Basically, people are waking up to the notion that publishers who only offer "exposure" are offering an intangible they can neither guarantee nor quantify. And since there have been no studies I know of detailing the supposed benefits of such an arrangement, it's safe to say at this point exposure remains unmeasured and, sadly, most likely not worth a helluva lot in the long run. This is especially true for writers who actually need money in their bank accounts.
That's not to say I haven't submitted work to publishers who promised exposure. I not only have, but I've also been published by some of them. I've even developed pretty good working relationships with some of them and have sent them stories from time to time when they were short of filling an anthology. But would I recommend doing it as an ongoing practice in the hopes that there will be some sort of positive outcome beyond seeing one's name on in the table of content? Hell no.
I have known many writers in my time and, while personalities vary sometimes wildly, we all have one thing in common when it comes to our writing: We work our asses off to get it as good as we can. The operative word in that sentence is, of course, work. Imagine interviewing for a job with some company or municipality and being told by the hiring manager how much they look forward to hiring you but just so you know, this is a "for the love" position so it only "pays" in networking opportunities. Would you take it? Maybe if you were just starting out and needed to get some work experience for your resume. Flash forward a few years or even a decade later: Would you still be willing to accept employment on that basis?
That is, ultimately, the crux of the negativity towards exposure-only markets. Many feel they take advantage of new writers who are so desperate for publication they will gladly give away the result of their sweat and tears. That's probably not an entirely wrong point of view, but a lot of people who get into small publishing do it because of a love for the field and a genuine desire to help writers find outlets for their work. As with most issues, there are not clear cut villains an victims.
The rise of online publishing has given rise to a glut of publishers trying to maintain their concerns with as little in the way of expenditures as possible. Not having to pay writers can mean the difference between their websites remaining operational and not. But as with any piece of decent journalism, what happens when we follow the money? Who exactly is making money off these ventures? It's a sure bet the web designer got paid. If not directly, then through some other back-end means. The same goes for the owner, who surely gets ad revenue and makes money from the hits the site receives. In some cases, the artists get paid because their work is what often draws readers to the site, despite the fact that the writing keeps them there.
I've worked for people who thought I should have been so giddy over the fact that they were publishing me that I didn't deserve much of anything. I've written for a place that did pay me but then decided it couldn't anymore while still offering to allow me to publish my work for free if I so chose because, apparently, being published is the same as getting paid as far as they're concerned. I know all about the disrespect writers receive, especially in the United States.
So, is exposure a worthy form of "payment?" In the beginning, when I was building a list of published credits, I guess. Now? After having published dozens of short stories and two novels? Again, hell no.
However, to quote the great Obi-Wan Kenobi, "You must do what you feel is right, of course."
*Meanwhile, check out this cartoon.