The cost of a book or an article is not its price tag but the time and effort it costs you to read it. The value you gain from the reading may offset the cost, thus either returning the full price with dividends, or falling short. Matthew Butterick sums this up succinctly in Practical Typography: “Every great book is underpriced; no bad book is cheap enough.”
Blog and magazine articles on the Web are free for a reason. There is only one compelling reason to seek distribution over adequate compensation, and that is to promote a message, to push forward an idea you wish to see realized. It’s a worthy goal and some of the best writing will fall into this category, but it is not the norm on the Web today. Today, blogs and magazines compete for eyeballs by giving away their content, writing ever more enticing headlines to pull the reader onto their ad laden pages. Readers are reduced to eyeballs, and eyeballs are monetized through ads.
The price of reading these articles is your time, your focus, and the space in your active mind that could be used for higher things. This point is worth stressing: every time you read a free article on a magazine or blog you are paying to read it, both with a share of your time and a share of your mind. Granted, a minute may not amount to much, but how many minutes more will all the other articles take? Can you afford the price?