Currently, writing resembles a game of pick-a-sticks, where the orderly mass of sticks is tossed in the air and allowed to land where it may. I cannot tell if we have smashed into the ground or are about to. Being a pragmatist, I try to cover my bases. Do I write for free, and should you? Well, all I can discuss is what I do, and what I think, and you can make up your own mind.
I publish mostly on my blog, which is free. It is also on things I know very well and seldom have to research very long to write about. It is not stream of consciousness, which is hard when writing on vegetable gardening, but is dipped from the well of information I have acquired over the years.
Then there are the Red Room and guest posts. These are not paid in money, but presumably pay for the work in advertisement dollars by sending people who read my writing to my blog. This means they are not free but are a barter (shush, don't tell the IRS).
I do write on the web for actual money. In fact, these days most of my writing is on the web for money. The blogs I have serve as a kind of extended resume. When I apply for a job, or my name comes up, people can see my writing style and that I can stick with writing for weeks, months, even longer. That is important in a virtual world.
When I began writing, at least professionally, it was customary to include two or three clips, or copies of printed stories, in any query or request to write for a magazine. The web had not taken off, so the world was divided into magazines and newspapers. Books were an unobtainable grail, best left to the experts.
Those first two clips were often written for free and published in a regional newspaper or magazine with a reputation for giving newcomers a chance. As soon as you got a paying clip, those free clips dropped off your resume. Mine have dropped so far off I do not even remember what they were.
Then there are the print publications that pay money. Those were always the big deal to me and my friends before the web, but these days I grow weary of waiting for publication and money to appear, some 12-15 months after I wrote the piece.
Of course, books are no longer grails. Anyone can publish one. I have one on Preparing a Vegetable Garden From the Ground Up. I have a pamphlet on Using Social Media to Make Your Blog Work Harder. The payment for my book and pamphlets will be in royalties, and the ability to wave them at people and say I am an author.
So, I guess I do not write for free. The coin that buys my writing is not always money, or even tangible, but it always exists: advertising, donating to charity, prestige, education, and yes, money. What do you write for?