First, I disagree that "most people in business" are moving to paid links. Advertising is a legitimate form of marketing and isn't usually considered "paid links."
By paid links, people generally refer to situations where a company either furnishes product or access to a service, or outright pays cash, to get a blog post or article or review written about themselves on a third-party site — or at least to have the third party site post a link back to the paying site, maybe in a directory or a "recommended providers" list or something along those lines.
In any case, if a link is paid for, Google says it must be disclosed as paid, through a designation that it's an ad, sponsored, etc. Otherwise, they consider that you're trying to fool them into thinking the link is a natural earned link, and they do not look kindly on that sort of thing.
In addition, in the USA, the Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on undisclosed endorsements — meaning that if you give money or product to a person for them to create a "review" of your product or write a blog post about your business or post an Instagram of them using your product or whatever
, the person writing the review or post must disclose that they were compensated for the "endorsement". Even if you agree to let them write an unbiased review based on their own experience, even if they have to give the product back afterwards or they only get a limited-time trial of your service, they still must disclose that you gave them the product or let them use the service for free or at a discount. Both the advertiser and the endorser can get in trouble if the disclosure is not made.
As to how paid links count with Google. they don't. That's not to say that people don't sometimes manage to (temporarily) fool Google — there are literally billions of web pages and links out there, so it's inevitable that a few will slip through the cracks now and then. But Google is already very good and gets better every day at detecting link schemes. And when (not if, but when) they detect a scheme to pass off paid links as natural links, at the very least they will devalue all those links, so the pages they link to will no longer gain any benefit from them.
Yes, earning natural links is hard. It requires you to create extraordinary content and put in a lot of work promoting it. Natural earned links aren't supposed
to be easy to get. Fortunately, it doesn't take thousands of them for them to make a difference for your site.