Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amazon removes Macmillan books

Amazon Pulls Macmillan Books Over E-Book Price Disagreement.

Also see later Update of 1/31.

  NY Times's Brad Stone reports that Venture Beat and other blogs noticed that searches for Macmillan books on Friday night showed those books gone from the site.

  Venture Beat writes that "We found Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, but his new novel Makers and his popular debut, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, have been removed. Robert Jordan’s entire Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels is gone, except for 2005’s The Knife of Dreams.  You get inks to other sellers. But Amazon has stopped carrying them."
  They are still listed at and  Some were hoping
that this was a just a "glitch."

Brad Stone was able to talk to someone in the industry who said this is due to a disagreement between Amazon and book publishers, a situation which has seen two major book publishers recently pulling e-books from being released at the same time as hardcover books.

  While insisting that e-books are a miniscule portion of book sales, these publishers also say that e-books "cannibalize" hard cover sales.  (In some quarters, you apparently can have it both ways when handing out quotes.)

I've written that there've been reports that publishers, unhappy with Amazon's low $9.99 (U.S.) price for most best NY Times sellers, are fearful that customers will come to feel that this is the proper price for books, thereby "cheapening" (in the publishers' eyes) the value of publisher offerings.  Well, yes, they'd be cheaper than publishers want.

Most are aware that electronic versions of books, once operating costs have been recouped, are pure gravy.  There's no need for additional printings, involving cost of paper, distribution, storage, delivery, etc.
  Neverheless they want the same or very similar prices as charged for hard cover books, as that would be an even better margin for them, and they don't want to lose that.

The NYTimes's Stone explains:
' Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
. . .
  It’s not clear yet if publishers can withhold books from Amazon while giving them to other parties like Apple. I’ve spoken to two antitrust lawyers who say it could raise legal issues. '
Steve Jobs did meet with several publishers to offer them a better percentage of sales, but in order to make this more profitable for Apple when agreeing to charge the publishers less, Jobs wants the money to come from book buyers.

  According to Wall Street Journal articles quoted earlier here, Jobs has asked publishers to set their prices higher.  Walt Mossberg of the Wall St. Journal, knowing that Amazon will be offering the Kindle for iPad app in Apple's store and that customers can decide to buy from Amazon instead, asked Jobs the other day, in a video'd interview by Boomtown's Kara Swisher, why customers would pay Apple's book prices when they could buy at a considerably lower cost from Amazon.  Here's a transcribed excerpt from
' In the video below, listen carefully to the Jan 27 conversation between The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg and Steve Jobs.  At one point Mossberg asks Steve Jobs about the price advantage ($9.99 @ Amazon vs $14.99 @ Apple’s iBooks) Kindle owners enjoy for certain ebook offerings.  Jobs tactfully corrects Mossberg.

Mossberg: “[first part is inaudible] why should she buy a book for $14.99 on your device [iPad] when she can buy one for $9.99 at Amazon [inaudible]?”
Steve Jobs: “Well, that won’t be the case.”
Mossberg: “You mean you [iBooks] won’t be $14.99 or they [Amazon] won’t be $9.99?”
Steve Jobs: “The prices will be the same.” '
This is fairly Machiavellian.  While people have been wondering what Jobs meant and at least one online article optimistically wrote that Jobs apparently was willing to lower his prices to match Amazon's, Jobs was actually saying, though not explicitly, that either Amazon was not going to be able to sell them below $15 anymore or that Amazon might not then be able to sell them at all if Amazon didn't agree to the higher price now that the publisher could just sell them all at Apple).  Jobs apparently felt that Amazon would have to give in and sell the books at the same price Steve Jobs had set.  Some publishers seem to feel Steve Jobs will protect their margins and that he won't insist on more controls for that service.

 Job's statement reminds me of Mafia-speak.  Watch the videoclips to note the turning away of the head and the smile when he says that Amazon's prices and his will be the same.

There's more in that video'd interview with Steve Jobs, who seems to have decided that others' preferences or values have no worth if they don't coincide with his.
  On January 15, 2008, two years ago, Jobs had this to say, to John Markoff of the NY Times, who reported:
' Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.” '
  Despite His dismissal of the other 60% as meaningless for his business, he'd have seen that the Kindle went 'somewhere' after all, bringing 23 other e-reader vendors trailing behind at CES 2010 in San Francisco.   This brush-off routine may explain his similar dismissal of differences in useful battery time when he said the following to Walt Mossberg in that interview -- but first he says more about the pricing differences:
' "Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon, because they're not happy with it," Jobs added.  The comment carried a different tone from his keynote, when Jobs complimented Amazon for pioneering the e-book market with the Kindle.
. . .
As for the device's uptime when reading e-books, Jobs said he believes the 10 hours provided will be more than enough for most users.  He discredited Mossberg's suggestion that a backlit LCD display, versus the e-ink on the Amazon Kindle, produces a "battery cost."

"You know, there isn't," Jobs said. "Because you just end up plugging it in. You end up docking it or whatever you're going to do with it. It's not a big deal. Ten hours is a long time. Because you're not going to read for 10 hours." '
  Jobs seems to be saying that e-book customers would not bother using the tablet in other ways between reading sessions, maybe because he concentrates on his basic thought that people just don't read enough to worry over things like battery time on a multi-purpose device, just as he insisted that "people don't read anymore." Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. I was thinking of buying Macbook Pro BUT hearing this about Jobs makes me want to boycott all Apple products. Machiavellian is too mild a word for what he wants. Price-fixing for PROFIT. From a NON-READER. He wants to kill books, it's quite clear. I hope the ipad dies an unnatural death...
    Chanteuse64 on Twitter

  2. I don't like what he's doing either. His intransigence when another person doesn't agree with him was very clear in how he responded to questions.

    But the Macbook Pro is a really good choice otherwise.

  3. Good explanation of the latest moves on the battlefield, Andrys. I came across an email address for Macmillan and am going to send them a polite message expressing my disappointment at their efforts to make eBooks more expensive. The email is . --Len

  4. Very nice analysis of the issue. :) The situation is ridiculous, though -- $15 for an ebook is absolutely absurd!

    It'll be interesting to see how this issue resolves itself. Jobs seems very confident of his success, but initial reactions to the iPad have been...lukewarm at best, hostile at worst. Meanwhile, the Kindle and the Amazon store are extremely, VERY popular.

  5. Whatever you pay for an actual book, you can recoup by selling it later. Can't do that with an e-book.

  6. Excellent blog Andrys. Like Walt Mossberg, I wondered why iPad owners would pay $14.99 for an e-book from Apple's iBookstore when they could pay $9.99 for the same title from Amazon. I thought that Steve Jobs would address the price disparity by not approving a "Kindle for iPad" application in the App Store. Then iPad owners would shop at the iBookstore because Amazon's store wouldn't be "open for business" on the iPad. There are some serious flaws with this tactic though. First of all, Apple has already set a precedent of allowing other e-reader apps on its devices. In fact, the existing "Kindle for iPhone" app will probably run on the iPad in low resolution. More importantly though, potential customers may choose to buy a Kindle instead of an iPad because of Amazon's less expensive e-books.

    Apple's strategy for competing with Amazon in the e-book market isn't what I was expecting. Ideally, Apple would compete with Amazon on price, selection, or features. However, it became apparent at the iPad announcement this week that Apple isn't competing on price. After the announcement, I thought that Apple would compete by making its iBookstore a monopoly on the iPad. In other words, Apple would ban the "Kindle for iPad" app and other e-readers from its App Store. As I pointed out though, this tactic has flaws and now I think it's likely that Apple will allow a "Kindle for iPad" app. Now it's appearing that Apple is conspiring with publishers to force Amazon to raise its e-book prices. Time will tell if this strategy is successful for Apple. Personally, I'll be rooting for Amazon and lower e-book prices.

  7. Why is it that market forces don't seem to apply to Apple? Are people so slavish in their following that they are willing to pay whatever to have their products and consume their media? The only way books will stay at $9.99 or less is if the market is unwilling to pay $14.99.
    If he thinks that reading on an iPad is going to an identical experience to reading on a Kindle, he is sadly mistaken. i really hope that a color kindle with the Mirasol display comes out in the fall at a similar price to the present kindles and kills the iPad.
    I for one have never seen any advantage to an Apple computer that would justify twice the selling price. I've never had a virus, because I practice smart computing practices, not because I use a computer that no one writes viruses for. My computer (even with Vista on it) worked right out of the box. I think the claim that Apples work better is over hyped. My daughter is editor of the school paper and the Apples they use freeze up all the time. No one seems willing to take Apple to task for their shortcomings.
    There are no perfect computers.

  8. Are publishers crazy? I hardly bought book at all for years, now I'm going back and buying favoritesin digital form, not to mention all the new stuff I'm buying. There's no way they don't make money at $9.99.

    And to say that taking away the physical form of the book doesn't save them enough money to justify that price, that's just smoke and mirrors. For one thing, as I already said, I'm actually re-buying books I already own.

    Publishers need to adjust - yes, they provide value in finding talent, editing, etc. but that doesn't mean that everything they do adds value - it's just a paradigm they built over the years. It's a new world and I'm having to adjust in many, many ways. The publishers will do the same, like it or not. It's a business war and the consumer is going to win it. I'm certainly not going to buy eBooks at higher price points. I'll just quit buying.

  9. Kelly, I sure didn't expect this either. As for the Kindle for iPad - that seems to be a done deal from Amazon quotes Friday to press.

    While Steve Jobs can treat his staff like this, it'll be a bit harder with customers, as far as rewards for his attempts at price manipulation.

  10. Scott, I worked with Macs for about 6 years, and they're nice but they needed support too.

    Apple computers are something like 7% of market share in businesses, and they could have been the lead had they not priced everything so high. They do tend to make good, solid products, and the loyalty seems to be from that.

    I personally like pc's as there are a lot more free or low-cost utilities and programs for them.

  11. Duncande,
    I was one who never bought hard covers and read few books in a year Now I read (e)books constantly and buy at the drop of a hat.

    I won't ever buy hard cover books though, so the publishers are wasting their efforts with people like me. As others have pointed out, if they make us wait for the e-books, we may lose interest due to lackluster reviews or newer books getting our interest.

  12. I seem to remember a court case a while back between a supplier and a retailer. The supplier wanted to prevent the retailer from putting his merchandise on sale. The retailer won, if I remember correctly. I wonder if that would apply here. Also, if five companies get together with Apple to fix prices , I wonder if there is some sort of legal problem with that too. Anyway, I am amazed that none of the publishers or Apple seems to be giving any thought about how this appears to those of us who are actually going to be coughing up the money-- or not.

  13. @duncande, I agree, I am replacing old small-print paperbacks with Kindle books & buying more in general.
    @Andrys, we have older Macs in my music office & they certainly do need support. My home PCs have been terrific & needed much less, actually.
    But I began learning to use a computer on Macs, in the early 90s, & I admire the elegance of the system & the products. I think this is a lot of the appeal, & I am not immune.
    thanks @Len Edgerly for the link...

  14. Andrys Basten,
    Great point about publishers making us wait for a eBook. There's so much out there today to grab our attention - such a short-sighted view by publishers and shows how disconnected they really are. Never is there a more clear case of "you snooze, you lose".

  15. It's kind of disappointing. I own a kindle, I bought it as I was literally running out of room in my house to store books. Of the last 4 books I bought for my kindle in the last month, the actual hard cover book was lower priced on release day than what I paid for the e-book version. Now they seem to think that I want to pay even more? I'll go back to finding room in my house to store hardcover books before I do that. It's just silly.

  16. Len, thanks again for that address... I wrote as well.

    Some people are so greedy!

    and for what it's worth, I totally disagree about the battery life point as well... I LOVE that my Kindle goes a LONG time without recharging... I don't have to think about whether I forgot to charge it since I take it back and forth to work... and, well, everywhere I go! 10 hours... I would have to remember to charge it every night, PITA...

  17. Apple sucks! It's CRAPPLE and MACINTRASH. Pure tripe, junk... environmentally unfriendly non green bullcrap that needs to be stopped. Don't buy Crapple stuff anymore and it will hopefully go away. PC Rules, Crapple's for fools.

  18. Janet,
    On the money! Seems the customer is the last thing on their minds...

  19. --- To newine,
    Replacing pocketbooks is even less expensive so some publishers would be unhappy, but probably they're more concerned about the new releases and e-books taking money from hardcover during open time. They often reference first-run movies still active in theaters and DVDs that can't come out until they're over. Agreed on everything you wrote.

    --- To duncande,

    "You snooze, you lose" is a great line for this.

    Maybe use the address Len gave and send that to them.

    --- To Zaphon
    I hadn't seen that and it must have been a bug in Amazon's system. Some call them when e-book pricing is above the paper pricing.

    --- To mitchsmom
    Yah, greed's at the heart of it.

    Glad someone else found the battery remark (and on the video he's somewhat belligerant on it.
    He feels all you have to do charge it, as if we didn't know that and prefer longer time between charges and not worrying about it.

    January 30, 2010 5:06:00 PM PST
    Anonymous said...

    I like both PCs and also Apple's offerings. Often overpriced, the Apple, but the machines TEND to work well and they give good support, say my relatives.

    But yes, S.Job's policies are getting most of us angry.

  20. So is collusion legal in the USA?

    I'm certainly no expert, but I'm pretty sure making agreements to raise prices like this would be an illegal move here in Australia and the ACCC would come down hard.

  21. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not anti-publisher or anti-seller, and after almost a year of Kindle ownership I have still not purchased any e-book that was a bestseller at the time, so the $9.99 debate doesn’t generally directly affect me. Following the discussion, however, I’m puzzled how often the term “greed” is levied against the publishers. As a former retail manager and current business professor, I unreservedly agree that companies that aren’t responsive to their customers will more than likely not survive in the long term. So Macmillan may be making a short-sided and unwise strategic move, but is it any more “greedy” than Amazon or any other business that seeks to maximize its profits? It seems to be commonly accepted that Amazon is selling its $9.99 e-books at a loss, but with the record fourth-quarter earnings report it just released, it’s obvious it’s making up for it somewhere. Is it making more than it “should” on those more profitable items? Is it likely that, should it achieve a de facto monopoly position in e-book sales, its pricing policies will be driven purely by an altruistic desire to satisfy some subjective consensus about a “fair” price? It’s obviously a rhetorical question, but I think it’ll probably make the decisions it feels best suit its business plan. I didn’t necessarily want to pay $359 for my Kindle, but absent any evidence of illegal pricing activity on Amazon’s part, I don’t feel I can fairly claim that Amazon did anything wrong. However, if I felt that price was too much to pay, and had enough like-minded company, it probably would have adjusted its prices in response to competitive forces (as it seems to be doing now). And if enough people rebel against Macmillan et al., for whatever reason, they will probably either adapt, or wither away, also. But I don’t think it would make any of them any more or less “greedy” because of it. Just another point of view to consider.

  22. Hm. If publishers really are worried about e-books eroding their hardcover sales, they are at least as stupid as I've always thought they were. Most e-book reading people buy e-books. We don't mostly buy "whichever format is available this second, because we need it this second".

    What I really suspect, is that because Steve Jobs has decreed that 'people don't read', he wants to be right. And because he wants to be right, his ultimate plan is to go all 'matter vs. antimatter' against Amazon, and kill e-reading once and for all. Then we'll all buy iPads and spend the rest of our years playing videogames -- which no doubt have a much better margin for Apple than boring old books.

    After all. Eight hours spent reading a book -- well, it should be outlawed. Those would be eight hours that we are away from the advertising that we are required to absorb.

    a different Anonymous

  23. To: different !
    Macmillian is apparently as stupid as we both thought some were.

    And I'm in agreement that Steve Jobs' has shown some general disdain for anyone who would just sit and read a boring book for hours and is not worth worrying over unless maybe he can corner a market someone else is doing well in. What he likes is games and winning.

  24. If another company was selling a device for $259 and another company came along and encouraged others to help them make the original company charge $400 as they are, maybe you'd excuse them too.

    MacMillian wants Amazon to raise its sales price FIFTY PERCENT, by the way. Maybe you're ok with that and against our calling it greed.

    To me, their entire handling of it is at the least Stupid and without any understanding of the crowd they and Steve Jobs as head manipulater and reaper of the rewards want to raise the prices for.

    The e-book crowd are ADDED money to MacMillian - they are not the hardcover crowd.

    Jobs just wants control and he knows how to do it. It won't work though, ultimately. But he'll help in being self-destructive while he can, encouragng publishers to raise the prices so HE can tell them he'll give them more and then he wants more, which he'll get if they raise prices.

    He figures Amazon is up against the wall since he can get all the publishers to work with him instead (and they'd be quite ignorant to do that).

  25. Anonymous,
    Price-fixing is frowned on here, but I suppose they're doing it in some finessed way. Some people can be amoral when they're playing games.

  26. “If another company was selling a device for $259 and another company came along and encouraged others to help them make the original company charge $400 as they are, maybe you'd excuse them too.”

    I’m guessing this comment may have been in reply to my earlier one. The only thing I’ll say is that I don’t think it’s my place to “excuse” a business, but was just weighing in with another opinion. As I said, I really don’t have a “side” in this, but perhaps one is required(?).

  27. Batman,
    The point is you say you have no dog in this fight, so you are speaking 'dispassionately' and wondering if WE are correct in assigning "greed" as a label for Macmillan's actions.

    You ask, isn't Amazon also greedy then when it does this or that. That's not the question; we are responding to THIS instance of greed.

    I was just showing you what it's like using devices as an example rather than books, to see from still another point of view what Jobs is trying to do as he manipulates Macmillan and other publishers to his advantage, as he can this way, grabbing them all up away from Amazon if he can. Think of the arrogance and, as one person said, puppet-mastery he is attempting here, when he told Mossenberg the prices would be the same and then smiled.

    You were trying to let us know we should think about what 'greed' is - but you are speaking from a lofty plane and I'm not. For me, it is greed, plain and simple but more importantly it is asinine stupidity on Macmillan's part. And with Macmillan's history in all this and its intense ignorance of the e-book crowd, it's also about greed, because that blinds entities to the point they are unable to discern what practicalities are.

  28. Andrys,

    I’ll make this my last response and withdraw from the battle. I’m not trying to come from any lofty plane, but merely expressing an opinion in the style that I express things, which I understand may not be the same as yours or others, just as I understand that we have a difference of opinion on the topic at hand; no offense was intended. I’m not trying to tell you or anyone else how to define greed, or evil, or beauty, or hatred, or any other position - I was just offering my take. I tried to explicitly state that I also believe it may very well be a stupid, unwise, etc. business decision, but if pejoratives are going to be used as part of that description, it just seemed to me (and perhaps only me) that some consistency was called for. So when you say that you are responding to *this* instance of greed, I take the implication that it’s not greed per se that’s the issue, but who the greedy party is. If that’s the case, so be it, but it doesn’t seem fair (another subjective assessment). Sorry if I’ve been a skunk at the garden party. Take care.

  29. Batman,
    With people all over railing against Amazon "removing" books from customers while attempting to protect the $9.99 price point, for whatever reason, now just isn't the time, when people are so angry from all sides to be telling one of the sides that they are not being quite as rational as you are.

    This is not a theory situation. As far as you know, we may well be quite correct in assigning that label.

    We should stop and ponder how guilty of that AMAZON is in other situations?

    Sorry, Batman - am in no mood at all for a theory discussion or being told we should check our thoughts to see whether we are being unfair. I just read Macmillan's letter.

    They would have "winnowed" their stock avaiolable to Amazon had Amazon decided to keep its old pricing that Macmaillan would allow them to do.

    Amazon told them they don't want their dregs and they will do business for the entire collection or not do it at all.

    You also can't let one publisher do this because it lets the other publishers know they can do this too, and then the Kindle $10 book community and everything around that dies.

    Almost none of us would pay $15 for an e-book.

    I cannot begin to tell you the distaste I have for what Jobs is trying to do, and he's succeeding with many.

    Since you don't buy $10 e-books, you really don't understand, but the others are *involved* in it as part of their lives. But really, you're here to talk about how wrong we might be in calling Macmillan greedy, and I'm just surprised at that.

    I could have just not replied to you, but I was giving you the courtesy of my real reaction as you were yours.

  30. A note in the opposite sense to this news, and I believe you will find this as big news! I am in Portugal (jbernard - Jose Bernardes) and this Saturday I was able to "buy" the usually only US-costumers free books really for free! In fact, as you known in Europe the US frebies cost 2,30 USD, so we had no free books in Kindle Store. That is not the case now. Some books remain at that price 2,30 USD but several others, are now really free! (Jules Verne, HG Wells, etc). My blog in Portuguese:

  31. José,
    That is very interesting. It could be that the sizes of those books is small so they are not charging the added wireless cost for sending them.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  32. Batman, no, it's not "who" the greedy party is, though I think you're focused on Amazon yourself.

    I'm responding in the time of the instance, and I'm sorry you don't think it's "fair." You do seem to be ignoring the import of it all, including the "winnowing" statement yesterday that I mentioned.

    The 'winnowing' (In the letter written by Macmillian, the exec cleared up that it wasn't "windowing" he had said) was a direct threat put to Amazon which was that the publisher would remove material selected by the publisher, leaving Amazon the rest of it, with the best going to a competitor.

    To me, Amazon's reaction to this threat is understandable because of the implications for their business if the other publishers saw that there would be no problems if they did the same once offered a higher rate by another store, 'using' this store while being used themselves.

    Your asking about Amazon's actions in the past brings in another time period and is just broader than mine for a blog comment to a specific subject. One bad action in the past does not negate another happening now. That Jobs and Macmillian are acting with greed as a driver currently (because intelligence in connection with what buyers will pay is not there) does not mean that Amazon has never been greedy.

    But we're just, in this blog-entry thread, on the subject of the actions this week. If all the other publishers saw that Amazon would not react in the way they are, they'd all take their best books to Apple. But this was planned. Publishers are apparently very easy to manipulate.

  33. For me, the issue goes beyond being able to pay $9.99 for best selling books. I don't like the agency model that Macmillan and the other major publishers are trying to force Amazon and other e-book retailers to adopt. Here's how the agency model would work, according to John Sargent (CEO) of Macmillan:

    "Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set the price for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time."

    Under the agency model, publishers set the retail prices for books instead of retailers. That's why Steve Jobs was able to tell Walt Mossberg that “The prices will be the same” at and the Apple iBookstore. Now that Apple has adopted the agency model for selling e-books, publishers likely feel that they have the leverage needed to force Amazon into agreeing to the same terms.

    The problem with the agency model is that retailers are merely agents of the publisher and no longer compete on price. I prefer the existing model which encourages healthy price competition between e-book retailers. Publishers dictating retail prices to retailers goes against the free market principles that I believe in. It will be disappointing to me if collusion between the publishers and Apple leads to an agency business model for the e-book industry.

  34. Yes, and there is a glaring typo in the rushed paid ad made by John Sargent at Publishers Lunch.

    If my business is selling products, I'll be deciding the selling price. Publishers can take my money to sell their books but they won't be telling me what the actual selling price (vs list price) is because that affects how much money I will make, and if the price point is too high, we all lose.

    I agree with your points about the free market and the rather obvious collusion between Apple and at least one publisher.

  35. Zaphon,
    You said, "Of the last 4 books I bought for my kindle in the last month, the actual hard cover book was lower priced on release day than what I paid for the e-book version"

    I hope that's unusual! but hardcover books often carry huge discounts when they're newly released and are somehow on the bestsellers list...

  36. To "A different Anonymous"

    I missed your note the other day. Enjoyed your irony there and agree on the gist of it.


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