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Weekend Poll: Do Readers “Expect” Less From eBooks Than Traditional Novels?

Weekend Poll: Do Readers “Expect” Less From eBooks Than Traditional Novels?

by Mike Duran · 27 comments

I heard an author recently suggest that readers have different expectations for an author’s ebooks, as opposed to their traditional novels. Now an author can offer all kinds of different product to their readers, at a much faster rate: Anthologies, novellas (like Dean Koontz’s latest Odd Thomas ebook), lost stories, etc. But does this faster flowing stream of stories affect readers’ expectations? Do they expect

  • Less density
  • Less editorial quality
  • A faster read

Apparently, some think readers DO expect less from ebooks — less craft, less substance, less in-depth characterizations, less detail — than traditional novels.  What they want is a quick read. Something to hold them over until their next literary meal. Then again, maybe this doesn’t mean readers have “less” expectations. Perhaps they just expect something “different” from ebooks. I’m not sure.

Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Mirtika October 19, 2012 at 6:01 AM

I have no idea what readers other than ME expect. I expected it to have less quality (visually, editorially, etc) maybe 15 years ago when this stuff was new. Now, I expect my ebooks for my Kindle, Nook, cloud reading to be the same quality as traditional books. They aren’t always, but I think we’ll get there. The expectation of iPad and other high-tech readers is not crap level.

I also expect LESS price. If they don’t have to kill trees, hire truckers, warehouse, etc, then I want a cut in price. I often won’t buy a book I want cause the kindle version is as much or more than the hardcover version. That ticks me off. Sorry, if they’re expenses are lower, I expect lower prices. Now, for a beautifully bound book with illustrations/photos and gorgeous print, yes, I’ll pay more.

Ebooks. I expect quality at a price that is in keeping with all those many resources NOT used/people not hired/places not rented/returns not wasted. Price it like a “regular” book and I get miffed and feel gypped and wait to go buy it used for 2 or 3 bucks, and they get bupkis profit.

All that to say that while readers may expect and tolerate less quality in ebooks, I think that’s moving and changing as more and more folks choose ebooks FIRST.

Mir

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Jon Mast October 20, 2012 at 7:25 AM

I’m with you on the less price/ equal literary quality. I understand there’s still a need to pay editors and writers as well as those who work their magic in setting the text in the various programs, but it seems ridiculous to me to pay hardcover prices for ebooks. I would be interested in seeing a cost breakdown for publishers of ebook vs. print.

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Mirtika October 19, 2012 at 6:02 AM

Er, yes, I didn’t proof. I do so know they’re versus their. hah.

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Kat Heckenbach October 19, 2012 at 6:20 AM

Um…do you mean books that are *exclusively* ebook vs. different books that are in print only or in print as well? It’s not like the ebook version of the same book also in print is going to have more typos–they’re both from the same master file. The ebook may not have the graphics and fancy fonts and stuff, but the text and story would be identical.

And if you mean books that are ebook ONLY, then if people expect less of them it’s likely because those books tend to be self-published, or put out by presses that only publish ebooks. People see it as the “cheap” way to go, so likely expect lesser quality.

Also–I agree with Mirtika. Ebooks should be cheaper. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered a hardback book from Amazon because it was cheaper (sometimes used-but-perfect, sometimes brand new) than the ebook version. That bugs me to no end. Then again, I’ve gotten some very pretty hardback books :).

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Mike Duran October 19, 2012 at 7:40 AM

Yeah, I should clarify. I mean ebook only novels / novella, not the digital version of the identical book.

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Mirtika October 19, 2012 at 8:06 AM

Oh, I’m rambling on about books that can come in either format.

However, as more authors want to be their own business–including those who came OUT of traditional publishing, or rejected lucrative contracts to self publish, like Barry Eisner–and keep their own profits, sans publishing house strictures, I think ONLY or MAINLY ebook format (with some side POD) will be the wave. As people grow more eco-conscious and are relying more on their tech gadgets for reading, and want to conserve space (my main reason for moving library slowly to eformat), printed books will be the luxury, not the norm. The beautiful, wasteful, space hogging, allergy-inducing, bookworm luring luxury. (I hate when I find those pinholes in my books where they’ve been eaten.

Plus, if a hurricane hits and destroys my real library, my cloud library remains. :D

Um, rambling here, but basically, I personally expect my ebooks to be good and given a quality polish if the author is professional. It’s all about the attitude of the person putting it out there. With more and more businesses setting up to assist authors in self-publishing–be it freelance editors, Kindle formatters, marketers, graphic designers for authors–I think the only thing readers need to worry about is the plague of false reviews. Samples become more important than ever, and trustworthy reviewers will be heroes.

I have faith in the evolution of the ebook marketplace to offer authors a lot, readers a lot, with the usual caveats when the market is wide open and free.

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Cindy McCord October 19, 2012 at 6:50 AM

For myself, I expect the same level of standards of writing between e-books and print. Just because it isn’t a print book doesn’t mean you get to slide by with going easier or shorter or have a less involved story line. I have read a couple of short e-books that are written to be in between or at the end of a series because readers were wanting more but all that does is make you wish there was more to the story. At least in my case it did.

Writers trying to get their selves out there and self-publish e-books may can get away with less but that leaves them a lot of room to grow their craft based on the feedback they may receive.

Like Mirtika and Kat, I don’t expect to pay as much for an e-book as a the print copy. If they are the same price, I will purchase the print version. For some reason, it feels wasteful to me to spend the money on e-books if they are priced the same. At least with the print version once I am done, I can pass along to a friend or place in our library at church.

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Guy Stewart October 19, 2012 at 7:21 AM

I’d love to say I expect the same quality, but my experience — especially with ebook-only releases has NOT been that they are equal. They may LOOK all shiny and neat and cool like a paper book, but once I crack the cover by authors whose work has never seen the face of wood pulp, the quality IN MY PERSONAL AND SINGULAR AND ONLY SPEAKING FOR ME AND NOT COMMENTING ON EBOOKS IN GENERAL OR ALL EBOOKS OR THE EPUBLISHING INDUSTRY of the forty or so “ebook only” books I have read (or in several cases attempted to read) has been a dramatic drop in storytelling quality that MAY (AND HERE I SPECULATE WITH NO INTENTION OF PREDICTING THE FUTURE OF EBOOKS OR IMPUNGING THE GENERAL EBOOK WRITING AUTHORIAL CANON’S VAST ARRAY AND TOTALITY OF AUTHORS) be the result of an author figuring that they’re “done”, they’ve edited and the story is ready…without having a dispassionate editorial eye (which also has an eye on the amount of money INVESTED in the prose) suggest changes that might make a story MORE compelling.

PLEASE NOTE: I AM NOT COMMENTING ON “ALL” EPUBBED AUTHORS ON THE PLANET. I am commenting on the 40 or so ebooks that have caught my interest, that I have paid for and that I have read/tried to read. PLEASE DO NOT CONSTRUE THESE COMMENTS AS AN INDICTMENT AGAINST THE ENTIRE BODY OF EPUBLISHED BOOKS.

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Jon Mast October 20, 2012 at 8:36 AM

I’ve read a few ebook-only releases — usually the self-published free or extremely cheap ones. I guess, to an extent, you get what you pay for. I found the writing workable, but it didn’t “sing” the way I’d expect from a standard publishing house. I think you hit it right — it seems (note: seems!) that many self-published ebooks don’t have that “dispassionate editorial eye,” as you said. Having a good editor goes a looooooooooooong way to making a piece of fiction really work.

So, yeah. My experience is pretty much the same as yours, Guy!

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Jill October 20, 2012 at 6:48 PM

Seriously, if the editor is making a book sing, then the editor is the one with talent, not the writer. Either the writer can make it sing on his/her own, or he/she lacks talent. Making text sing is not the purpose of editors. Editors are there to find plot problems, grammar problems, and inconsistencies. Teamwork does not create art.

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Jon Mast October 20, 2012 at 7:59 PM

I guess I disagree. A good editor can take a good manuscript and make it great through pointed questions. The editor isn’t the one writing (though some of the best editors really do deserve cowriting credits!). Maybe we’ve just encountered very different editors. :)

And Teamwork does create art. What else is orchestral music? Even in writing, teamwork can produce art. There are some great writing teams out there; the Eddings come immediately to my mind. Granted, they’re rarer than individual writers, but teams can produce stunning art.

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Guy Stewart October 22, 2012 at 6:00 PM

I agree with Jon Mast in that IN MY OWN EXPERIENCE, I am sometimes to close to a work to see the small things. Maybe the use of a favorite word too frequently; maybe a missed opportunity to offer a bit more insight into a character’s motivation; maybe a phrase spoken in one place that would have a more powerful effect spoken either slightly earlier or slightly later — these are things that IN MY OWN EXPERIENCE that an editor has added to my work. (No, no books. Short stories in CRICKET, ANALOG, articles in THE WRITER, etc — perhaps your experience with longer works is diferent than mine is with short works.) These small things are what have made my pieces sing like a crystal goblet rather than merely ring like a brass bell. My pieces have ALWAYS been better with an editor than without.

OTHER EDITORIAL EXPERIENCES MAY VARY.

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Jon Mast October 22, 2012 at 6:37 PM

Thank you, Guy — you’re right. I should have added “in my own experience.” I came off stronger than I should have!

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Erica October 19, 2012 at 8:13 AM

I’m going to take a guess(I already voted), that people expect the same quality from eBooks as print books. People love to read and understand what they are reading and they enjoy reading their favorite genre of books-whether they are eBooks or print.

However, there is a certain expectation people have for eBooks as far as: pricing, eBook cover, and “quick quantity”-quick quanity is how fast the author publishes serials, or stand alones that people enjoy on the fly. It’s almost like the difference between watching Syfy made movies versus films for the theater.

It depends upon the individual.

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Kessie October 19, 2012 at 8:24 AM

I voted “it depends on author or genre” because some folks can pull off an ebook-only release, and some can’t. The ones who can are trained authors who have learned how to revise and edit, and can do most of the work themselves. Newbie authors who treat Amazon like fanfiction.net? Well, their quality is exactly the same as what I’d find on ff.net, only they expect me to pay a buck for it. Sorry, no.

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Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) October 19, 2012 at 8:27 AM

I have no idea what readers who aren’t me think. I have been disappointed and quickly deleted many of the only ebook books I have purchased or gotten for free. Hard to complain much when the book was free. But I have also been delighted by new authors and ease of handling ebooks etc etc. I do miss seeing a cover and/or illustrations. And I really miss having a book in hand to give to someone else. Gambling on authors I meet here and on Spec Faith and other sites where books are reviewed has been hit and miss, but often enough hit that I am enjoying the exploration. I am glad there are more chances for more authors to enter the arena of the marketplace. Last night I discovered a self-pubbed author, Sechin Tower who wrote “Mad Science Institute”, a delightful MG or YA with a delightful aspie girl who tends to blow up things but still manages to save the world. Today I’m going to check out his website and see if he has anything else published. I love this new world of ebooks and ecommerce etc etc.

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Becky Doughty October 19, 2012 at 8:57 AM

I’ll jump into the fray on this one!

As a reader, I EXPECT the same quality, but sadly, I am not surprised when I receive a lower quality. I think that’s why e-books have the reputation they do (although that IS changing with more pressure to put out good stuff) – because readers get disappointed when an e-book doesn’t live up to our expectations.

I agree with Martika to a certain degree – I don’t want to pay the same for an e-book as I do for a hard copy, for various reasons. However, as an e-book author myself, I want to still make my money for my effort. Just because I haven’t gone through a big publishing house does NOT mean that there weren’t other services involved (besides the writing and research, there’s editing, proofing, formatting, interior & cover design, etc.) Perhaps much of it IS done by the author as in my case, but I know MANY e-book authors who pay out good money for these services. So to assume that those services do not come into play isn’t necessarily accurate, and those expenses should all be factored into the price of e-books.

And since I’ve put the SAME writing effort in as a hard-copy writer, AND all the other services I referred to in the last paragraph, I want to be able to make a little off that effort, so it does bother me when the price of my e-book has to go lower and lower and lower to keep up with readers’ false expectations. I started out with a hard copy of 11.99, offering the digital copy at 6.99, (after researching competitive prices). Within a few months I realized that the comparable books were lowering their prices… so I dropped mine to $4.99. I’ve since felt pushed to drop it again to the $2.99 or less range, but I’m resistant because that’s where all the sub-par books are being priced and I know for a fact, that my book is print quality and professionally written, edited, formatted, etc.

Catch-22. I know eventually this will all sort itself out, and the wheat will get separated from the chaff, but in the meantime, it’s tough to keep up with undetermined expectations.

Blessings Mike,
Becky

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Mirtika October 19, 2012 at 9:12 AM

And veteran self-publishers will say that if you keep your price UNDER 5 bucks, and in some cases (new, untried authors), under 3 bucks, you’ll have a better chance of sales VOLUME and having people discover you.

Me, I’d tell new authors to do $2.99 or $.99 and do savvy marketing and start cranking out as much volume (short stories, novellas) to gather a fan base.

If I see a new author self-publishing and charging me what an established house would, I’d ignore the book and go on. I think part of the expectation is that with ebooks, there is no shelf-life. It’s there forever, until you make a name (or don’t), and you get to continue to publicize/market/blog and have the book there for download at little personal expense other than initial outlay. It’s, of course, a different publishing (and reader) reality we’re facing. The ones who find their pool of readers can make a living if prolific. The ones who can’t find their readers will stall. It’s tough, but publishing always has been, right?

At least an author can BE out there without waiting for an editor/publisher to say, ‘Yes, here’s your advance, it will be out for readers in 2 years” If you find your fan base, write fast and feed them and make them want more–that’s the new reality. Instant access, but the author has to find the market herself.

Pros and cons.

As someone who spends THOUSANDS a year on books, I can be swayed to buy almost ANYONE and ANYTHING for 99 cents. I can be swayed less quickly for 3 bucks, but I’m willing to TRY someone with a great “sample chapter” for $3. I wouldn’t have tried just anyone for 8 or 12 bucks in traditional print.

Whole different world….

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Mirtika October 19, 2012 at 9:22 AM

I will say that authors should sell at the price they CAN sell at. If an author can sell fine at 11 bucks, why not? They have a following who will pay. Me, I pay that for certain authors I MUST MUST MUST read RIGHT NOW. A group of very few, mind you.

But for an unknown author with little resources, the investment in the ebook (art, formatting, marketing, website set-up) has to be considered the investment capital into a BUSINESS..with the idea it’s long-term. Thousands put in on a risk, just like any business (restaurant, shoe store, real bookstore, etc). You put in thousands up front to set-up and work to get a return over time as people find your ‘shop’ and products.

If someone invests 100,000 in a store that sells greeting cards, they can’t charge me $10 for a card just cause it cost them a lot to set-up. If what one is willing to pay is $1.50, pricing it at $10 will be a waste of time for everyone, right?

If you can get people to try a book at 99 cents and gather them in to LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE….and within 3 years, 2000 folks have downloaded it, did you just make back your investment? If in 5 years 4000 have downloaded it, you made moolah off it. Meantime, you have new stuff, right?

Now, some of them will want book 2, and 3. The short stories. The novella. The chapbook. Your price now goes up. :D They’ll pay it.

I guess I’m thinking of what I’m gonna put out up front as my investment in my business of writing. But I need to have VOLUME and QUALITY to find my “followers”.

I downloaded everything Mike D offered on amazon. I know he won’t give me dreck. He has me as a follower. He can charge me 6 bucks. :D

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Jill October 19, 2012 at 8:57 AM

I voted for “depends on genre” because it does. I can’t believe how bad editing has gotten in traditional print books, such that, I’m always pleasantly surprised books by self-published e-book authors that have better editing (probably owing to an anal retentive sort of writer who finally had to let the work go, rather than editing ad infinitum).

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xdpaul October 19, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Craft and substance? Not less.

Price and speed, though, are a bit different. I just mean variety of speed. People happily download a single short story for the cost of a comic book ($2.99) but I doubt very much that they’d pay that for a hard copy.

The ebook novella boom is a big differentiator to paper books: for decades, no publisher wanted to make novellas, because the margin (allegedly) was awful. It cost not much more to distribute a longer book, and you could charge quite a bit more. But people will always drop $5 on a good novella (20,000-45,000 words), and some very big digital sellers are in that range.

Book still has to be readable, though, no matter the format.

I think the key thing digital authors need to do is write faster. If they’ve gotten used to the fact that their traditional publisher only wants one or two new things from them per year, it can be sort of jarring to realize that, writing full time, the average author can produce the equivalent of 6 new things (minimum) per year, and that that is exactly what they should be doing if possible.

Publication speed is just so fast – authors don’t need to wait for the two-year cycle anymore to get a book on the shelf. He can have it up and running and on to the next book in three months or faster.

There were always authors like that: Robert B. Parker (Spenser for Hire) outran his publisher a little bit, but toward the end of his life, he was cranking out 3 or 4 books a year. He still occupies a very full couple of shelves at Barnes & Noble, and part of his appeal was that he always seemed to have a new book coming out every few months or so. Readers could get into a rhythm, especially if they came to him mid-career.

Now, the Parker model can be applied more widely: authors can make a better living on 70% royalties and 4 books a year than they could in a traditional contract of 1 book per year at 10% effective royalty.

Parker made a good living on Spenser back in the day, but I imagine that had the digital model been in place, he would have become a mogul (with or without the t.v. series.)

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Mirtika October 19, 2012 at 9:41 AM

And for short story enthusiasts (moi), paying 99c for a short story by a beloved author is a DEAL. I’d pay more for one short story, if I knew it was gonna be a gem. No longer have to wait for anthologies. I remember buying Realms of Fantasy or MSFF for just ONE story by a beloved author. Hey, digital makes that easier for them and for us. This makes me happy.

I have no idea why Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and their likes even bother with publishers. Just take the moolah and run.

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R. L. Copple October 19, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Of course, most traditional authors with traditional publishing houses put out more than one or two books a year. They used different pen names to do it. Otherwise, most of them, especially the mid-listers, wouldn’t have been able to make a living writing. Putting out quality and quantity has always been the format, if this is going to be more than a side hobby.

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R. L. Copple October 19, 2012 at 1:14 PM

I really don’t know what readers expect, especially on specifically ebook only books. Personally, I would expect equal quality in story and content to a print book, but not necessarily equal quality in format of type and such, being that much of that is out of the publisher’s control. That said, usually what I’ve seen in poorly formatted ebooks have been from publishers who took their print file and converted it to an ebook, without ensuring the tables and graphics would fit well. One ebook we read on my cell phone, the tables went off the right page and couldn’t scroll, so we couldn’t see what was on most of the graphic.

But there are ebook formatting standards which are different from print book. On that, they will differ, and probably not be as pretty as their print cousins.

Price is a catch 22. I too sort of expect lower cost. But I think the value loss isn’t so much for me that it cost less to make, but that I don’t have something solid that is mine. Most ebooks are licensed not only in content (all books are that), but also the “container” of the electronic format it is delivered in. You don’t own that book in many cases like you do a physical book.

Because of that reduced value, the price should be lower. If I own the book, I should be able to loan it, sell it as a used copy, and have the expectation that no one can come into my ereader and take it away. But because the format as well as the content is licensed, I can’t do any of that short of methods like Amazon and B&N have for loaning ebooks to other users of their propriety devices.

Cost has only marginal effect upon what the selling price is. Naturally a company doesn’t want to lose money, so they don’t want to sell it below cost. But how much it sells above costs is purely a matter of market demand and perceived value of any product, including an ebook. IOW, the reason people expect an ebook to be lower priced than a print book is because they perceive they are getting less of a value from it, not because it should cost less. Some of the comments here prove that. If the expectation is a book will be great and you really want it, you’re willing to pay more than if you are taking a chance or expect less quality.

So I would suggest that while I’m not sure readers are expecting lower quality in story telling, I would suggest their expectation for a lower price indicates they perceive they don’t see an ebook as high of a value as a physical book. Otherwise, it shouldn’t matter to them that the price for each is the same.

Which is why I think it is more about loss of value I spoke above that is where their is a perceived quality drop, not because it cost less (which Michael Hyatt said in a blog post a couple years ago, the ebook represented a reduction in cost of around $2.00 from a physical book), but because there is a perception that an ebook simply isn’t worth as much as a physical book.

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Tim George October 19, 2012 at 4:49 PM

The best indicator of what readers expect is to study what readers spend. The best place to discover that data is at http://www.digitalbookworld.com. Without a doubt genre and author dictate willingness to pay more than anything else. Dean Koontz fans were willing to plunk down $2.99 every two weeks for those 80 page novellas (as in me) because the author was well, Koontz. Some genres also tend to draw a much less critical readership than others. Love it, hate it, it’s just a fact.

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Brandy Heineman October 19, 2012 at 7:57 PM

I don’t think anyone really likes finding editing or formatting issues with e-books, as far as that goes. However, I am more willing to overlook that sort of thing in a free or cheap ebook on the principle that you get what you pay for.

As for craft, density, length — I actually prefer my e-reads a little on the short and easy side, but here’s why. I haven’t fully embraced the e-book revolution with an e-reader/tablet yet. (I feel like I should qualify this. I am a slow adopter of technology and always have been. I’m not against new technology by any means, but you won’t find me camping outside Best Buy, either.) So, to my point, reading on my phone or my “Kindle for PC” app isn’t really as nice an experience, and when I do read e-books this way, I kind of just want it to be over. So faster is good.

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dd November 22, 2012 at 9:26 PM

Ebook, or otherwise, I look for high quality. Time is valuable and money doesn’t grow on trees, so I treat all book types the same. I give all books I start reading a fair shake, but if they don’t engage, or are downright bad, I move on to the next. Many publish ebooks as their primary format and stake their success on it. We can find plenty of bad books in any format. Here’s a good article on the ebook revolution:
http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/05/29/10-reasons-you-should-skip-the-traditional-publishers-and-self-publish-ebooks-instead/

I should mention that I prefer paper books, but ebooks have proven that they are here to stay.

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