I read an interesting article regarding freelancing recently that got me pondering. The interaction occurred among journalists, but it also applies to all creative mediums. Freelance writer Nate Thayer was asked by The Atlantic to write a blog post for free. The initial correspondence letter said "We unfortunately can't pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month," said the editor in her email to Thayer. He firmly replied "I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and I am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without paying for them." I read that with a big grin, because I wholeheartedly agree.
Would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street? I have lost track of how many times someone has approached me and asked if they could use my work for free. They always use the same tired excuse too - something along the lines of "I can't pay you, but it would be a good reference..." That is absolutely insulting. That is not a "great opportunity." That is pure exploitation.
This happens way too often to all artists of all mediums - illustrators, graphic designers, photographers, web developers, etc. Every amateur can use some experience, but that does not mean one should give their hard work away for free. Your art is a contribution to society. Being paid allows you to make that contribution to society. If anyone ever tries to pull this crap on you, be firm and stand your ground.