When you're starting out as a freelancer, things can be tough. You haven't got any clients yet, you probably also have no prior work to show to prospective customers, at least no professional prior work and you're probably still working out a few things to make sure you can work effectively and efficiently. After all: time is money. At least that's how it should be. In reality though, as a new freelancer, you will probably charge less than other, more established people in your field. You might even consider doing some work for free, so you can prove yourself to a new customer and also build a portfolio of work that is your track record for future jobs. That's all fine, if that's what you want to do. The problem comes when an industry expects you to work for free or for only very little financial reward or maybe for compensation in kind.
I've seen quite often where a big company has put out job offers to illustrators, videographers, writers or others for no pay. The compensation was said to be "exposure". The idea is that it gives a newcomer the opportunity to prove themselves and it associates their work to a big name in the industry, thereby making it easier to get jobs in the future. It's exactly what I said above: sometimes it might be worth working for free, if that's really something you want to do or if it's a project you're really excited about.
However, there is a difference between a big company not offering payment for work and you offering your time for free.
If a company is successful in getting its work done for free, it sets a precedence for other companies. It can become a trend and will make it harder for others to get paid what they're due. After all, if company A got their project completed with zero budget, then company B and C should try that too. It'll reduce their costs, which allows them to either reduce the price of the final product, making it more affordable to the consumer and thus potentially increase the number of sales, or the companies keep the prices the same and increase their profit margin instead.
If a freelancer decides to work on a project for free, because they want to and not because they feel they have to, then that's not quite so bad. However, it's still an issue, because it also sets a precedent. It basically tells companies that they can get their work done for free, or at least for cheap, if they always hire people who are just starting out. I know the reality is that when you're new to something you start on a smaller salary than someone who is an expert at something and has many years of experience. Yet, even if you're an apprentice, you get paid something - a minimum wage of some sort - or at least that's what you should get paid.
Ultimately though, what really irks me about all of this is the idea that "exposure" is a form of remuneration. Being known for something is great, of course. You're more likely to be asked for more work, because people have seen another company trust you with their project. "Exposure" doesn't pay your bills though. It doesn't buy food. It's not something that you can use to invest in new tools or training or other things that would further your skills and move you further along the path you've chosen as a freelancer.
The expectation that there is no need to pay anything and that "exposure" is enough is just wrong. It sets a bad example and will only drive down prices overall and most likely lead to a below par result. Of course, I'm not saying that doing work for free will always be bad, but you're more likely to work harder if you get paid for the time you spend on something.
Now, I know what you're going to say next. I make this blog for free. I write a review and a topic discussion article every single week. I record each article for the podcast. I also film and edit the odd unboxing video. About every month I record a 1 1/2 hour podcast and edit that too. All without getting paid anything for it.
Well, first of all, I do get paid a little. My amazing Patreon supporters help me pay for web hosting and some other bits, for example. I've also been paid via Ko-Fi before. So, there is some payment, but I know what you mean. I don't get paid by the hour or by the word or anything like that.
However, I'm also not employed by anyone. I do all of this, because I enjoy it so much. It's a hobby, even though I do approach it very much professionally. It also means that my reviews are independent, because I don't get paid for them. Sure, I do get review copies sent to me for free, and I do say this on the review to clarify it, but that still leaves me independent. In fact, I do often send review copies onto someone else, so it's not like I end up with a game afterwards. Also, many review copies are often more like prototypes, and when I do get a production copy of a game, I never sell it on, so I don't profit from any of the games I receive.
Yes, you could argue that receiving review copies creates a certain level of dependence, because if I write a bad review, that company may not send me any more review copies. However, most of the games I review I paid for myself or are a friend's copy. So it's not like I'm reliant on companies sending me free copies of their games. I can, and still do, buy my own games to review.
Anyway, my point is that what I do for the blog is really just a hobby. Yes, I do have other commercial ventures outside of the blog and these I do approach with a commercial hat on, but when it comes to the blog, I'm happy to do the work for free. I'm not employed by anyone, not even by myself, so I don't expect to get paid.
However, if I was ever offered a commercial job and told that there was no financial reward, but that the "exposure" I get from it would make up for it, I'd tell them to... well... to take their offer somewhere else.