Yes, I just woke up.
In my inbox were some calls for submissions, some of which are non-paying. So I thought I'd share my thoughts on that.
I have had some experience with non-paying markets, from when I first started selling stories. At the time, the drive was to get things published, to get my work out where people would see it, and, being filled with self-doubts and hating receiving rejection letters, I sent my work out to places I thought had a high likelihood of not sending me a rejection letter. How did I determine this? I sent my work to online magazines that published stuff that was noticeably worse than my early work.
The tactic worked. The stories were published. One was even published before I was notified of acceptance. There was no editing.
Which is to say (to paraphrase Cerebus the Aardvark), sometimes you can get what you wanted, and still not be very happy.
They say you get what you pay for. As a writer, the same applies, with a twist: you will get what the publisher pays for. The non-paying market field is filled with people who look at e-zine publishing and think, hey, I can do that. Chances are, no, they can't. When I launched The Journal of Unlikely Entomology in 2011, I had no idea what I was doing. None of us did. BUT. We were committed to it, and there was money on the table. We were paying our authors and our artists. We weren't going to take a story that I wasn't willing to spend money on, and, having spent the money, we were dedicated to making sure it was as good as it could be before it went out into the world. Without having made an investment in the project, there is little incentive for the publisher to do the hard work of actually creating a valuable product, and most of the time, they don't.
And sadly (or perhaps fortunately, given the general lack of editing), even for the purpose of having your work where people will see and read it, getting published in non-paying markets often doesn't even provide that. What exactly is the readership of a non-paying zine? What value does having a short story out in a non-paying market have for me? None.
THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS, and your mileage may vary, as they say on teh Intarwebs.
In the literary/mainstream field, non-paying short fiction markets seem to be the rule rather than the exception, until you reach a certain level of notoriety, at which point you get paid well - very well, by genre standards.
There are, also, some conscientious editors out there putting together good zines, without the means to pay. Most of them, however, will find some way to pay at least a token amount - a couple bucks via paypal or something. If you're considering sending your work to a non-paying market, take a look at their recent offerings. What is the quality of the stories? What about editing - are there lots of typos, misspelled words, horrifying sentence constructions? What about the presentation? Impossible-to-read blood-red type on a black background? Background images that obfuscate the text? Look for a clean, professional presentation and stories that look like someone actually paid attention to editing them.
One gentleman of my acquaintance was working on a short story collection which he planned to self-publish, and sent a number of the stories out to non-paying markets simply for the ability to put "previously published in" in front of enough of the stories that his self-pubbed work would be seen as something by someone whose work has been vetted through a traditional editing/publishing process. I think that's a valid reason. I've seen his work - it's certainly good enough to get picked up by paying markets, but he was looking for a fast turnaround.
AND - probably most importantly - there are markets that exist as benefits. This is what I received in my email overnight. If there's a good reason to give away one's creative work, it's for the purpose of generating awareness of a worthy cause, and of generating revenue for that cause. Coming Together is an erotica imprint whose tagline is "Doing good while being bad. Erotic fiction to benefit charity." The email I received informed us that they will be starting calls soon for two new projects, one a science fiction themed anthology that benefits the International Still's Disease Foundation, and the other an ongoing line of Steampunk themed stories to benefit the National Math & Science Initiative. If you feel like doing good while being bad, either as a reader or a writer, check out their site to see their offerings and the charities they support, and to see what calls for submission are currently open.