If Chainlinks price feeds are free to consume, what is the point of requesting data directly from node operators which would cost LINK? Do platforms such as DEXs or lending platforms like AAVE pay to use price feeds? Or do they just use the free ones? I am assuming regular people deploying smart contracts will not pay for price feeds. In this case, what is the point of the LINK token if only one user has to request data and publicize it for free?
Chainlink price feeds are technically not free, they are sponsored by protocols dependant on the information. These platforms are paying LINK to make the requests and then you're allowed to tag along and read the information.
However, they take a lot of work and coordination for node operators to set up, and they won't have all the data that you might want - so optionally you can request data from node operators directly and pay a LINK fee.