What is a skin site? A skin site is a kind of file download
site. The world's most popular download site, Download.com, is ranked 47th
in the world by Alexa. The kind of bandwidth it must take to run that site is
astronomical. Last week, the most popular file on Download.com received over 2.3
million downloads (Kazaa). WinZip, the most popular ZIP manager, received
Skin sites don't get anywhere near that kind of traffic. It
specializes in files that are used to customize the look and feel of your
computer. The more specialized you are, the smaller your user base is going to
be. A popular skin author in WinCustomize typically will see around 35,000
downloads of their skins in a given week.
Regardless of what you offer on your site to download, there are
only 3 types of download sites:
Sites run as a hobby
Sites with a business model
Sites that disappear from lack of funds
If your site doesn't get immense traffic, you can run it much
like the BBSes of old. As a rewarding, fun hobby. But a hobby. One that costs
money out of pocket for the site's owner(s) to maintain. Each owner has a
threshold of pain. That is, how much money they can spend before it gets too
expensive for them to maintain.
Typically, we've found that when a skin site reaches an Alexa
ranking of 10,000 or better that it has crossed a threshold of where it needs to
have a viable business model or it will be prohibitively expensive to keep
Here are the Alexa rankings of the 6 most popular sites for
downloading skins, themes, walls, etc.
||Alexa Worldwide popularity
Before someone objects to me not listing
Deskmod, that's because they don't currently host skins. And for good
Here is Deskmod's ranking over the past year. As you can see,
it was slowly moving up. But you can also see some dips due to down time in
there. As it's rank edged towards 10,000th or better, the bandwidth costs passed
that threshold of hobby and business. Without a business model that pays the
bills, the costs are simply too high for individuals.
Based on the Alexa ranking, there are two art/skin sites that
make good business cases because they have been in the top 10,000 websites for a
long time with uninterrupted availability. That's
At the end of the day, someone has to pay the bills. This
must come as quite a shock to the people who think the Internet "should be free"
but running a website can get quite expensive. That is, tens of thousands of
dollars per month expensive. So how do they do it? Here is the basic model for
an art/skin site:
All 3 groups need one another.
deviantART and WinCustomize focus on attracting different groups
(which means technically they don't compete). deviantART focuses on making
the site a haven for artists/skinners who in turn attract users. WinCustomize
focuses on users which in turn attracts skinners/artists. But in both cases,
who visits the site is important.
On WinCustomize, the type of user matters. That's because the
site pays for itself through selling of
WinCustomize subscriptions and
software via its store. There are basically two types of users: Contributors
and non-contributors. Contributors are the people who either create
content for the site (skins, themes, icons, tutorials, walls, etc.) or register
some of the programs they use / purchase a subscription to the site.
Non-contributors, are users who simply download the stuff.
At a certain point, it's up to the website to create an avenue
for people to become contributors. If you don't have something reasonably
compelling or attainable for a user, they won't become a contributor.
Either way, if a site has too few contributors as a percentage, it will
Freeware vs. Commercialware
WinCustomize gets tons of requests for new sections on the site.
But few people put much thought into "how does this help the site?" The
worst case scenario for a site like WinCustomize is to put up a section for a
program that doesn't bring in many new users but increases the consumption rate
of non-contributors. That's why WinCustomize is biased for commercial software.
The users of those programs are much more likely to be willing to become
contributors in some way.
The last thing a site wants is to be overrun by militant
"everything should be free" people who consume the bandwidth and give nothing in
return. Applications that attract those kinds of users are what we call "bad
So what makes an application a "good citizen"?
Here's a list:
1. Be available on mainstream download sites. Skin sites like
WinCustomize want mainstream users. That means making your program available
on Download.com, Tucows, Betanews's File Forum, etc. If your program is on
some obscure home page, it's not going to have a large user base.
2. Promote the heck out of those who support you. Especially
if you're a freeware program. That means links to the major skin sites on your
home page. Not buried but very apparent. When you install your program,
include links to those sites supporting you.
3. Encourage the skinners of your program to upload to the
sites that support your app.
What it boils down to is understanding the basic model for a
skin site. Skin sites need users and content. They need people who will
contribute to the site (either content or through purchases of products and
services). Recognizing these basic economic realities is a good start to
understanding how skin sites stay alive over the long term.