A Literal Literary Loser Lacks Lots
What a great distillation of the questions I've been mulling over as well. (Related story: when I had an article accepted to The Henry James Review in grad school, my Russian-Jewish grandmother immediately asked me how much I was getting paid. The answer "Nothing, but it's a very big deal to be published in an academic journal" impressed her not at all.)
I agree with you about exposure, but there's also the whole "writing because we like to write" thing. I mean, I still find it pretty heady that people actually read what I write, whether the writing is free or not. Of course there are other questions: how do you make a living as a writer? Is that even possible for people who are not Jodi Picoult or Stephen King? What if you put a monetary value on your writing and no one wants to pay it? But then again, you have people like Andy Weir, who basically put The Martian on the internet for free after eleventy million publishers rejected him and look at him now.
Anyway, more questions than answers, but just wanted to say that *I*, for one, really enjoy your writing (and YouTube channel).