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SportsShooter.com: Member Message Board

Sports + Wedding photography Business advice
Gabriel Gonzalez, Photographer, Assistant
Caguas | PR | | Posted: 7:12 PM on 06.16.10
->> This could be long:

I started as a "Pro" in 2008 and currently work mostly as a wedding photographer and with a few corporate clients. Things are going rather smoothly but could be better (I know a lot can relate). Before I started I wanted to run a sports photography business, but being younger with no credit this was not a viable route at the time.

Now, with the opportunity to have finance from a government program, I can have a restart. I'm looking to add the youth sports business to my current line of work. As any finance program, they require a business plan, though I have many of the things I wish for the business in writing, I feel somewhat lost. Looking for help either through here or email, from someone that maybe runs a similar business and has great insight on this kind of market. In the short term, I would want to work really simple, with 1 or 2 employees to help with the files and selling at the sports venues. The wedding and freelance, for now, will only be done by me. With this program I'll get enough money to buy new body (bodies) and glass, but I don't want to get too much gear or unnecessary gear. If I were to do this (youth sports) with 1 or 2 more employees, what kind of equipment I should try to get first? (Mainly for the showcasing of images and selling, but no printing on site)

Anyone who would be willing to guide me would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

http://www.GabrielFoto.com
http://www.SportsFotoPR.com (Will get a facelift, this was done in 2005 ;)
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Brad Barr, Photographer
Port St. Lucie | FL | USA | Posted: 1:40 PM on 06.19.10
->> ummmm no.
The youth sports market is nill, and shrinking. Sounds great and all that, but the return on your investment (especially since you are going into debt to get it) is frightfully small.

Not trying to burst your bubble, but essentially there are loads of people trying to shoot sports...most of which are willing to do it for free or nearly so. That leaves not much incentive for parents to pay what should be paid for images even if they are better.

I shot a game for my sons 12u baseball team, and told the parents they could have FREE websize downloads. Only 3 parents even logged on. Its pitiful.

Shoot sports if its what you love to do. As a business model, it doesnt work.
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Philip Johnson, Photographer
Garland | TX | USA | Posted: 2:05 PM on 06.19.10
->> The one thing that does work in the youth sports market is T&I. I shot for a company that does that and they seemed to be doing preyty good. There would be one photographer and one person manning the table with display items to answer any question and collect order forms.
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Ethan Magoc, Student/Intern
Erie | PA | United States | Posted: 2:08 PM on 06.19.10
->> Shot about a dozen youth sports events last year, some for hire and some on spec before I learned how stupid that truly was, and learned my lesson the hard way. I was in the same boat as you, testing out the local market and seeing if it might be a valid investment of time and money but...

I didn't even make enough money in return on print sales, onsite or through my PhotoShelter searchable archive, to buy a new body of any sort, even a Rebel. Most players were happy enough to do a screen grab and throw them on their Facebook pages, watermark and all. I'm not really attacking anyone for doing that, but it's just the way the industry is right now and is likely to stay. There were parents at every game with cameras and lenses nearly on par with mine who, obviously, weren't about to shell out for my prints. Of course, few of them actually had any idea how to use them (I saw a few with EXIF data from a day game showing they shot entirely at 1600 ISO), but like Brad said, that doesn't matter to most parents who want photos. In fact, they were there to willingly shoot and give them away to each player on the team. Great deal for the players! Not so much for every other serious shooter in the region.

Bottom line is just avoid the youth sports market. College, too, for that matter. Total cluster, even at the DII and III levels.
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Gabriel Gonzalez, Photographer, Assistant
Caguas | PR | | Posted: 7:21 PM on 06.19.10
->> About a day from posting this I decided to dedicate all my efforts in my already established wedding business. I've done some basketball and volleyball events, having mixed results.
Having majored in Audiovisual Communications, I'll incorporate video and fusion videos to the weddings and corporate events I normally shoot.. Thanks to all who have given there honest opinion about this.

Thanks!
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Michael Fischer, Photographer
Spencer | Ia | USA | Posted: 10:58 PM on 06.19.10
->> Gabriel,
There are people successful at youth sports. Email Eric Canha on the Board.

DON'T borrow ANY money without a written business plan and budget that includes how to pay it back. Your projections have to realistic. Borrowing money in this environment is VERY risky without a well thought out plan.

Contact the local chapter of SCORE if you need help doing this. This is a volunteer group of retired business executives.

The NPPA and other photo organizations also have lots of information.

REPEAT: DO NOT BORROW MONEY WITHOUT A WRITTEN, REALISTIC BUDGET AND PLAN.
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 12:28 AM on 06.20.10
->> Gabriel If you want to get a hold of me off board you are more than welcome to email me through my member page. I can't speak for anyone or anywhere but me and the region that I'm in. I'm doing just dandy.


Just to clear up a few mis-conceptions. There is no way in heck that you can go out to a a little league or Pop Warner game ONE weekend or even ONE season and use that as the basis of judging market viability. That would be like me going to ONE Red Sox game and declaring pro sports dead because no one licensed images from that one game. It takes TIME and LOTS of time to develop a client base. If you can't put in TWO seasons to build the base and grow the business then this isn't for you.

As for the screen grabs and weak print sales. Yup. BUT you can't make a 6' wall cling from a screen grab nor will the league allow watermarked screen grabs to be used for their end of season banquets (assuming that you have built a relationship with the league). So much of this is BUILDING those relationships with the leagues and the families. It's THOSE relationships that make for a successful business. It's those relationships that blossom into senior portrait sittings as well as family portraits etc.

On the subject of GWC's. They're some of my best customers. I closed a pop warner t&i deal for this fall from a mom-with-rebel who's has been at a baseball tourney that I have shot in past years. Not only was she a MWC but also a customer and this year dad is running the football league and we have the t&i and a 3 day football jamboree. RELATIONSHIPS. Loved the mom last year that would ask about every setting that you can think of while I'm ducking fouls heading straight at my noggin...... then comes to the tent and drops $225 AND then spends another $100 online. Those moms are my cheerleaders handing out flyers in the stands, on the sidelines and taking a few extra to share later at the pizza or ice cream team gathering.... Learn to LOVE those moms.

Lots more if you want to move this off board.
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Bryan Hulse, Photographer
Nashville | Tn | USA | Posted: 9:59 AM on 06.21.10
->> I am convinced the present day model of success in the photography industry involves (or is trending towards) either:

1) A national (or global) model. Meaning a national company relies on underpaid, or free work from hungry photogs all over the country to provide content.
2) Creating books and workshops on how to be a successful photographer. This involves selling all the tips and tricks you’ve learned over the years for very little in hopes of high sales volume, knowing that your actual photography work is on a downswing anyway (due to #1 above).

There still seems to be a living to be made in Wedding and Senior photography. But there are a lot of up and coming photogs (see #2 above) willing to do anything for an opportunity. The success in these segments seem to be more about the business, and less about the photography: Advertising, developing relationships with schools for contracts in underclass photos, etc.

Right now free beats quality. Will that change? As more and more learn the tricks from the masters (see #2 above) and can produce better work, I suspect not.

Yes, we live in a Walmart world.
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 1:10 PM on 06.21.10
->> Bryan I didn't want to do this anonymously....... HUH?


Please no more questions from the public on the subject. Michael was very kind but I simply can't answer all the questions that have been hitting my mailbox. No I'm not being funny.

I'm not sure where the doom and gloom is coming from. This past winter I had several chats with a fellow member and his business was rocking off the wall. He's half the country away from me so it can't just be that my area was doing well. I personally know of at least 6 studios around me. Not one is closing, downsizing, struggling anywhere near what one would expect if they were to read the boards. We're all working, we're all busy, one in particular has contacted me twice this year to either send me work because he was overbooked or to see if I had a line on available (PAID) shooters for his studio. Word has it that one has just yanked away a school contract from the 'walmart' of the industry. I know that I pulled in one from a 'national' company for this fall too!

It IS about business first. ALWAYS has been. ALWAYS will be. BTW something that is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS forgotten when people complain that business trumps quality......

GREAT QUALITY IS PART OF GREAT BUSINESS.


Put that on a p-touch label and stick it where you will see it EVERYDAY so that you (generic "you" not 'you Bryan') NEVER forget that the the two are not ingredients in separate recipes. The best photographers in the world who have crappy business or money skills will end up in a hole. The best business people who think that "P" is the pro setting on a camera will never amount to more than a weekend annoyance for those of us working.

I'm not looking to hold any classes or write any books. If you are looking to learn and read about how to run a successful photography business there's a guy by the name of Harringtion that likes to write..... He's pretty good at it...... seems to know what he's talking about....... seems to spend as much time shooting as writing or lecturing so his thoughts might just be current and fresh........ doesn't seem to be going out of business anytime soon..... Not that either of us have the time to chat to confirm that, just my hunch.


Time for me to get back to work.

Seriously please no more emails.....
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Sam Santilli, Photographer, Photo Editor
Philippi | WV | USA | Posted: 2:12 PM on 06.21.10
->> A ton of people take pix every day at youth sports events. You have to offer something they can not get or do not have the ability to get or produce.

Eric, I no longer offfer/give advice to non-ss.com members. I also do not offer/give tips at games anymore. I decidied this after being told I "messed up" someone's pix by suggeting a few settings for low light conditions. I just tell people to check out there manuel.
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 2:40 PM on 06.21.10
->> The few times I've done it I've done very well, but it seems that it requires you to have a significant edge over moms and dads - I shot winter sports (skiing, ice skating primarily), and only sold on-site. I used a large (big-screen slideshow) to show what the photos looked like. It was extremely lucrative, but I didn't like all the stress so I just do it every rare once in a while. I also wrote all the sales software myself so that everything was automated - at figure skating I could just switch cards between camera and computer between skaters, it would automatically download and file them in a certain folder. I think the card reader tends to be active about 75% of the time, so sometimes it was hard not to get backed up - though I haven't switched to UDMA.

It seems like the hardest part of the whole thing is that you've got to find where there is a lot of expendable income and be able to make it easy and convenient to buy - so a well-off guy walking by your setup (which needs to be well placed) thinks "Hey, I'll take a look" -> "Those are kind of nice" -> "Yeah, I'll take a few" -> clicks on them to buy -> computer takes the card and you're doing well.

If you don't have the photos transferred already, there's a bottleneck, he thinks about the price, or whatever else, the guy's going to walk away.
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 2:43 PM on 06.21.10
->> It was extremely lucrative.....


You MUST have been doing something wrong.
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 2:57 PM on 06.21.10
->> ;)
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 3:37 PM on 06.21.10
->> Dear god my grammar is horrible today! Must need more benadryl... Sorry to all of you cringing reading that!
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Bryan Hulse, Photographer
Nashville | Tn | USA | Posted: 3:52 PM on 06.21.10
->> Eric: Sorry man! Yes, doom and gloom from me. I had some bad things happen to me and my business last year. I am VERY bitter right now and shouldn’t have responded at all.
Sometimes it’s best to keep my mouth SHUT!
Please disregard! :)
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 12:28 AM on 06.22.10
->> Something Lori Nordstrom, a portrait photographer from Iowa, told me might be pretty useful:

If you put an image online, you're giving the client the full value of the image, for free. An image's value is in someone's ability to look at it.
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Jim Pierce, Photographer
Waltham | MA | USA | Posted: 9:01 PM on 06.22.10
->> Gabriel,

Don't give up on this after a couple events, as long as you like/love shooting sports!!! It will take work and time as Eric has said but it CAN be done and be worth it. I am seeing my customers, meaning local leagues, wanting to go with a local company far more than the national/big chains. I have won a few leagues from the "BIG guys" over the past 8 years and in one case lost one to a BIG company and then bailed the league out when this company did not come through... guess who has done this leagues T&I and tourneys since..;)

I look at it as what can I offer... and what I call a "Value Proposition". What can I do to get what the customers want but either can't get themselves or do NOT want to do themselves at a great value. It has worked out for me the past 8 years and this is shooting ONLY sports, no senior portraits, weddings nothing but sports.

This past spring is winding down.. 80 teams T&I completed, over 100 framed 16x20's and still have a LL tourney next week-end, hoping for another 20 framed prints, at least that is what I bought, so far. The best part I never drove more than 15 miles from my office, 90% is less than 3 miles. You don't need to look far, build relationships and offer a great product at a great value... it can work!

Don't give up yet... BUT don't move to Massachusetts either ;)

Jim
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Jim Roshan, Photographer
Bowling Green | Ky | USA | Posted: 1:19 PM on 06.27.10
->> Gabriel,

Check this out! This is exactly what you need to make sure your business is successful.

http://dspnonline.net/

Jim
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 1:56 PM on 06.27.10
->> Jim,

Are you connected with DSPN?

--Mark
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Thomas E. Witte, Photographer, Photo Editor
Cincinnati | OH | USA | Posted: 2:43 PM on 06.27.10
->> Gabriel- At some point in the next few months I'm redoing my website in conjunction with launching a "blog" of sorts that you'll find handy. The articles (most of which are already written) will be wedged between what you'd find in Loundy's and Harrington's writings and are meant to help the newbies survive the first few years, as well as several (extensively researched and painfully blunt) articles directed towards the vets that you will not want to skip over that discuss more impending problems for our little commodities market.

- One discusses how there will be _NO_ rebound for us, but instead a double edged sword that will give us a false sense of reality.
- Another (right up your alley) gets in to the "Independence Day Effect" which is a term I created for something that's been happening over the past decade.

It would appear I'm trying to scare people out of the business, but I'm actually trying to arm people with as much knowledge as possible.
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Jim Roshan, Photographer
Bowling Green | Ky | USA | Posted: 8:48 PM on 06.27.10
->> Mark,

No I am not! But, I am going down in July to check it out. One thing our industry lacks is really good education in this field. I do know that DSPN is not set up as a sales pitch.

Disclaimer; I did just sell my lab to Desktop Digital Lab so I can concentrate on building back up the organization of the Youth Sports and Event Photography industry. I have known the people involved in the DSPN project for years and know that this is a legitimate program that has been put together for the betterment of the industry.

Jim
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Alexander Pylyshyn, Photographer, Student/Intern
Woodbridge | ON | Canada | Posted: 1:06 AM on 06.28.10
->> I have to agree with Brad that the youth sports market is not the most prospective in the world and it really requires a lot of luck, hard work, and people skills. I've been working in this field for almost two years, working as a full time shooter with an outfit that specializes in on-site printing and selling images, mainly shooting equestrian sports, ice skating, hockey, soccer, and gymnastics.

The only events that really turn a profit for us these days are gymnastics and figure skating, events that not surprisingly usually go hand in hand with terrible available light as well as limited access for spectators/parents. I recall shooting in an absolute dungeon for a gymnastics show two weeks ago, where I had to push my 1DIV to ISO 12,800 to get a properly exposed image while still having a versatility of a zoom at 1/400 at f/2.8. That's where our 1-series bodies really come in handy, not to mention the years of experience learning how to shoot in difficult environments like that, and we typically make the most sales at these types of events. As Sam said, you have to offer something they can't get, in this case getting an image that isn't overwhelmed by noise in a dimly lit gym. (If there's one thing I don't see a lot of, it's parents with D3s or 1D Mark III/IVs)

With that same reasoning, anything outdoors is usually a disaster financially, given that we get the same access as everyone else and these days most people interested in having photographs of their kid have some camera gear and don't care about the quality of the images. We experimented a bit at the end of our last horse show to explore new ways to interest customers by offering a perspective they can't get by using remotes inside the ring to get dramatic angles on certain horse jumps. The images looked great and the customers we had loved them. Again, it's all about offering something they can't get without you.

To go back to what I said at the start of my post, keep in mind that our outfit is one that has 6-8 employees working events and we mainly rely on on-site selling, so there is a lot of running costs involved. While we did make sales at our horse shows this year, the demand was too low to adequately cover our operating costs (paying off employees, giving the venue a cut of our sales since we were operating on-site, etc.) This is why I believe it's not a very practical idea to want to run an operation like this out of the gate. Definitely not knocking youth sports as a market, I have a former co-worker who now works on his own and has built a reputation, to the point that all he needs to do at an event is collect pre-orders, shoot them, mail the images, and get paid. Getting that reputation just requires a lot of work and people skills.
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Mike Janes, Photographer
Attica | NY | USA | Posted: 2:31 AM on 06.28.10
->> Must be doing something wrong, I'm in the non-doom & gloom group with Eric.
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Thomas E. Witte, Photographer, Photo Editor
Cincinnati | OH | USA | Posted: 4:49 AM on 06.28.10
->> Two things. One: it's hysterical you even said that because it's the root point of the second article I mentioned. Two: sure there is still money to be made, but is your income going up between 3-6% per year to keep up with inflation and what would constitute as a performance bonus? For a lot of people the (real) answer is "no" which isn't sustainable in the long run.

I'm not saying the sky is falling, I'm simply telling you to keep your eyes open because there are some big ass potholes coming up in the road that are hard to see.

Back up to the first point though, here is a condensed synopsis; Layoffs and 500-1000 graduates each year lead to job shortages. Immediately most/all of them turn to freelancing which dilutes the distribution of wealth on top of the budgets shrinking anyway. SO some abandon editorial and aim for commercial. Even a 5% increase in people being hired disrupts the balance. Others turn to senior portraits and have put _several_ small studios out of business or forced them to work out of their homes. Others fleeing the sinking ships above start to do weddings at rates that are 1/2 what they were 5 years ago. Youth sports is not an island unto it self either. I've watched at least 5 different companies come and go just in this area alone because it's so cut throat and your overhead is gargantuan, but if you're really good at keeping your costs under control and knowing when to just let a job go, you'll be fine. There is one company here locally that's built itself a fortress. Their presence is so big that they routinely offer to shoot tournaments with a 100% kickback to the league, simply to make it impossible for competitors to make a living. But they can afford to do it as well since they're raking in serious cash.

That's the premise of the whole "independence day effect". If you recall the movie, the "aliens" just moved from planet to planet, depleting resources until moving on to the next planet. What we're doing is moving from sector to sector and annihilating the cost structures before moving along to the next sector. ((I've even seen this starting to occur with artists. Make it a habit to go to a local gallery hop for the next 2-3 years and pay attention to how many people are selling and what their prices are. It will raise an eyebrow.))

Once again, I'm NOT saying the sky is falling - as long as you have a plan in place and don't have the blinders on. This whole domino effect starts in the bigger cities where there is a surplus of photographers. Supply and demand rears its ugly head. In a tiny little town of 6028, you're sheltered from the cannibalism for a while. The worst thing you can do is stake your future earnings based on the current trends while ignoring what's occurring everywhere else because at some point, it aaaall trickles down.
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 12:09 PM on 06.28.10
->> "...they routinely offer to shoot tournaments with a 100% kickback to the league."

Thomas,

That may be an illegal business practice. You should pass your information on to the appropriate state's attorney general.

--Mark
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 3:26 PM on 06.28.10
->> Jim all due respect but that website is nothing BUT SALES PITCH. The site isn't even fully functional! Sorry but any site that promises to teach how to make $25,000.... A DAY??? I kept looking for the link that would also let me lose 100 pounds in six weeks by just eating cookies.

It's APPEARS to be a sales pitch for their 'lab' and website tools/authoring and sales marketing collateral. There is ZERO information in terms of real numbers for what their lab products cost, what their website costs are etc. The Radio button for the 'contact us' 'support' and 'founders' link go nowhere. I am lead to believe that the only way to get any information is to call the 877 number and get on the phone with someone who will harvest information then hammer away at selling a membership right then and there long before anything in writing ever gets to me.

I could be 1000% wrong and if they have already hooked you I hope so..... But in my experience that much hype in such a small space is a red flag of epic proportions.
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Jim Roshan, Photographer
Bowling Green | Ky | USA | Posted: 9:57 PM on 06.28.10
->> Eric,

I know where you're coming from - skepticism runs high in this industry.

Making $25k in a day is not unheard of at all if you average $25 per kid in a 1,000 kid league - and those leagues are out there! I have done them and I have had many clients doing that size too. Plus, the average per kid is $22-$26 across the country with some people making $30+.

This site is new and that is why some of the buttons don't work yet. They assured me that everything will be working soon.

I know all of these guys and what they actually do on a regular basis. This is not a fly-by-night operation. It actually might be the 'missing link' you have been waiting for (not that you need it).

This industry (youth sports and event photography) has changed in so many ways over the past 15 years that I have been in it. The kind of money I used to make with on-site printing is gone. We are now constantly having to create new ideas that will sustain us for the next couple of year and then start it all over again.

The idea of this new program is to put together a group of shooters that are actually making good money, and have them teach. You really can't go wrong with that! After all, the best investment anyone can make in their career is not in equipment but the education of how to use it to prosper - Right?

PS - Do you know of anything else out there that will actually teach others what we do? Besides DSPN, It does not exist - at least not yet!

Jim
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 11:57 PM on 06.28.10
->> Jim any minute now I'm waiting for you to sell me a bucket of Oxy-something or a Shamwow.
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 12:20 AM on 06.29.10
->> Talk about timely!

http://blog.photoshelter.com/2010/06/the-top-11-things-photographers-wish-t...
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Thread Title: Sports + Wedding photography Business advice
Thread Started By: Gabriel Gonzalez
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