Thursday, September 6, 2007

UPDATED: GYI - The Downward Full Court Press Continues

Here's a little "flying at 33,000 feet" perspective on asset aquisition, moved a bit into laymen's terms.

When you are a company like Getty Images, which has previously stated (pre-iStockphoto aquisition) that your rights-managed royalty-free library was generating an average image license of roughly $190 an image, that's a metric you use as you look at other libraries. If then, you consider that for every 100 images you have in your library, 1 will sell per year, (and that's a rough guestimation, to be sure, but, it's functional for this example), you then determine that a library with, say, 1,000,000 images will generate 1.9 million in revenue, per year, generally speaking. You then must factor in the aging of the asset (i.e. a photo of a cell phone user has a lifespan of about 3-4 years because the models/sizes change), to the end of the "current" life of the photo. The photo then has a value as a "historical" image for the remainder of the life of the copyright. These are complicated metrics to be sure, and you definately then hire an actuary to take a multitude of factors in as you properly value a company. Don't worry though, the company you're considering buying has actuaries of their own, doing the same thing. I'd find it facinating to be in a room with competing actuaries as they debated the nuances of a companies' valuation.

I would, however, suspect that the acutaries did not take into consideration that the acquiring company would canibalize it's own assets by cutting uses to $49. I just don't comprehend that thought process. Essentially, at whatever volume you were previously licensing imagery for in that category, you are slashing the average valuation, and expecting to make it up in volume.

Businessweek has taken note, weighing in on Getty two days ago in their article Moving Pictures.

(Commentary & Analysis after the Jump)
A few cautionary notes -

The article notes that "stock has become big business in a remarkably short time. But that status seems precarious—and Getty and its photographers are straining to adapt." Getty is, in fact straining to adapt as the percentage of images sold out of 100 (as noted above) diminishes. When you have 15 images of, say, an American Flag flying during a winter storm, and , after an aquisition of another company, you now have 22, your "images licensed per 100" figure diminishes. Further, photographers are struggling to adapt because the revenue they relied upon is being slashed (more on that below), and photographers' willingness to continue to be creative is diminishing.

The article highlights this point, suggesting "It's no wonder that photographers and stock buyers gripe that Getty grabs profits where it can, leaving everyone else a skinny slice...(p)hotographers have felt Getty's influence in the way they work and in how much money they take home. "There are a lot of strong-arm tactics involved in getting lower fees from photographers...(t)he industry standard cut for photographers used to be 50 percent," citing one producer of photography, "It's now 20 to 40 percent. People sign with market leaders like Getty to make it up in volume." For rights-managed images, the average commission at Getty is now closer to 33 percent, according to the company's latest annual report.

Fortunately, I am still recieving 50% from my agency relationship. Examples abound in the article, with Jim Pickerell mentioning one photographer's experience in particular. Jim is then cited in the article - "Jim Pickerell, publisher of the trade magazine Selling Stock, adds, 'The collections will likely grow larger and larger, so the odds of any images being licensed have become less and less.'", which just reinforces my point above, and I am certain that Jim and I are not alone in this observation.

Betsy Reid, Executive Director of the Stock Artists Alliance is quoted as saying "We see seasoned photographers leaving stock because of reduced opportunity, but also because of reduced enthusiasm. They're unlikely to be replaced by a new generation of pros, nor will their level of imagery be replicated by amateurs," which is so true. In order to have creative contributions, you must incentivize the creators, which was the original basis for copyright in the US - the notion that, in order to incentivize people to produce creative works, you must - for a limited time - give them a monopoly on the uses and fees charged to others to use, those images. This revenue is needed to sustain them as they do more. As photographers see their artistic creations devalued and used by corporate America everywhere, and, in the end, they are getting 33%-50% of the $49 stock sale, that's about $20-odd dollars or so, and that level of revenue is not going to sustain them as they try to create more.

The article goes on to say "While Getty appears to be unshakable, its future may well be at the mercy of such changes in the business." Indeed. It will be at the mercy of creatively fatigued photographers - the ones that are the top creative producers of the recent past, and the allowance of the commoditization of their own imagery. Last year, JDK said "If someone's going to cannibalize your business, better it be one of your other businesses,", and that's not a functional concept when what is canibalizing your business that investors own and trade, is worth less than pennies on the dollar. It's one thing to say this when you're allowing Jeep Liberty sales to eat into Jeep Cherokee sales, as the Liberty is less expensive to produce and sell, but this just does not work when it comes to imagery! When you earn $0.80 gross (before the backend costs to bill for that and house the content), and you used to generate $95 gross (that'd be 50% of the $190 average), that's going to require you to make over 1,000 additional image sales - per image - just to break even. The article suggests, as it regards Getty and iStockphoto "It's still a potentially dire situation for both agencies." Yes, it is.

Don't believe them (or me)? The articles' closing sentiments include a quote by Washington DC's Design Army co-owner, cited at the beginning of the article: "Design Army's Pum Lefebure notes that she prefers the steep discounts offered by iStockphoto and others: "If we want an image of sky or grass, I'd rather spend $10 than $350." That's from the buyer's mouth, based upon experiences over time. That's a 97% reduction in costs for them. I just can't see, with losses like that for the creatives who produce the content, and the valuation of the company, that anywhere close to that can be achieved by making it up in volume.

Getty touted the news, suggesting it was revolutionary in their PR newswire announcement. It says, in part, "The new product enables customers producing content for the rapidly expanding online market to use award-winning imagery from the broadest and highest quality collection in the world in their online media and advertising." Now, maybe it's just be, but shouldn't "award-winning imagery" that is from the "highest quality collection" carry a premium? Shouldn't photographers who produce that caliber of imagery be rewarded at net-fees to them of more than $20-$25 a piece? The announcement goes on, "Getty Images' new web-resolution product enables customers to access the entire breadth and depth of its collections -- even the premium collections -- for their online media and advertising campaigns...Royalty-free imagery may be licensed online today with rights-ready and rights-managed online licensing in the coming weeks." So, this isn't just their old stock images, or ones that aren't selling well. This is the whole archive.

What do others think of this concept? Simon Stanmore, on his blog,
Commercial Photography Commentary - News, views & techniques for advertising & corporate communications photography
, notes in this entry, titled $49 = 1-10 year, Worldwide, Commercial, License to Use, "Ultimately all RM licenses may be devalued across-the-board by this development, especially when you consider the steady shift away from print toward digital media for advertising." Simon echoes the sentiments noted above:
"There may be another repercussion: A negative reaction from Getty’s mission critical suppliers – Photographers... A list price of $49 for a 1 year Worldwide RM commercial license may just be the straw that breaks their bleeding backs.

Either vocally or silently many of the once committed, still talented photographers who selected Getty to be their distribution partner may move on to where they feel their imagery is respected and profession better understood. And being predominantly creative individuals that entered the profession for the good of their souls over their pockets, they may well be willing to resign themselves to a short-term financial hit in doing so.
How is this going to flesh out? Well, a review of the timeline is in place. Revenue is booked by GYI either at the time of the image's license/sale, or when they recieve the payment. Assuming the latter is the case (i.e. the longer timeframe), GYI's quarterly call was at the beginning of August. Their third quarter announcement will be sometime around the end of October. You do the math - it'll take a week or two to have the lion's share of the images they want to make available at $49, and they'll see a spike the first few weeks in that income, collected within 30 days means that they will be able to report increases in volume, and attribute any diminished gross revenue to this new model, and extend out the bad news that is their true state of valuation/stability one more quarter. The statements will be something like "we look to have a modest-growth fourth quarter as new clients come online as a result of our newest pricing model. We are already seeing increased interest we expect will continue into the next quarter, and the future. We are excited about the growth opportunities and potential this new client base will bring.". If the analysts are paying attention when he says that, hopefully there will be some challenge about the overall valuation of the company based upon these new metrics, and the insights that Businessweek, Pickerell, Reid - and clients like Design Army, bring to the fore.

UPDATE: Several astute readers have corrected me, and provided an update. I referred to the $190 average price for "rights managed" libraries, and, that figure was more closely aligned with RF libraries - a big difference. In GYI's 2005 10K Statement, Section #15, it lists:
APPROXIMATE AVERAGE PRICE PER IMAGE BY PORTFOLIO - rights managed image price in 2005 was $570, royalty free was $200.
Sadly, this makes the drop for RM from $570, on average, to now $49, even more drastic.

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UPDATED: A Quick Note of Thanks

Maybe it's just the start of the Fall school year, and a lot of students are ordering their books on Amazon, but however it happened, thank you for spiking Best Business Practices for Photographers back to #38 (at the time of this posting) on Amazon for photography books (see here). It's good to know that if it's "the student effect", that, in fact, photography students are being required to read it. That (in my biased opinion) holds great promise for the future of photographers. The book has been out almost a year now, and was, at one point, #3, which was a pleasant surprise.

So, Thank you.

Update: Now it's #6! THANKS AGAIN!

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I'm Speaking at PhotoshopWorld Friday Evening

Well, I'm off to Las Vegas for PhotoshopWorld this Friday to make a presentation. I'm listed as a Special Event, from 7pm until 9pm, just before Scott's Midnight Madness program, which starts at 10. Plus, there aren't many other programs happening that conflict with mine, so go get takeout and come by.

Here's a link to the schedule of events.

What's the subject matter?

(Continued after the Jump)

The program's going to cover:
How do you operate a successful freelance photography business? How do you determine your rates, handle supposedly 'no-change' contracts, late-paying clients, and debates over rate increases. Simply put, the business of photography is just plain time-consuming and oftentimes daunting. How can you negotiate better? How do the needs of editorial and commercial clients diverge and intersect? During this presentation, John will address these topics and more as you learn to handle your business better and more efficiently. We will discuss considerations when developing rates and resources, designing a business model that accounts for everything from taxes to business expenses, plus several techniques for negotiating with clients.

Haven't upgraded to CS3 yet? Do it now! It's so worth it. Click here to upgrade for your PC,
and here to upgrade for your Mac. Don't have a legit copy yet? If you're borrowing a friends (or your company's) copy of Photoshop, you have little ground to stand on and complain when someone borrows one of your photographs for their own purposes. Now's the time to go legit folks. Get your full version here for the PC, and the full version here for the Mac.

This program (and PS World in general), is an exception to the "whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas..." mantra. Take the information you learn home, share with friends, and pay what you learn from me forward too.

ASMP is sponsoring the talk, and I'm excited to come and present! If you're a blog reader, please come up and say hi before or after the talk!
Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

'New School' Stock Research - The Paradigm Shifts

10+ years ago, pre-internet, every month, like clockwork, my agency would send out their monthly "needs list". Sometimes, It'd come with my returns, sometimes, by fax, sometimes with my sales reports, but always old school style, killing trees in the process. In it would be items listed like "goldfish in round bowl on white seamless", or "current model television large tv from different angles." These items were, simply put, requests that had been received by the agency's photo researchers, that resulted in no images being found in the library.

The request for the images had long since been filled by a competitor, but those who were looking out for my best interests were telling me, essentially, where the holes were in their library, and that, if I had those images, or were looking for something to shoot, I'd have a good shot at making a sale.

I never did shoot the goldfish, but I did go out and buy a $600 Sony 27" television, set it up in my living room on white seamless, and shot it from - left/right/looking up/looking down, and so forth. I did, of course, also shoot countless in-camera dupes, to ensure the best quality. To date, as a rights-managed image, that single shoot has generated over $10k in revenue, and the tv still works, playing all my Tivo'd shows nowadays.

How then, do we help photo researchers and photo buyers locate us, and our archives?

(Continued after the Jump)

Back in 1994, in tandem with my agency relationship, I was a subscriber to Rohn Engh's Photo Bulletin. He had several flavors, daily, weekly, and bi-weekly. Every day I recieved a fax from Rohn (note I pulled one from my archives, at right), with requests he had received from photo buyers, researchers, and agencies, looking for specific images. The photo buyer would list the specifics of the need: the usage (brochure, magazine illustration, etc) their deadline, and what fee range they would pay for that. Rohn's of course evolved with the times, with his PhotoDaily .

So too, has Digital Railroad. Enter the ResearchNetwork. Getty recognizes that once you're at their site, you're a probable buyer, and they want to keep you there. So, if your search results yield zero, or what you did find wasn't satisfactory, (see my example of a search for the White House on Getty and iStockphoto, by clicking here) they want you to call on the phone. How antiquated. By Visiting, you read:

"Can't find what you're looking for? Call us for free research assistance. We'll not only help you find the right image, we'll give you 15% off once we've found it...Just mention the "zero-results promo" to the researcher who helps you. " Getty too would like to know where the gaps are in their library. And while aggregating all the "zero results" searches, instead, why not automate the process?

There are a number of ways I can see this evolving.

For instance, with automation, a photo researcher could place a ResearchNetwork inquiry in the evening, and have images "pushed" to them the next morning. Thus, the photo researcher/art buyer could simply post a list of their needs to the DR membership, and not have to bother with their own searches in the first place, if they wanted to. Of course, they could also actually perform the searches as well, it's there perogative. I noticed under the column "License", it lists both Rights Managed (RM) and Royalty Free (RF). When asked about the designation "RM/RF", for the requests, Digital Railroad President Charles Mauzy said that "In the case of the requests displayed at launch, all the participating buyers were willing to look at both RM and RF, which is why we see the stock research requests displayed showing both licensing models. If a buyer only wanted RM you would only see "Rights Managed" listed along with the specific use details. Royalty Free would not appear. "

Back in the days of analog, stock needs sheets went out to all the agencies from editorial clients to book publishers, and so forth, with blanket permission to bill the publications' overnight account #, and the next day, slides would pour in. Instead, those same needs sheets could be posted for and sent via RSS feeds to DR members, and they could push their results to the interested parties. In essence, the researchers/buyers are able to get more done, and the results are better because photographers know what they have in their libraries, whether digital, or analog, regardless of caption accuracy, or the extensive nature of the keywording.

For example, the first idea that popped into my mind was "pickled tomatoes" (with the quotation marks). Trying that search on Getty at" (with the quotation marks) yields:
"pickled tomatoes" (0 images found)
Removing the quotation marks and you get pickled vegetables, Getty's site further understands that "tomato" is the singular of the word "tomatoes", and finds the singular version in the keywords, then an image with a pickle and a tomato in a refrigerator, several images of pickled tomato jars, then image #71086890 has in the caption field "No caption available", and several other images of sun-dried tomatoes with no pickled anything appearing in the image, but the word "pickled" appears in the keywording area, 19 images in all, none suitable.

Next up - Corbis. Searching Corbis for "pickled tomatoes" yields this result - a single image of pasta with pickled tomatoes, but the tomatoes aren't really even visible.

Search on Google for "pickled tomatoes" yields "about 500 images", several of which are source-able from istockphoto and dkimages, but those are just the green tomatoes, which might work, but suppose you want an image where they're prominent in a food dish? Suppose you have search fatigue? Photographer Allison Dinner has a nice image that was returned in the Google results, and it appears in Washingtonian Magazine's archives from September of 2006. If Allison saw that inquiry either in the interactive listings above, or as an RSS feed she could choose to recieve, she could send off a lightbox to the prospective client that evening when she got home, and voila! Revenue generated, probably with just a sale or two, it'd pay for a year's worth of the Digital Railroad monthly membership fees, and, more importantly, they'd handle the negotiations and fulfillment, so if Allison were out on assignments all day, or didn't want to handle the negotiations, the sales team at Digital Railroad would handle that.

Whenever I talk to friends and colleagues about Digital Railroad and Photoshelter, inevitably the first question people ask is if I am making money, and the short answer is yes, from both of them. However, if your monthly fees entitled you to a qualified list of specific images from buyers on a regular basis, I think this would be a great way to increase the probability of income. Although, now, when you know your friend is an avid kayaker (for example), and they have images of kayaking in patagonia, on the graphic above, where there's the button "Submit Images", there's also a link "email to a friend", which brings up the window to the left.

In addition, I can remember almost all of the images I've shot, and I know I've not shot pickled tomatoes (or kayakers in Patagonia for that matter). However, being able to tap into my own memory of what I did (and did not) shoot increases my mental keywording that I have in place for those images, and moreover, allows me to say "yes, I did shoot verticals of XYZ widget in color (colour!) and I know where they are."

I have countless images in my analog archive, that have not been scanned yet. I've got my own internal priority list, and am about 10,000 images through it, but at any given time, within a day, I can have a (small) collection scanned, captioned, and online, if I only knew which could garner an immediate sale. In addition, I have a number of images that were shot digitally, but, for whatever reason (usually not enough time), I've not uploaded them. If I could be alerted to what's needed, and what it was worth to me to find the time, I'd be motivated to upload.

Unlike the PhotoBulletin, The DR process is automated. Photo researchers - whether obtaining results that "aren't quite right", or give the ubiquitous "no search results found", can submit their request via DR, who then passes it along to it's members. Members can search their own archives for images that meet the buyer's need, (if analog, then scan and apply proper metadata), upload, and send a lightbox of images off for that buyer to review. DR handles all the negotiations over the images' license - fees, terms, and so forth, and collects their 20% fee, while the photographer takes home their 80%.

If you're a photographer who hasn't ever keyworded an image, you're loosing sales, I can almost guarantee that. Perhaps you did, but are missing keywords, or did them wrong. Perhaps the researchers weren't familiar with the nuances of basket-making by hand, or the various styles of Native American dancing, and also were either doing the research a bit wrong, or just didn't want to do it, and wanted to aggregate the power of independent photographers who did know what they shot, and the nuances of such, all stuck in their memories of the assignment.

What does the future for this hold? Getty's site suggests "Still can't find the perfect picture? Commission a Getty Images photographer to fulfill your specific imagery needs." Not a bad idea. If you don't have the images at all, and the buyer's not getting the lightboxes that meet their needs from any Digital Railroad members (or other agencies for that matter), are you then able to solicit an assignment commitment from the client, with fees (and expenses) paid for work performed and license specifics detailed? Would the client take into consideration your capabilities based upon your website/portfolio, and then commission the work to be completed by you alone, or would DR evolve into a semi-OnRequest model? I think that if the former concept was a future-concept for DRR, it could be very workable. If, however, the latter was rattling around in any of the minds of the DR leadership, sadly I have to say, take a hint from Davis Norris, (OnRequest - Realizing the Obvious, 7/12/07), who finally said of his own OnRequest model "that model was interesting, but didn't pan out." It's not like Norris is a bastion of genius because of his ability to forecast good business models, but rather, he stands as the poster child for how not to run a photographically-based business, such is the basis for the hint his actions offer.

Let's see what populates the list. So far, among the requests are: Motorcycles for a magazine; Native American portraits for marketing materials; images from Tombs in Egypt, to Kenya, Madagascar, Brazil, China, Jaipur, Tibet, and Italy; and images of Fathers/Mothers Day; and various types of people using wireless devices. The wireless one in particular, is an advertising request with a circulation/press run of over 500k, so that could generate some significant revenue. Wouldn't it be interesting if some of the iStock-ers got access to the list, and instead of $0.20 per image, were being paid $150+ per image? That might be a wake-up call for them. Maybe they'd invest in a membership to DRR, if for no other reason than to get at a list of images that they probably already have, and are hawking for pennies, not realizing the value they potentially have. I know of many a photographer who's joined ASMP and APA for no other reason than to get on their Find-a-Photographer list, because they've heard it pays for itself every year. Further, since the actual buyers' names are protected, and the negotiations are handled by the DR sales staff, the photographers can't screw themselves by undervaluing their assets, and diminishing the market.

This model holds great promise, and has great potential. I'll watch closely to see what (and how) it delivers.

Note: Some of the graphics above have been repaginated to fit into the contraints of the blog.
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The Votes Have Been Counted

The Votes Are In, and here's what you'd like to read about:

  • Step-by-step basics of getting a photography business off the ground - 52%
  • Marketing ideas and techniques - 50%
  • Business entities: LLC/Inc/Sole Proprietor - 40%
  • Finding your niche - 38%
  • The High Price of Creating Free Ads - 12%
  • Portfolios - 37%
  • Approaching established pro's for assistantships, mentoring and advice - 34%
  • Policing your copyright - 28%
  • Charging for rush jobs - 25%
  • Financial Planning - 23%
  • Printing Companies: Online Vs. Local - 23%
  • Retainers - 16%
  • Mom's (and dad's) with a camera - 13%
  • The legalities of RF selling - 9%
  • Scoopt - What's the deal? - 7%
  • iStockphoto listed in the credits in a major motion picture? - 6%
I'm going to just drop Scoopt and another iStockphoto posting off the topics list. I know I was in a target rich environment last week, and that may have caused a bit of reader fatigue in hearing about the GYI family of companies and seeing so many chalk outlines, so, rather than a general posting about those two issues above, I'll save it until their next blunder. One reader was kind enough to point out that I had only written "Mom's with a camera", when there's a large collection of dad's (and uncles for that matter) with too much time on their hands and a camera, so it'll be about all three.
(Continued after the Jump)

Here's how I think it will work best to fulfill the readership's interest in the above subjects. Take #1 - "Step-by-step basics of getting a photography business off the ground". I could talk about pet photography just as easy as a stock studio, and then again just as easy as an on location editorial business. So, I'll first start with a inquiry post, asking about the specifics of what you'd like to see, and to get the direction you'd like me to take by your comments to the post. No comments? No problem, I'll pick a field, and that just may make me pick pet photography. As someone who's sat in the ring at a dog show with a purebred and had my photo taken, it'll be dog show pet photography, or maybe how to get fido to sit as one part of your training for family pet photography. There are big bucks in that, you know?

A day (or three) later, you'll get your post on the subject, and then I'll move on within the next week.

If you would like to see it done differently, speak now.

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Monday, September 3, 2007

Specifics Request: "Step-by-step basics..."

Ok, so you voted for "Step-by-step basics of getting a photography business off the ground", with a whopping 52% of respondents requesting this in the poll.. I can address, in general terms, how to do it, or I can be specific to a particular field or specialty. Let me know what you'd like, and I'll see where this takes us.

(Link below to make/view Comments)

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They've Been Ordered

It has been a very dificult past 20 months for me. As a lifelong Nikon photographer, I succumbed to the Canon line of equipment - only temporarily - because of what can only be described as heinous noise at 800 iso and above, and marginally acceptable noise at 640. However, to serve my clients who needed me to work in low light situations, I felt I had no other choice but to shoot Canon. Mind you, I didn't switch. I have used my Nikons for portraits, outdoor photography, and so forth. It just feels right in my hands. Yet, I've had to use the 1Ds Mark II for the high ISO needs, and it's worked great.

Now, I see examples here and here that show just what the new D3 will do at 3200, and it's amazing. So, I ordered one from my longtime friend and fellow professional photographer Jeff Snyder, who used to be at Penn Camera (when he wasn't out covering assignments), but have moved up to the big leagues, and is now working for Adorama, yet still based in DC.

Because I still have a need for larger file sizes, and I don't want to drop $20k on a back for my Hasselblad, I've also placed an order for the 1Ds Mark III as well. Maybe when some form of a D3x comes out, I'll be able to return to being a 100% Nikon photographer, but, at this point, I doubt it.

(Continued after the Jump)

It's all about the right tool for the job. Each system works a little differently, and I have come to be comfortable switching between them both. Further, I don't see a need to be tagged as a Nikon or Canon photographer. When the new bodies come out, I can simply evaluate which is best for my needs, and then add to my arsenal. With a full range of both Nikon and Canon lenses, I can serve my clients in the best way possible. I also have a Hasselblad and I had, for a long time, a full Mamiya setup. Just having two brands of 35mm cameras seems strange when it's Nikon/Canon. But, have it Hasselblad/Pentax, or Mamiya/Rollei, and it doesn't seem like such a big deal.

I do realize it's a bit of a luxury, but I got tired of having Canon images kick the D2x's rear, and were I just Canon, I'd tire (and wince a little) when I see the D3's images stomp all over the 1D Mark III, and then, whatever D3x flavor arrives, seeing it stomp on the 1Ds Mark III. So, no more, for as far as I can see.

I anxiously await their arrival in November and December. With cleaner images and lower noise throughout, it'll further streamline my post-production workflow, and my clients will be well served. To e-mail Jeff and get your own, click this link:
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