Maybe not for sites that will never make money, or sites that rely on word of mouth rather than links (yes, it's possible, although word of mouth does end up generating a few links - mostly from myspace it seems) but take my new Healthspan Blog which I promoted with an article and a few directory links.
Cost-wise, an article might cost 5-10 dollars and then I paid 30 dollars for submission to 250 article directories. The directory listings are more like 40 bucks each although the range is 40 - 300/year (Yahoo).
Results clearly favor the directories. Within a few days, all the directory listing showed up in backlinks searches. It took a month for me to see three of the 250 article backlinks show up in Yahoo results.
The reason i say the directory listings seem to be worth it is because a few minutes of your time and 150 bucks could get you 4 quality backlinks real fast.