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The existing image coding methods cannot support content-based spatial scalability with high compression. In mobile multimedia communications, image retargeting is generally required at the user end. However, content-based image retargeting (e.g., seam carving) is with high computational complexity and is not suitable for mobile devices with limited computing power. The work presented in this paper addresses the increasing demand of visual signal delivery to terminals with arbitrary resolutions, without heavy computational burden to the receiving end. In this paper, the principle of seam carving is incorporated into a wavelet codec (i.e., SPIHT ). For each input image, block-based seam energy map is generated in the pixel domain. In the meantime, multilevel discrete wavelet transform (DWT) is performed. Different from the conventional wavelet-based coding schemes, DWT coefficients here are grouped and encoded according to the resultant seam energy map. The bitstream is then transmitted in energy descending order. At the decoder side, the end user has the ultimate choice for the spatial scalability without the need to examine the visual content; an image with arbitrary aspect ratio can be reconstructed in a content-aware manner based upon the side information of the seam energy map. Experimental results show that, for the end users, the received images with an arbitrary resolution preserve important content while achieving high coding efficiency for transmission.