the riverboat gambler in us. They're a risky lot, and they typically trade in the shadows for a reason. So it's no surprise to see that we don't cover too many thinly traded companies trading for less than $3. They're just not worth the risk.

However, there were a lot of familiar penny stocks reporting earnings yesterday. I have covered them under more promising times in the past, and figured that I should lump them all together into a single article.

So whether you see this as a "where are they now" update or a "don't let this happen to you" warning, let's check in with a few companies that used to be in much better places.

Copernic (NASDAQ:CNIC)
If the name doesn't ring a bell, check with your Mamma. No, I'm not trying to pick a fight with you. Your mother is/was the best. I am referring to You may recall the wild trading swings at Mamma, fueled by things like random acts of profitability and lemmings piling on when it was a temporary resting place for Mark Cuban's heat-seeking investing dollars.

The company acquired Copernic after a prolonged courtship last year, and since "the mother of all search engines" wasn't turning too many heads as a search portal, it decided to rename itself back in June. Going with name of the desktop search-app company that it bought made sense, because the one of the stock's last hurrahs came after Copernic was used to help power AOL's Open Ride platform.

However, making sense doesn't translate into making cents. Yesterday, it posted a second-quarter loss of $0.07 per share on flat revenue growth. If you're hungry for some penny-stock irony, here you are: All but $140,000 of the company's nearly $2 million in revenues came from a 20% improvement in its search advertising. Yes, the company's name is Copernic, but its software-licensing business shrank to an even more insignificant slice of the company's pie.

Something tells me that Cuban has no regrets after walking away from this one a couple of years ago.

If there's a good thing that can be said about Bluefly, it's that it is a dot-com survivor. A lot of online retailers were vanquished after the go-go 1990s, and Bluefly is still around. Still, the company that started out selling golfwear apparel before its fashion-outlet Internet makeover is probably lucky to still be alive, because unlike what many online retailers have experienced, profitability has been elusive at Bluefly.

The chain is growing in popularity, though. Even though the net loss widened slightly to $2.1 million, the company saw net sales rise 29% to $21.6 million, and average orders are clocking in at an impressive $284. A major change at the company is that after the conversion of its preferred shares, its shares outstanding have ballooned to a whopping 130.5 million. That's the kind of bloated girth that screams out for a reverse stock split -- just as Sirius (NASDAQ:SIRI) has been shouting about for years -- but Bluefly will still need to turn the corner of profitability to prove itself a worthy graduate out of the penny-stock heap.

NTN Buzztime (AMEX:NTN)
I do have a soft spot for NTN. I used to enjoy its QB1 game -- where players guess the play-calling during live football contests -- in the early 1990s on the GEnie online service. As a longtime Fool, I remember compiling questions for a financial trivia game that we produced with NTN for AOL, back during the glory years of America Online.

I haven't looked at the company since getting nostalgic nearly three years ago. A lot hasn't changed with NTN since then, in the sense that it's still a penny stock. However, the company's streak of losses has improved lately. It has managed to break even in several quarters over the past two years, but last night didn't bring one of those reports. The company posted a narrower loss, with a top-line dip in its Buzztime iTV business. Now that the company has sold off its wireless business and is looking to unload its software-solutions business, it's all riding on the entertainment side, where folks play interactive games, mostly at bars and restaurants.

Autobytel (NASDAQ:ABTL)
Closing at $3.03 yesterday, car showroom lead provider Autobytel isn't technically a penny stock. We save that tag for stocks that typically trade for less than $3 a pop. But it's in the neighborhood, and it did post quarterly results yesterday.

The showing wasn't all that inspiring. Posting a loss of $0.12 a share from continuing operations for the second quarter is an improvement, but it came on a small drop in revenues.

I spoke to an Autobytel CEO several regimes ago. The experience was enlightening, but I was still concerned with the company's ability to generate leads when lead-generating sites were popping up like guppies. It clearly hasn't gotten any easier for Autobytel, even though another industry lead generator -- InsWeb (NASDAQ:INSW) -- recently clawed its way out of the penny-stock muck by turning profitable.

My two cents' worth
Am I wrong to gloss past these Web-based companies instead of dedicating entire articles to their quarterly progress? I don't think so. They are still battling against the same demons that left them neglected in the first place.

I'll keep watching, because they do have good stories to tell and markets to serve if they ever break out of their profitless ruts. Until then, I'll just have to cozy up to the reason why we advise against penny-stock investing in the first place: it's just too risky. Investors speculating in pennies often find that they aren't cheap at all.

If you like promising growth stocks -- yet can appreciate companies that have proved themselves worthy of cashing in on that upside -- check out the Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service. There's a free 30-day trial subscription offer waiting for you.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't have a penny collection, though he is intrigued by low-priced stocks. However, he prefers to dabble in stocks that are worth at least $5 a share. He does not own any of the shares in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and it's worth its weight in copper.