A couple of weeks ago I posted the first in a series of articles about my experiences in putting together a single web site that combines products from several different print-on-demand companies. For a better idea of what I was trying to do, and what I felt the design priorities were, you should have a look at that article.
You’re back? Okay then.
In order to get the basic function of the site working, I used three different solutions from three different sources. I’ll be writing about each of them in detail as we go. For today, let’s start with an overview of those three solutions.
They are CPShop, for Cafepress content; the Zazzle Store Builder (ZSB) for Zazzle content; and myPFStore, for Printfection content. Here’s a basic description of their features. (more…)
The first in a series of articles that describe how I combined products from several different print on demand companies into a single web site at my own domain.
The design of a web site is always about several things, and only one of those things is "making it pretty". In fact the way you make it pretty all depends on the decisions you’ve made about what the purpose of the site will be (often not as obvious as you might think), what the content will be, how the user will find that content, and how the user will understand where he or she is within the site – and then be able to get elsewhere with as few clicks as you can manage.
The answers to those questions determine the framework within which you will make the site pretty. That’s because these answers tell you what you’re designing. If you leap off to figure out what it’s going to look like without answering those questions first you’re going to end up with something that (presumably) looks great, but whether it does the job it needs to do is left completely to chance. (more…)
So… when last we saw our hero, who at that time was me, I was working on the second half of my illustrations for Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual.
Then, to all appearances, I vanished.
In the annual ramp up to the holiday season – that happy, carefree and yet spiritual time when I turn you upside down and try to shake all the change out of your pockets – I took on a big project that’s been on my mind for the last couple of years.
There are a whole bunch of places on the web where I sell my work, as posters and prints, on the ever-popular t-shirts of the Retropolis Transit Authority and – new, this year – on customizable business cards and other nifty swag at the Retropolis Travel Bureau. The trouble is that although I do cross-link between them, where I’m able, there was no central clearing house for all these different things. A visitor to one would usually not realize that the others existed.
So I’ve just completed that very clearing house: an "Art of Retropolis" site where I combine the products I sell through different vendors so that they’re all available in one spot.
In order to do that I had to combine three different scripts to draw in the products, along with quite a few static pages, in such a way that (I hope) it’s not confusing to the user, and moreover – when the all powerful Googlebot sees it – the site does not look as though someone’s simply scraped existing content from my original online shops. Which is pretty much a death sentence where SEO’s concerned. These two issues were such important and interesting problems that I may write up the project later on.
But for now, IT’S ALIVE!!!!!
If it works as well as I hope it will, I’ll probably do the same thing with my scattered Celtic art shops. Sometime next year.
And Thrilling Tales? I was already aware that creating the illustrations for its first story was taking longer than I’d expected. So its launch – which I’d hoped would happen right about now, or soon after – will be taking place early next year.
Two weeks ago I started to set up my first gallery/store at Zazzle; when the powers that be there saw what I was putting on the gallery’s front page they ushered me into the closed beta of their new Store Customization system. I set up a second gallery there this week, and the other night they opened up the beta so everyone could play.
This turned out to be perfect timing for me. I’d had a chance to experiment with a system that was almost ready for release (this means there was documentation!) and which as a result was pretty solid. I’d gone through about a week and a half of trying to figure out how to do the things that just about anyone would want to do and it was all fresh in my mind.
So I wrote up three tutorials at the Zazzle forum, which I’ve retooled a bit and reformatted to post here.
1. Skinning the Zazzle Sidebar
This is a step-by-step tutorial with sample graphics. It shows you how to use three small images, some CSS, and some HTML to change the appearance of your Zazzle sidebar.
2. How to Reorganize Your Zazzle Sidebar
This shows you how Zazzle’s modular elements fit together to build a store’s sidebar, and how you can move those elements around till you like ’em.
3. How to Add a New, Custom Page to Your Zazzle Store
Here’s another step-by-step tutorial that helps you to create an entirely new page, which comes up in the sidebar like any of the standard pages and can contain your own custom content. It’s much easier to do than to explain!
Every now and then, Cafepress makes a fundamental change in its terms of service for shopkeepers, and almost without exception there’s a huge backlash by shopkeepers who believe that this new change is going to have a severe impact on their income. Often, they’re right. Even when they’re wrong it’s annoying that a party with which you do business can redefine the terms of your agreement with them at any time, while you can’t – ever – do the same thing. Or anything like it.
In fact (especially over the past two years) Cafepress has been nickel and diming away at its shopkeeper/designers in what’s probably been meant as an effort to maximize profits. Often, by the looks of it, this to make the company’s balance sheets continue to escalate quarter by quarter in a way that will be sweet music to to the ears of investors in the event of a probable IPO. Anyone who’s chased that particular dragon knows that once you start it becomes more and more difficult to pull off the same scale of growth in each quarter. It only gets harder if you do go public.
From the shopkeepers’ perspective, though, it looks as though the company is finding every way it can to monetize not the customers who buy all this merchandise, but the shopkeepers who create it. That impression was reinforced a few months ago when very large Cafepress stores (those with more than 500 sections) were abolished, though existing shops were grandfathered in. Shopkeepers who wanted to bloat their ventures with more merchandise than that were going to have to establish additional premium shops, for additional monthly fees.
This month’s brouhaha is all about the Cafepress volume bonus, a plan through which those shops with a high sales volume are rewarded by incremental bonuses: the more you sell, the larger your bonus. The volume sales bonus has often been named by CP shopkeepers as the reason they would stay with Cafepress rather than moving to a competitor.
Back in 2002, when I started my first Cafepress shop, it was understood that this bonus was a reward for the promotion a shopkeeper did to increase sales at his or her shop. And as little as I think of the company’s maneuvers over the past couple of years I think that the new program is better suited to that end. Not that I don’t think it’s seriously flawed – but the flaws I see are of another kind entirely.