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From email conversation: creating a wallpaper site that does not suck

{4 July 2012}

Below is my email conversation with a website visitor, published with her permission.

Barbra,

I’m a fan of your site (also a new member). It’s so well put-together! Your art is so adorable. The cute animals are my favorite.

Thanks!

I also make wallpapers (currently just for iPhone4 but I want to expand to other formats). My art appeals mainly to ladies that like print, pattern, color and inspirational (and sometimes sassy) messages.

I browsed your pictures at www.barbraignatiev.com and I should say they are actually quite nice! Your style will definitely not suit everyone (as well as mine), but you do have a style, which is very good.

I’ve always loved creating art for my phone, desktop, etc and have been looking for a way to someone monetize this. Creating a membership site seems like the perfect business model. And so I started researching membership sites and thought I’d reach out to someone already doing it successfully ~ you. :)

Could give direction as to what system (wordpress? membership plugin?) you use or if you developed your site entirely yourself. How did you decide what to offer FREE and what to make PREMIUM?

That’s a big question :-) Allow me to split it into several questions.

First, technical part - creating a wallpaper site that does not suck.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do so. I programmed my website entirely myself - luckily, I had enough programming skills. But if I hadn’t, I’d probably have to hire someone, because there are no existing solutions (or at least I do not know of any) - quite naturally, because there is virtually no demand.

There are probably plugins for Wordpress that you can use to extend it into something like wallpaper gallery. But I did not research, and if you have anyone around who can help you with good-quality custom-designed website, that would be much much better. Consider all things you need to include if you want to start making money at some point:

Well, after writing that, I start to think it’s more or less possible with Wordpress. Where you will stumble is the size switch for a wallpaper. Which leads us to second part:

Part two: saving a wallpaper in multiple sizes

You probably under-estimate that. I really think that the biggest part of my success is because I provide as many sizes as possible. People have incredible amount of different devices, and you really should not make them think how to resize the image. Dot not be tempted to avoid users of two monitors (well I think you can avoid three :-) ). Long ago, I used Photoshop actions to save multiple sizes from a source file, but it quickly became a nightmare to maintain. Instead, I learned a bit of “bash” language, and wrote a script for my Ubuntu machine that creates JPG images for me. See my blog for details (I have a post about that - http://www.vladstudio.com/post/?104 - but it’s a bit outdated; I will write updated post soon).

[UPDATE] - here is the post with bash script.

Another thing to keep in mind is proportions. People want horizontal wallpapers (for PCs), vertical wallpapers (for phones), square wallpapers (for iPad, universal rotating wallpaper is 1024x1024 or 2048x2048). You will be cutting edges from top and bottom, or from left and right. I usually simply do not place anything important on edges of my wallpaper. I also create 4 separate source files for 1 monitor, 2 monitors, 3 monitors and “square” (for mobile phones).

Part three: draw REALLY BIG source images

You want to have a successful website that lasts for years, right? Then admit it - you will HAVE to make your source files really big. Screen resolutions are increasing fast. I found that the optimal source size for me is 8000 x 5000 pixels - this way I can be sure that even if Apple releases a screen with twice as dense as today’s Retina, I will be prepared. And it will happen sooner than you think! And, I can save really wide wallpaper for three 2560x1600 monitors. Cool!

Part four: making money

You will not like what I am going to say :-) But do not try to monetize your site until it’s good enough. I was running Vladstudio without selling accounts for several years - first, because this idea never came to me :-) and then, because I did not yet gather “critical mass” of pictures and features. If you do want to start selling immediately, make a list of all possible features you may want to provide for premium members only. Then, imagine you’re first-time visitor of your own site, and find which option resonates with you most. Some possible options:

I decided to keep all wallpapers available but restrict widescreen and multi-monitor sizes - because that was long ago, and wide screens were not as popular then. Not sure I would do the same now! It’s the choice you’ll have to make yourself.

P.S. When I introduced premium accounts, I was largely inspired by Digital Blasphemy - http://www.digitalblasphemy.com/ - you might want to explore it as well as see if it inspires you or gives you more ideas.

← Only July 3! Happy Birthday little Alice! Premium accounts for $2.00!!! Updated bash script for resizing and saving wallpapers using Ubuntu and ImageMagick →

Comments {10}

Oana Livia 4 July 2012
Hello and thank you for this wonderful article. I have been waiting for this for a long time. I find it very interesting that you coded your entire website yourself; I always thought you use a standard platform, like Wordpress. Concerning the resizing of the images: I need to do it often for my own art (making a big 300dpi version for print and various smaller ones for web). And after struggling with various solutions I found that Photoshop can be scripted. You can use JavaScript to do all you want. It is magic. So now I have a small script that I execute directly from PS which asks me where is my file, fills out all the Copyright info and saves all the sizes I want, in the various formats I want. I am sorry if you already know all this and I keep babbling about it :) Thanks again for the article.

Toni 5 July 2012
@Vlad, you might know I also own http://WallpaperStock.net , which I've built myself and I agree with you. But it took me 5 years to get it to where it is now. I don't know how many people are willing to invest that much time/money in a wallpaper site. The script is for those that aren't sure this is the right path and don't want to risk too much. If the project creates some traction then they can hire a web developer to customize it the way he wants. If it's not a success then they only wasted limited time and money.

Vlad Gerasimov 5 July 2012
Toni - I suspected you might be related :-) I hope you don't get my critique too close and wish you success! I'm simply on the other side - I am the fan of all custom made things. Never used 3-rd party scripts/engines, always coded myself. This way I can experiment with all the ideas I have (and I have a lot of them :-)). I understand this might be not an option for everyone.

Ray 5 July 2012
Vlad, thank you for this wonderful article! I will be waiting for your update on the "bash" script article :) I have wanted to ask you this - sure huge sizes are tempting but if you don't have big enough artworks (you don't draw them yourself but use others instead), would it be possible to modify the script to use a 2560x1600 for widescreen and say 1600x1200 for 4:3? And crop/resize/cut for the other versions? I also wanted to ask @Oana Livia - is this your site: http://www.oanalivia.com/2011/11/summer.html because I don't see any wallpapers there. Just passed by your deviantart account but I first wanted to make sure that's you :) Thanks again for the detailed explanation, Vlad :) It's exactly what I've been looking for since I'm facing hundreds of questions before engaging in a similar endeavor myself! And to end - love your site: the look, the feel, the smooth programming. It's truly amazing :)

Vlad Gerasimov 5 July 2012
Oana - glad you liked it! I do know about Photoshop scripting, but I never learned it. So when I decided I need to go away from "actions" and use something else for batch image resizing, the two options I had is 1) Photoshop script and 2) bash script. I chose bash because I found it more universal - it is command line language that can perform usual file operations as well. I save all images, move them to appropriate folders, zip, etc - all in one script. It is much shorter to write too. I even save about 400 puzzle pieces using the same script! And, I can resize my images on server, and keep my Mac free from that job.

Toni 5 July 2012
Check out http://WallpaperScript.com if you want an easy way to start a wallpaper site. Enjoy!

Vlad Gerasimov 5 July 2012
Toni - at a glance, it might look like an easy way to succeed. However, I do not believe in easy ways. If you simply buy the script and plug it in, all you get is another boring gallery. And when you tie yourself to a script, you set a limit for your growth, which can be very low. What if you, for example, decide that you want a "responsive" layout that works well on mobile phones? Or, like me, you want to remember user farovite size in a cookie? The same sad fact applies to Wordpress, but with thousands of plugins, Wordpress has higher limit for your growth. But my opinion remains - do not "put together" a website. Write your code carefully, or hire someone to do so.

Toni 5 July 2012
@Vlad, of course I don't mind the positive discussion. I appreciate all you're doing on this site and I respect you because you take the time to make everything yourself. Your site is unique on the wallpaper scene. Keep it up! :)

Betsey 5 July 2012
I was going to jump in with a comment about Ryan and digitalblasphemy--but you did it for me--I also noticed the 8x5 dimensions you were talking about as a beginning for your wallpapers--I was going to ask you before--with Microsoft going to 16x9 will you change your beginning setup--or do you think it would have any effect on you at all?

Barbra Ignatiev 9 July 2012
Just wanted to stop by and say thanks yet again for your advice, Vlad! I also love reading everyone's feedback on this post. :)

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