I wrote an article in February regarding self-publishing on Smashwords. The conclusion I came to was that in most cases there were too many problems with the site to make using it a viable option. I still stand by what I wrote then. Formatting a document for submission to Smashwords is tedious and frustrating and the end product often unsightly. If the only ebooks I intended to self-publish were those I planned to offer for sale, i.e., my three novels, I would skip Smashwords altogether and go with only Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the two major players in the ebook market.
Recently, though, I've been thinking of offering my two photo books, Pictorialist Models and Era of Vice, to readers at no charge. Both are fairly short works, too short to allow any reasonable expectation that anyone will actually purchase them no matter how high the quality of the photographs themselves. On the other hand, if offered for free, they might work as marketing tools that would create enough buzz to interest readers in purchasing my novels.
The problem is that neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble permits authors to list the price of their books as $0.00. The minimum price that can be set is $1.99. This makes a certain amount of sense, of course, since retailers earn no profit from giving books away no matter what the advantage to the individual author. Smashwords, on the other hand, does permit authors to offer ebooks for free.
Even if an author does not want to make a book free on a permanent basis, he or she can still publish the work on Smashwords and then periodically offer a "giveaway" (yes, another marketing ploy) for a limited time. At the end of the set period, the author can then raise the price back up to the original amount.
Authors who decide to go this route should bear in mind that my reservations regarding Smashwords remain intact. The site lacks the resources of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and its interface is accordingly much less user-friendly. Reading through the lengthy (103 pages) Style Guide is an ordeal in itself. Moreover, the Guide lacks certain pertinent information. For example, I can't recall having seen anywhere in it the necessity of saving one's MS Word manuscript in .doc rather than .docx format.
Finally, while Smashwords's "Meatgrinder"- their term, not mine - did an acceptable job of converting a Word document to mobi (Amazon Kindle) and pdf formats, it botched the conversion to epub (B&N Nook) format on the two occasions I attempted it. If one wishes to offer one's work to readers in epub format, one should do the conversion beforehand using the free Calibre tool and then upload the resulting document separately to Smashwords.