Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getty Images - Business Fantasy Update

For those of you Getty-ites who are no longer in the seemingly ever-shrinking inner circle of Getty Images, you're likely missing the pie-in-the-sky missives from the Wizard himself, Mr. Jonathan Klein. Kleins' delusions musings about the future of the stock photography industry and Getty's place in it is like watching a CNBC panelist advise you to buy AIG:

Mr. Klein and the green-eyeshade brigade have resplendent ideas that are more in line with the musings of the great Hunter Thompson while on a bender with Amy Winehouse. Yet, because of his pedigree (not to mention the fact that his title is co-founder and CEO) the dwindling masses of Getty true-believers (note - those are the people who have not gone through their intervention yet) drink Kleins' missives as Jim Jones followers drank his Kool-Aid.

In recent days, Klein has, like Moses from on high, handed down what he terms his "Business Update", with a variety of confidences and pride that are best saved for the likely future screenplay - Fear and Loathing in Seattle. (Hint - that's the fear his writings could convey in the form of more layoffs, and the loathing the sobered-up employees have after the bender juice wears off). Reading the missive, and the commentary that follows it, you'll realize these analogies are not too far off their mark.

If you want to read the musings of Mr. Klein, feel free to read on:

(Continued after the Jump)

Business Update

Jonathan Klein Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer

Hello from New York!

I have just returned from a busy week in Seattle with the Senior Leadership Team. We met to share ideas, plan for 2010, get complete clarity about the strategy and vision and, finally, to spend time together as we had not met since April of last year. The feedback we have received from the attendees was absolutely clear – it was a great week and one of the best SLT meetings in the history of the company. It is important that I share with the whole company some of the key issues that were covered.During the meetings, we spoke candidly about where we are today. But more importantly, we focused on the opportunities ahead in 2010, and the significant investment we will be making in our future.

2010: Investing in our Future Growth

Simply put, 2009 has brought unprecedented changes to Getty Images, and the world. To name just a few: we have experienced a meltdown in the economy, a collapse in financial markets, acceleration in the decline of print advertising, and that is just for starters. We have taken our company private, obtained new owners, added a number of great SVPs (all of whom were internal promotions), reduced headcount, had a major clampdown on spending, acquired our second largest competitor, accelerated the integration of that business, brought in management consultants, paid no bonuses, decided not to give pay raises, froze pension matches in the US and launched many new initiatives, including with Flickr, with our partners from Time and now Daylife. If that was not enough, we worried about revenues since the beginning of the year and completely realigned our budget to respond to the environment.

Just reading this far-from-comprehensive list is quite exhausting. Yet, I could not be prouder of our team – employees at all levels of our company – in both HOW we have managed these and other events, as well as WHAT we have done. The way we behave matters and the Leadership Principles have always been, and will continue to be, the filter through which we have made tough decisions.

The choices we’ve made have been the right ones. I am absolutely confident that we have done almost everything right in this recession to be positioned well when it ends.

2010: Investing in our Future Growth

Businesses are using imagery more than ever. This is great news for us, but it also means that we must shift our business model and change the way we operate to more directly align with how our customers use imagery, and where our business is going.

The major trends we are seeing in our business today are:

· Traditional creative stills (RM and RF) is becoming a smaller part of our business. Our customers use more imagery online, which means more volume, but at a lower price. Big-spend print campaigns are not dead, but there are certainly fewer.

· iStockphoto is the fastest growing part of our business. It is expected to hit $200 million in revenue this year – that is growth of more than 35 percent.

· Editorial imagery (news, sport, entertainment and archive) is also growing. We are taking market share and will grow significantly when market conditions improve and also when there are more major sports events next year. We were once thought of as outsiders in this area, and we are now regarded as stewards and leaders. There are many countries in which we can achieve major growth in this area.

· Newer and higher-growth businesses are key to our success. Yes, and our partnership with Daylife are highly strategic. But this is not just about the “sexy new stuff.” It is about the businesses that have enormous growth opportunities, like footage, music, news, sport, entertainment, and Media Manager. We also see growth potential in the Media and Corporate segments, as well as in certain countries and regions.

These trends, among others, have led us to our Key Initiatives and Overriding Objective for 2010.

Overriding Objective: Achieve company-wide revenue growth

Getty Images did not grow overall revenues in 2009. We must be a growing business, and we must increase our revenue in 2010.

Through continued focus on the Leadership Principles, our five Key Initiatives for 2010 will be:

1. Implement Project Perspective

About four months ago, we brought in a leading global management-consulting firm, Bain & Company , to help us look hard at areas where we can and should improve. Bain gave us a fresh, outside perspective on how our business is run. They focused mainly on the areas of sales, finance, and editorial and creative operations. I think it’s important to note that, unlike many businesses that Bain are brought in to review, they quickly realized that our business was tightly run and managed, and there were far fewer savings to be had than they had originally anticipated. That said, the plan is now complete, and now we begin doing what we do very well – execution and implementation.

The main outcome of Project Perspective is the crucial need to drive our customers to increase the amount of unassisted sales so that we can remove the administrative burdens that currently fall on our sales and finance organizations. In order to do this properly and responsibly, our infrastructure must be improved. This means we will be increasing our normal technology investment by approximately $6 million, or 25 percent, to complete infrastructure and technology projects. Many of these projects have been waiting for years to be completed, and we will now finish this work, enabling us to be a more efficient business. Project Perspective takes us from being the best in our industry, to becoming the best in any industry, from both a back end and customer facing perspective. It is a continuation of the work we have done to make it easier for customers to purchase from us, as well as to convert prospective buyers into Getty Images customers.

The timing is right. As a private company, we can now focus on our long-term strategy and invest in our business for growth. It’s important to mention that implementing Project Perspective will take time; there will be much more information coming to you soon as the plans are put into place, so stay tuned.

2. Build the market-leading subscription business

Subscription is a fast growing part of the market, and an area where we have had a long-standing gap in our product portfolio. Jupiterimages Unlimited brings a very good base from which to start, but we will create an entirely new subscription business that builds upon it. This new subscription product will be a major initiative, with significant marketing support. It also represents a major collaboration between Getty Images and iStockphoto. We may not be number one in subscription – YET – but we know how to get there and will get there.

3. Sell all products in all markets

As I noted earlier, traditional creative stills continues to decline, and even if we see a bump in revenue here after the recession, we must expect that the trends will continue for it to be a smaller part of our overall business. Yet we know customers are using more imagery than ever, and want our services across the board. This means we must sell more products to drive growth. We have seen some great success with some of the new pricing models for creative imagery, with cross-selling footage, music and our other products in 2009 – and we must accelerate that in 2010. Offering ALL our customers ALL our products and services in ALL segments and in ALL countries remains critical.

4. Enhance and build on iStockphoto's leading position in microstock and as the digital content destination for designers

iStockphoto is the fastest growing part of our business, and it is the market-leader in microstock. But we cannot be complacent. We must embrace microstock, and we must evolve it. There are many synergies with the rest of the company that we will capitalize upon, especially in marketing, product development and technology. Additionally, designers are a growing segment for us, and iStockphoto has great brand and market position to allow us to broaden our product offering with this customer base.

5. Improve website conversion rates

In recent months, we have seen significant success in growing traffic to our sites. However, we are facing challenges converting these visitors into buyers. This is not just a website issue – it’s also about product, pricing and licensing models. This Key Initiative dovetails directly with implementing Project Perspective – converting visitors into purchasers on our website means more unassisted sales. This is key to our long-term business, growing revenue and growing our business.

You may see an overall theme emerging from our 2010 Key Objectives and Initiatives – in fact, it was also the overall theme of our recent SLT meetings – Investing in Growth. After one year of being a private company, and after navigating the rough road of 2009, we can and must think strategically, long-term, big picture.

In the last few months, the bad news has come in droves. But optimism has played a key role in getting us through these tough times, and I am proud of the way we have handled it. It is up to all of us to continue to step up and inspire excellence. As we head into 2010, I look to each of you to collectively embrace optimism and to increase our standards of performance. We must also continue to maintain our strong focus on the Leadership Principles. They have been a key part of our company for eight years now, and have been essential to navigating the tricky times of the past 18 months. I am very proud of this, and am more certain than ever that we must continue to adhere to them as we turn our focus to growing the business.

Finally, on a personal note, thanks so much for being on my team during this period. I know you are all working harder than ever, you have sacrificed personal time and put more of yourself into our company than ever before – this has not gone unnoticed. We will emerge from this year and this recession a much stronger company.

Getty Images will be 15 years old next year and this is the best team we have ever had at the helm. 2010 will be a big year for us, and I look forward to the important work we will do together.

Thank you,

Jonathan Klein

Co-founder and CEO

Let's take break out a few things, worthy of commentary:

Suggestions about being " of the best SLT meetings in the history of the company" and ending with "Getty Images will be 15 years old next year and this is the best team we have ever had at the helm" is hyperbole at its' best. This double-use of the word "best" is just laughable when you look at the history of the company, in the high-flying days when the company was at $92 a share on open market.

Usually, when someone in the higher echelons of a company writes "Simply put, 2009 has brought unprecedented changes to Getty Images, and the world", they are speaking in the positive sense. Yet, the "unprecedented" is in reference to the negative aspects "meltdown in the economy" and "acceleration in the decline of print advertising" and others. He goes on to talk about all the great SVPs they've hired, and then holds out the hope to those who did not get a promotion that theirs just might be coming, when he writes "(all of whom were internal promotions)". Nice way to hold out hope. He goes on with the superlatives "Yet, I could not be prouder of our team – employees at all levels of our company – in both HOW we have managed these and other events, as well as WHAT we have done. " Really? How about the pride you had when you aquired WireImage, team members that secured sports league contracts, and so on? You're prouder now than before? Really?

Klein acknowledge the obvious when he notes "Traditional creative stills (RM and RF) is becoming a smaller part of our business" followed by "iStockphoto is the fastest growing part of our business. It is expected to hit $200 million in revenue this year – that is growth of more than 35 percent", but what he does not do is link the two. The growth of iStockphoto has been at the expense of the RM/RF image revenues. Thus, a 35% growth of 10,000 $1 sales means you grew your business at the expense of about 4 of your previously stated average RM sale of $970. Wow, that's great!

Klein states "Getty Images did not grow overall revenues in 2009. We must be a growing business, and we must increase our revenue in 2010. " Good luck on that one. With the growth of $1 images, and the decline (in several cases self-inflicted price-point declines) of RM image licenses, I don't see how that can happen.

Klein acknowledges that they had Bain & Co in, in an effort to slash costs. Their conclusion? not much fat on the bone to cut. You could have saved a lot of money if you had just asked your over-worked photographers and front-line editors who would have told you this, and then maybe they could have gotten those bonuses you said you didn't pay.

Klein discusses their goal to "build the market-leading subscription business", which has been the laughing stock of many of your contributors, who point to $0.46 payments from these business models as the real analysis of where stock photography is going - down the tubes.

Klein cites the reality that "traditional creative stills continues to decline, and even if we see a bump in revenue here after the recession, we must expect that the trends will continue for it to be a smaller part of our overall business." Hmmm, does that mean you're done wreaking havoc in this market and you're headed off to ruin other markets in the same way?

It was just a short time ago Getty's new website was touted to have "Numerous enhancements make it easier than ever to find a specific image or discover an expanded selection of relevant visuals", and "Extensive customer input and usability studies informed the development of Getty Images' added site features", with Klein being quoted as saying “We owe our customers a great deal of credit for this innovative rebuild...[t]heir input and expertise has allowed us to preserve the strengths of the old site and introduce a host of new features, resulting in a more agile and interactive that is uniquely equipped to enrich the current and future communications landscape.” Yet, in the missive above, Klein acknowledges "we are facing challenges converting these visitors into buyers. This is not just a website issue..." - thus, this great website is an issue, and it's not the only one. I thought you said your customers told you what they want - and now they don't want it? Which one is it?

Klein begins to close the piece "In the last few months, the bad news has come in droves. But optimism has played a key role in getting us through these tough times, and I am proud of the way we have handled it. " I would submit that it's not the optimism of your staff that got your remaining staff through the tough times, but rather, fear of being unemployed, and their loathing for the guy that has carried their company into the gutter and created a laughing stock. Hey, there's something - can you monetize humor? I think there are laugh-tracks you could hawk for a few pennies over at Pump Audio!

Klein closes with "Getty Images will be 15 years old next year and this is the best team we have ever had at the helm. " Really? Kids at 15 are just getting their learners permit, and you seem to have driven Getty into a ditch, spinning your wheels in the process because there wasn't an experienced adult at the helm. Too bad you can't actually be required to have a license to do what you do, otherwise those along for the ride wouldn't have seen your company dash their dreams. As the elderly are eventually required to turn in their licenses when they are a danger to themselves and those operating within their proximity, perhaps someone should come to you, Mr. Klein, pat your on the back, and tell you your time to run the Getty ship is over, given the damage your business models have done.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

PicScout Goes On Offense - But Can it Score?

Since the inception of the PicScout service, which scours the web fingerprinting images and locating the uses (and occasional unauthorized use) of their clients images, PicScout's service has been a defensive mechanism. There was no solution that actually helped connect image buyers to rights holders. Until now.

PicScout announces a product they are calling "Image IRC". The IRC stands for "Index Registry Connection", describing the process. The question at hand is - who will pay for this service, and is the process of actually enabling it so onerous, that it is a flash in the pan? Of greater importance though, is as much as it might help photographers - could some of their tactics damage the stock photography market?

(Continued after the Jump)

In a briefing I recieved last week from PicScout, I was impressed that PicScout has gone on the offense, looking to create a positive encounter with clients, rather than the potential adversarial scenario that would exist when the image user is being caught using the image without permission, and PicScout stepping in.

Let's take a look at the promise of Image IRC. searching for images in a web browser can lead to legal problems for people who don't use images with the proper licenses. What if, however, when you searched Google Images, a small "i" overlay appeared on images for which there was licensing of that image with just a few clicks?

Further, what if you were reading an article on a website anywhere, and decided you wanted to license the image that was in that article for your own specific needs?

No need for hunting, searching for the exact image - just click the "i" icon that is there, and you are a mouse-click or two from licensing and downloading the image - legally - for your own needs. By clicking on the "i", a panel like at right (illustrated based upon our preview) would appear as a pop-up. To see larger examples, PicScout has provided us with screen grabs. Here is a screen grab without the plug-in installed. Here is the result with the plug-in installed, and here is the result when you click on the "i".

Pretty cool, yes?

Not so fast. the challenge here, is that, you won’t see the “i” unless you have first proactively downloaded and installed the PicScout Image IRC plugin into your browser(s). No plug-in, no “i”, no image license opportunity. There is no actual integration with Google Images.

In order for any photographer to benefit from Image IRC the Image Buyer (IB) must:
  1. be aware that Image IRC exists
  2. be convinced that IRC is a good thing and that there is a benefit to them to install and use, even though only a tiny percentage of images on the web will be identifiable using IRC.
  3. convince their IT department to commit resources to testing and approving the plugin for adoption and installation in the browsers of computers on the corporate network.
  4. be looking at an image that happens to have been submitted to PicScout by a photographer or stock agency and then fingerprinted by PicScout.
  5. desire to pay to license the image.
In a one-person office, installing an application or plugin is a fairly simple process. Unfortunately for PicScout and Image IRC, the installation of plug-ins is anything but simple in the corporate environment, where network policy almost always prohibits image buyers and other employees from installing plug-ins in their browsers. IT watchdogs are extremely wary of plug-ins and are unlikely to allow plug-ins to be installed into client computers on the network. This will be a very significant hurdle for PicScout - getting professional image buyers to install the IRC plug-in, without which image buyers will be unable to use Image IRC. If image buyers at the ad agencies, design firms, publishers and other major corporations don’t adopt and install image IRC in droves, photographers and stock agencies will be no closer than they are today to monetizing their images scattered around the web, and will derive little benefit from Image IRC.

Take, for example, Flash. With tens of thousands of cutting-edge developers building content that required Flash, and most of the coolest websites not only requiring flash, but requiring you to "click here to download and install the Flash Player", it still took a decade for Flash to be a mostly transparent part of the browsing experience, as javascript has been almost since the beginning. PicScout does not have these tens-of-thousands of developers, which creates implementation problems.

Image IRC is a very niche product/service, that, while a good concept, is likely to fail due to lack of adoption by buyers.

Would I like to see it adopted? At first, my response was a hearty "Yes - anything that will connect photographers and image buyers to make a sale, I am in favor of."

Then, I took a closer look at PicScout’s recent marketing, which reveals a bombshell:

PicScout is evidently intent upon launching and encouraging an unprecedented and aggressive promotion of free ($0) image licenses, that is ultimately targeted at the very same clients that professional photographers and stock agencies depend upon for their livelihoods. This seems contrary to the potential good of Image IRC for photographers/rights-holders, because if PicScout truly cared about professional image makers who earn a living making and licensing images, they wouldn’t be serving up millions of free Creative Commons images to our clients on a silver platter - especially since there's no apparent revenue stream for them in licensing images that are free. With this in mind, I would be very surprised and disappointed to see any photography trade organization endorse a PicScout service that openly promotes and facilitates widespread free usage of images in competition with pro photographers, within the same user interface. If PicScout succeeds in its efforts to help our clients identify and use millions of free images, PicScout might well be to blame for driving the final nail into the coffin of the independent professional photographer. There's no money in being the facilitator of licensing free images - for anyone.

Which brings me to the cost part of the equation.

One of the questions I asked PicScout was “who will pay for this service?” (hint - no one, if the photos are free!) Though, apparently, they haven't quite worked that the dollars and sense cents on this yet. One idea would be for the photographers to pay for fingerprinting and tracking, and the appearance of the “i”. This would be cost prohibitive for me, and for almost any photographer, and is the reason that I don’t currently pay for PicScout’s web spidering and enforcement services. In addition, the fact that PicScout also requires that photographers agree to allow PicScout to exclusively handle any resulting litigation and settlement discussions (and take a huge chunk of the resulting award/settlement) also doesn't sit well with me. One other idea floating around is that PicScout wouldn't take anything up front, but take a percentage (which should be under 5% in my opinion) of the license fee resulting from the image buyer clicking on the “i” and then licensing the image.

As I said - this hasn't been decided yet, and even if PicScout succeeds in getting significant numbers of professional image buyers to install the plug-in, they will not succeed unless they come up with a pricing solution that convinces photographers and stock agencies to buy into their service and submit large quantities of images.

PicScout's own FAQ outlines who their general audience is, when posing this question and answer:
How many images do I need to sign up for your services?

The quick and easy answer is that we've found the cost-benefit tradeoff to be around 30,000 images, which is currently our minimum requirement to use our services. If you have less than that, chances are that you will pay for more than what you'll get in return...Stock photo agencies and higher-end commercial photographers tend to be typical candidates for our services for these reasons."
So, it seems that the average photographer as an independent is not their audience.

Further compounding the problem – when a user searches Google Images and the search yields thousands of images, that user is unlikely to browse past the first 3 pages, and many users never go beyond page 1. How many images on that page will happen to include the PicScout “i?” Using Image IRC without a Google partnership will require that image buyers wade through page after page of Google Image sludge, with only an occasional image happening to have been registered with PicScout, and thus displaying the Image IRC “i”.

Of course, adoption by Google would go a long way toward solving that issue, but Google is apparently not buying into Image IRC. Given that Google’s business model is almost entirely focused on advertising revenues, a partnership between PicScout and Google is unlikely. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

I am doubtful that this great idea will succeed. I am hopeful that I am wrong, and I am really really hopeful that they will not be a part of promoting free images.


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ASMP New York Kicks It Up A Notch

Stealing photography these days is extremely easily. A few clicks of the mouse, and its on your desktop.

The video below did an amazing job of humrously illustrating how Facebook would look in the real world:

In an effort to accurately illustrate how stealing photographs translates in the real world, the New York Chapter of ASMP, in collaboration with the ad agency Gigantic, produced this video and accompanying website -

Good job ASMP NY. Those of you on the RSS feed, check the video out here. (RSS'ers watch the facebook video at this link.)

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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The Aftermath of an Assignment

In photography, especially when the assignments are third-world in nature, what is the aftermath of the assignment, once you have left; how have you left the location you were in; and what perceptions are you compounding?

(Continued after the Jump)

In the TED video below, Chimamanda Adichie talks about the mis-perceptions she grew up with about the world beyond her purview at her young age.

Paul Melcher's Thoughts of a Bohemian had a piece a few weeks ago titled Dying in Africa, critical of those that travel to Africa, and by inference, other third world countries suffering in famine, and his tiring of seeing those images repeated again and again and again. Yet, what is missing, is the 500 Million Rand ($66.8 million US) that South Africa, for example, is spending on tourism advertising to get the message about the positive things about South Africa out. How much money is being spent revealing the underbelly of South Africa - and thus, forcing the country to address is with a zeal equivilent to that of attracting tourists to the posh resorts and shopping? Who did the actuarial tables that showed how much of that R500 million will trickle down to benefit the poor and impoverished?

The good staff at the Onion must have read Melcher's piece, or it is a significant coincidence, that the ran this "cover" on their website? There is always the challenge for the photojournalist in the third-world when it comes to the question of arriving in a location, do you pay your subjects? Are you earning more in two days than your subject earns in three years? Would your subjects allow themselves to be photographed without being paid, since ethically challenged "photojournalists" have paid their subjects in the past? But wait - if you are getting those model releases that the NGO you're working for (see The NGO Mystique, 10/3/09), you are thus required to compensate your subjects for signing that release in order for the release to be valid, and then what?

I don't profess to have the answers here, and this discourse is not new. However, it's an important conversation to continue to have, and hopefully those making photos and assigning them will be more enlightened to the aftermath of the assignment, from multiple perspectives.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Becoming A Contract Photographer/Photo Editor

As staff positions at organizations around the country are cut, the workload needed to be accomplished on any given day does not. The common refrain I hear from people who are separated from their jobs is "how will they do all that work without me?" - and that's a fair question.

The two primary ways they will do that work, is to load it onto remaining co-workers or they will hire a contractor to do the work. Whether it's photography, or photo editing, you need to figure out what you're worth because you are now in that "contractor pool".

So, what are you worth?

(Continued after the Jump)

When you're a staffer, it's pretty easy to figure out what you're paid per hour. With 52 weeks in a year, multiplied by 5 days a week, there are 260 week-days. Most staffers just use that, and that equates to $192 a day, or $24 an hour, for a $50k a year job. However, there is a huge hole in this thinking. First, it doesn't factor in your vacation, paid sick days, or holidays, nor training. All together, you're looking at 9 weeks of combined days when you're not being productive for the company, but you are still being paid. With this in mind, that $192 a day jumps to $231 a day, that you're more accurately worth - thus about $29 an hour. Do you see how easy it could be to undervalue yourself by $5 an hour?

But wait, there's more! You're a contractor not an employee, and thus, you are required to cover your own health/disability/life insurance, equipment you need for work, training, and so on. As an employee, these would be paid by your employer - now, you're your own employer. What are they worth? The Contract Employees Handbook has a really great online resource for talking through your benefits. There, they suggest that your benefits package is likely worth about $35,000 a year. So, take that $50k salary and add in $35k to arrive at a much more accurate $395 a day, or $49 an hour.

Crazy how, as an employee, you did the over-simplified math, and concluded that you were worth $24 an hour, when, when all is said and done, you're worth to the company is over double that! No wonder companies are getting rid of staffers and then hiring in contractors who don't do this type of math and undervalue themselves!

Further, companies are shedding the obligation to keep people on the employee roles when times are tough. There should be a premium paid to you since you are not guaranteed the next days' work as you were when you were an employee. Thus, there should be a premium on what you are being paid for you to assume this risk. So, perhaps that $49 an hour jumps to $55 an hour - again, which equates to just $50k a year. If as an employee you were earning $80k, that equates to $535/day, or $67 an hour, and adding in a premium for your assuming the risk as noted above, you could be properly valued at $75 an hour as a contractor - again, if you are worth $80k a year.

It is important to note here, that none of these figures calculate in anything having to do with rights to images, but rather, labor, time, and knowledge for physical work for which the benefit to the company stops when you stop working. Intellectual property (IP) in the form of images/video would continue to work for whomever owns the IP to them. So, recognize that if you are shifting from employee to contractor you need to factor in the value of your IP and what rights the contracting party has to them (if any) once the contract has ended.

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