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Book Reviews as Bread and Butter

by Kim on July 24, 2009 · 43 comments

bread and butterThis is a post that’s been in my head for awhile, so forgive me for linking back to posts I read in March. Back then, Amy (My Friend Amy) asked readers if she should keep reviewing books because her last two book reviews hadn’t received any comments. There were many great comments on her post, but I want to talk about it just a little bit more.

I’ve experienced the same comment issue — despite being a books blog, my reviews tend to receive fewer comments than other posts. Generally, I chalk this up to reading books that few people read (memoirs, nonfiction on cultural studies and journalism, literary journalism, etc.).  It was interesting to hear that other bloggers experience the same odd ratio of comments between reviews and other posts.

I left the following comment for Amy:

I think it’s sometimes hard to comment on book reviews if you haven’t read the book — I have a hard time commenting on reviews other than to say I agree or disagree (if I’ve read the book), or that the review was good and I am going to look for the book. But if I’m way behind reading posts or something, I usually don’t take the time to comment with any of those because they don’t seem like useful comments.

I like commenting on posts that ask questions or inspire my own opinions, and book reviews don’t always do that. But, I think you have to write good reviews to be a book blogger because it helps you gain credibility and provides the backbone of content for a successful books blog.

Coincidentally, I came across a different post a few days later that cemented and clarified some of the ideas I expressed in my comment above.


Bread and Butter of Blogs

Just a few days later, I came across a post at ProBlogger that asked about the “Bread and Butter” of your blog. Basically, bread and butter posts are defined as

regular features that tie-in to the core topic of the blog. By identifying these posts you can make your work as a blogger a lot easier as well as making your blog’s appeal to readers much more consistent.

Later in the article, the author suggests finding bread and butter posts by looking at which posts are the most popular, what categories you have with the most content, and identifying topics you already post about frequently.

From what I’ve noticed, the most popular post criteria doesn’t always apply to book reviews even though I think they’re the “bread and butter” for a book blog. However, I was curious whether the other two criteria — categories and post frequency — would show book reviews as the center for my blog. If I want to call myself a book review blog, then book reviews should be a major category of posts, and books/reading should be a major topic I write about.

How Does My Blog Fit?

Despite only posting, on average, a one book review a week, book reviews are still my biggest category. Right now, I have 68 posts under “Book Review.” The next closest category is “News and Notes” with 39.  So that’s good, book reviews are, content wise, the biggest contribution.

To figure out what I post about most, I looked at my tag cloud. The biggest tags are fiction, blogging, personal, reading, and literary journalism. That seems pretty accurate for my blog, and I think shows that among my various categories, many of my posts are about my blogs core topics.  But, I guess if someone out there thinks my blog isn’t book related, they might have an argument given that blogging is my most used tag.

Conclusions

The point of this long post is to suggest that, even if book reviews don’t get the kinds of comments we might like, it’s still important to write them. Book reviews are the mechanism that helps draw people to your blog and creates the sense of what your blog is about. They also provide the stability and credibility your blog needs to grow because they tell readers a lot about you and what you like.

How does the ratio of comments for book reviews versus other posts work on your blog? Are book reviews as important as I think they are for book blogs? What kinds of posts draw you to a new blog, and what kinds of posts convince you to keep reading?

Photo by hyperfinch (via flickr)

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Care July 24, 2009 at 8:14 am

You have SUCH a professional blog! I am always impressed with your style. I realize I’m not really commenting on your topic here, but just want to say that even if I don’t comment? it doesn’t mean I didin’t read it. :)

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Jeanne July 24, 2009 at 8:25 am

Part of what you’re thinking about is ephemera. The little controversies that go on and people write interesting posts about them and a lot of people comment…those are ephemera. But the book reviews are a permanent part of the internet. Once I have read a book, I can look it up and find a lot of blog reviews of it.

One way for book blogging to change (and it always does) is for us to think about reviews as permanent. This means that folks should be encouraged to comment on old posts. It also means that bloggers should provide more indexes, by title and author (google has a free key word “search” button for blogspot users). The list of other reviews at the end of a review is a really good idea, although completion is an unattainable goal.

I’d be delighted to see people commenting on my old book reviews. Is this too idealistic? Should book blogs be about current events?

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Dorte H July 24, 2009 at 8:32 am

I have also noticed long ago that my reviews get fewer comments than my other posts. Like you and Amy I have had to think about it, and I have reached some of the same conclusions as you.

I am never going to give up my reviews, however. My four main reasons are:

1) I have found a small number of faithful readers who read them even though they don´t comment all the time

2) now and then readers tell me they tried this and that author because they read one of my reviews

3) reading & reviewing crime fiction is what I set out to do, and I enjoy it quite a lot

4) a blog friend often sends me great books she has reviewed – based on my reviews she knows what kind of books I enjoy :D

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Sherrie July 24, 2009 at 10:11 am

Hi Kim,
I’m with Amy. My book reviews get no comments most of the time. Maybe now and then I get a comment on a book I reviewed. Most of my traffic comes from the book memes.

On another note, I have my wrap up for the Blog Improvement Project – Blog Post Bingo if you want to take a look. Have a great day!!

Sherrie

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Jackie (Farm Lane Books) July 24, 2009 at 11:34 am

Such a good post!

I think the problem is that I only comment on the review posts of a few trusted bloggers with the same reading taste as me.

I don’t think it is right to disagree with someone else’s take on a book if you know that you have different taste in books.

Other people may also review books which I have no interest in. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a great blog – it just means that particular book doesn’t appeal to me.

Non-review posts are able to appeal to everyone and so are almost always going to get more comments. I try not to worry about it any more, but I know I did in the beginning.

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Lu July 24, 2009 at 11:41 am

I noticed this too! I thought it was just me, and maybe there was something wrong with the way I was writing my book reviews. Maybe not? I try to comment on books that I’ve already read, ones I have strong feelings about, and ones that I really want to read.

Such a thought-provoking post, as usual!

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Bella July 24, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I saw this link on J.Kaye’s Twitter and had to check this out. I feel the same way as most of you do. I post reviews more than meme’s – I do have a few blogger friends who post comments on 3/4 of my reviews, which makes me feel very loved.

I keep going because I know I’m doing the review for me, and to show my appreciation to the author, and maybe in the hope that someone out there will like my review enough to add the book to their bookshelf.

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Nymeth July 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Book reviews are actually my favourite kind of post, both to read on other blogs and to write. But yes, sometimes it’s difficult to comment unless you’ve read the book yourself, whereas with other types of posts everyone can add their take. But we should try to remember that even if there aren’t as many comments, it doesn’t mean they aren’t been read and appreciated. Also, I love Jeanne’s point about reviews being permanent.

Sometimes I’ve seen some bloggers do, and which I sometimes do myself, is add a question related to the book you’re reviewing or the general themes you mention in your review. That way, it’s easier to get a conversation going that even people who haven’t read the book can join.

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Nicole July 24, 2009 at 12:51 pm

What a wonderful, well-thought-out post! I love the energy and attention you put into assessing and improving your blog and making sure it’s what you want it to be.

I agree with a lot of what’s been said here. I don’t often post on reviews myself, but my reading choices are often heavily influenced by them. I admit, I get a little turned off by blogs that are too heavy on reviews and don’t offer much other content to engage me; I like a good mix of reviews, bookish news, thoughtfulness and fun.

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Teresa July 24, 2009 at 6:32 pm

For what it’s worth, I love reading your reviews, even if I don’t always comment. You read a lot of books I’m interested in and I enjoy seeing your take.

I think I’m probably an odd duck in that my blog is almost nothing but book reviews, so I don’t have any way to make comparisons. But book reviews are what I most like to read and to write, so that’s what I do.

I like Jeanne’s point that a lot of the other conversation about the ephemera vs. the permanent. I think the ephemeral conversations can be helpful, especially insofar as they make us aware of things we should be thinking about as we blog, but it can easily just become tiresome navel gazing.

And Jackie makes a great point about how the topical posts can be more universal, especially when it’s bloggers reading and writing about blogging. Some bloggers I follow are great at generating conversation about blogging but don’t have the same taste in books as me. I rarely read their review posts, but I appreciate the other stuff.

And Nymeth is right about asking a question. I’ve noticed that I get more comments when I ask a question at the end of my review. Maybe I’ll try to do that more.

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Memory July 24, 2009 at 9:20 pm

I get the most comments on posts where I express some sort of opinion and ask my visitors to weigh in. These are usually musing-style posts that I almost always end with a direct question.

I find that I also get a fair number of comments on reviews for stand-alone books and series openers, but reviews for books from later on in established series receive less attention. (So do negative reviews and reviews for lesser-known books). Most of these comments are from people who’ve read the book and want to either share their own opinion or provide me with a link to their review, people who think the book sounds interesting, or people who want to comment on an opinion I’ve expressed on some general aspect of the book.

Personally, I’m drawn to blogs with lots of reviews in genres that interest me and occasional opinion/discussion posts. I love hearing about new books and reading other peoples’ opinions on books I’ve already read, so a fair number of reviews is a must.

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Wendy July 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Interesting post…I have to say that first of all, book reviews will always be what I do on my blog since it was the reason I started book blogging to begin with and I love to write them. I get a fair amount of comments on my reviews – but that is not what motivates me to write them.

As a reader of book blogs, I don’t subscribe to blogs that don’t review books. I may not always comment, but I always read. Sometimes I “star” a review and come back later to read it after I’ve read the book myself. I would guess that many readers do the same thing…so a post may not get the comments the week it is posted, but may garner hits later on.

I know a lot of emphasis is being placed on amount of comments on a blog…I’m not sure this is a sign of a “healthy” blog as many bloggers has suggested. I look at my site reader numbers and they are really good and the stats on other sources for my blog are also high…yet I don’t get 50 comments on a post (unless it is a giveaway). So what does this mean? I guess it means I have a lot of readers, but not a lot of “talkers”…and that is okay with me.

My final thought (sorry this is so long!) is that I think bloggers should blog what they want and stop being so concerned with things like number of comments. For me trying to do something just to get a certain number of comments (or any other type of stat) would take the joy out of it for me…plus, you can’t make everyone happy.

Just my two cents!!!!

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Wendy July 25, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Hmmmmm, I just posted a comment…but it seems to have disappeared into the ozone…sorry…it is too long to write again.

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softdrink July 25, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I’ve stopped paying attention to numbers, but I do notice that when I post a review where I let my sarcasm have free reign I do see a spike in comments. Which always surprises me, although I guess it shouldn’t. I occasionally try to do serious reviews, just to show I can, and then no one comments.

But I also worry when I’ve posted nothing but reviews for awhile…because I know I have readers who don’t stop by for the reviews and I don’t want to “bore” them.

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rebeccareid July 26, 2009 at 6:44 am

I want mine to be a record of the books I read, so I do always write a review of the books I’ve read. I try to leave with some general questions relating to the subject of the book because that way if the reader hasn’t read the book they can still join in the conversation. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter how many comments I get, but it is always disappointing when a review gets few comments. Ah well, I guess I don’t really have time for a larger readership!

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Rebecca July 26, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Wonderful post! I found my way over here thanks to Farm Lane Books Blog post. I think you have an excellent point. I try to post a book review whenever I finish a book, although sometimes I get behind. I don’t read that quickly either, so sometimes a week will go by when I have not finished a book. I am a newbie still (started in January). I try to put in other bookish, literary things when I don’t have a review.

So much emphasis is placed on how many comments a blog gets, and believe me I appreciate the comments a lot. I love the feedback. But also knowing how many more followers and RSS subscribers I have versus the comments I get, I know I have a lot more readers than talkers.

I was also very intrigued by how many responses I got to 2 new monthly posts, one about music and one about movies. These always get a decent amount of comments. The other posts that get a lot of comments are my Booking Through Thursday Meme posts.

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Kim L July 26, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Great question! I sometimes get discouraged about book reviews because I feel like I just suck at them in general. It doesn’t help that I’ve only been half-hearted in my blogging this year due to other real life things going on. But sometimes I wonder if I should even bother… the reviews don’t seem to garner much interest, and I don’t have energy to blog about other stuff… but somehow I keep muddling through. Thanks for mentioning this topic!

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Simon S July 27, 2009 at 4:56 am

What a fascinating thought provoking and interesting blog topic! I found it really insightful and will now make sure that my book reviews stay higher and more regular! Sometimes if you are reading a monster book though its really hard at 800 pages plus. I try and alternate big or small books. Or save bigger ones until I have more free time. Thanks for writing this!

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Lenore July 27, 2009 at 5:45 am

It depends on the book, but often, I get just as many or more comments on book reviews as I do other types of posts. It helps to provide a prompt at the end that people can comment on that doesn’t relate directly to the book so that even people who haven’t read it can say something more than “oh I want to read that.”

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Kim July 27, 2009 at 12:03 pm

I read a stat once that about 10 percent of people who read a blog comment on it. I’m curious if that stat holds true — if it does, we all have a lot more readers than talkers :)

I’m glad you have some regular posts that get comments — those are always nice to have. I’ve been getting a good number of comments on Sunday Salon posts, but I haven’t done one of those in a really long time!

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Margot July 27, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Kim,

Very interesting post topic plus all the super comments. Very thought provoking. I’ve noticed that some of my book reviews get a lot more comments than other book reviews. I had a hunch it was because my book reviews were too long. I’ve been trying to shorten them. Then last week I had another long book review (it was so good I couldn’t cut it) and I got lots of comments. I’m to the point where I have decided to just do the book reviews the best I can and not worry about the number of comments. I need to focus on writing better reviews and let the chips/comments fall where they may. Know of any good how-to’s on book reviewing?

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 9:53 am

Thanks Care :) I use it on my resume and show it to potential employers to prove I’m a journalist familiar with new media sorts of things like blogging, so I try to keep it professional-ish without being boring. And right back at you — I love your tone and style, even if I don’t always comment back.

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 9:56 am

You’ve commented here before about the idea of permanence and that book reviews are something that will last, an idea I’m really starting to think about more.

I don’t think book blogs have to be about current events, since books are things that are permanent and we can go back to any time we want. But I think the ephemera discussions are important to as book bloggers try to find their place among professional reviews and an entire community that wants to talk about books, albeit in different ways.

I don’t think it’s idealistic for people to comment on old reviews, I get those occasionally and really enjoy it. I forget to comment back though, which is something I should work on. And I agree — good indexes and searched for book blogs are vital!

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 9:58 am

I think 2 and 4 are my favorite conclusions. I’ve had people comment on my blog that they’re going to try and author because I mentioned it, but I don’t remember seeing it mentioned in a review. I think it would be cool if bloggers did a better job linking back to people who inspired them to read a new book — I should think about that.

I’ve also gotten recommendations, in comments and via e-mail, about books I might like from people who read. That is a very cool part of book blogging, and one that wouldn’t happen without an archive of reviews to make a stance about what books I like and dislike.

Great comment Dorte!

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:00 am

Book memes get a lot of comments generally, I think because they’re linked by other people and there’s a predetermined audience for them (the other meme participants). I got a lot of my original readers from participating in Weekly Geeks — I think many of them liked what I had to say in memes and then stuck around to see what I had to say other times. So memes are great community builders, and I’m glad that yours get a lot of comments!

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:02 am

It’s hard to post disagreeing comments on book reviews because, especially with bloggers, reviews can be so subjective. I’ve left a few though, when I think the blogger might have missed something about the writing or if I have a suggestion about a different book by the author they might enjoy more.

It’s easy when you just start blogging to worry a lot about comment counts on posts. I still do it occasionally and get sort of bummed when posts don’t get a lot of comments. But then I’ll get surprise comments on old posts or something and that cheers me up. I try not to worry about it, just because there isn’t much you can do.

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:03 am

Nah, nothing wrong with you. I think it’s a pretty common phenomenon. Like other people have commented, it’s hard to think of original things to say on book reviews when you’re not familiar with the book or even if you are. I’ve tried a lot of different review styles (Q&A, short reviews, conversation reviews) and some do get more comments, although I haven’t sat down and tried to figure out why that might be.

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:05 am

That’s such a good reason for doing reviews. I actually haven’t say down lately and thought about why I do book reviews specifically, other than I think their a huge part of how I can call myself a book blog. Maybe I should think about it more.

I have a few regular commenters as well, and seeing their comments always brightens my day.

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:06 am

I try to add questions to the end of my non-review posts, but have never tried it with book reviews. I’m not sure why, because you idea of asking a question about the themes in the review or the book in general is a great idea. I should think about trying that to see what it does to the number of comments.

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:08 am

It’s a tough balance — to figure out the mix of reviews and other content. I’ve read a lot of posts where bloggers struggle with it. My one review a week policy has come just because of the pace I read — if I post more reviews than that then I can’t read fast enough to keep reviews posted with any regularity.

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:12 am

Thanks Teresa! I still think I get fewer comments on reviews because I don’t read a ton of new, popular, mainstream fiction, which is totally fine with me. When I do read some of that stuff, I don’t like it as much and have to write “meh” reviews which I don’t like either :)

I know a couple of bloggers that try to keep their blog only book reviews — Rebecca at Rebecca Reads comes to mind right away. I think that’s great if it’s a pace you can sustain and what you like to do, it’s just never been feasible for me because of the pace that I read.

I love the ephemeral conversations though, from a sort of academic standpoint. I’m very curious about community building online as well as the relationship between professional journalists and citizen journalists, and I think the book blogging community is so interesting in the way discussions about these topics come up. I don’t often post on these topics, but always read the posts and comments with interest. There hasn’t been a good “book blogger controversy” lately, I’m curious what the next one will be :)

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Kim July 25, 2009 at 10:13 am

What a good observation about the kinds of books that get comments. I find it really hard to write reviews of books later in a series, so I’m sure it’s harder for people to comment if they’re not already in to the series.

I agree, if you’re going to be a book review blogger, then you have to have a good number of book reviews and a good way for people to look through your reviews to see what your blog is about.

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Rebecca July 26, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I agree. I do seem to get more responses when I ask a question. I will try this with book reviews and see what happens.

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Kim July 27, 2009 at 10:03 am

Very good points. I haven’t looked much at search engine traffic to see whether reviews get a lot of hits, but I’m sure they do. I know my blog comes up pretty high on Google when you search for books I’ve reviewed, which is cool.

One of the reasons I look at comments as a sign of a healthy blog is because one of the important things about blogging, for me, is having conversations and interaction with the people who read what I write about. But of course the emphasis on what is important is different for every blogger.

But I definitely agree — it doesn’t do much good to stress about comments and stats if you’re not having fun!

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Wendy July 27, 2009 at 10:18 am

I agree interaction is good :) But I also know that even though I do interact and leave comments, I often don’t…but it doesn’t mean I’m not reading the blogger’s post (it is usually more a matter of not having enough time in the day!)

I meant to mention that I have looked at the stats which brought readers to my blog…and overwhelmingly it is people googling a book for review. So although the reviews might not garner the most comments, I think they are something that drives traffic. Controversial posts will ALWAYS bring in a vast amount of comments (like this one *laughs*!)

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Kim July 27, 2009 at 10:19 am

It’s funny how people respond to different voices in different ways. Personally, I love your sarcasm when it’s warranted, so I’m glad others do too! It’s tough to figure out a balance between reviews and other stuff — I know I constantly wonder if I post enough reviews to call myself a books blog :)

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Kim July 27, 2009 at 10:20 am

Agreed, I look forward to comments so it’s sad when one doesn’t get many. But I agree with you — I don’t do a lot of blog marketing or working on getting my blog out there for more readers because if I did that I might not have the time to respond to all comments and manage the blog the way I’d like. For now, my blog is a good size for me :)

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Kim July 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm

I’m glad you’re still muddling though, I enjoy reading your blog very much! I still am not totally happy with my book reviews, but I just keep trying to switch them up and make them something I’d want to read. I’m not sure how well it’s working, but we’re all trying.

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Kim July 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Agreed about the monster book thing! I’m reading Infinite Jest right now, and haven’t finished another book in what feels like forever. Luckily, I’m behind enough in my reviews that I can keep posting on a week while I’m muddling along. I also have a few comics and very short books on my TBR pile that I might move up if I need some quick reviews to fill some space.

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Kim July 27, 2009 at 12:06 pm

That’s very cool, I’m glad that’s the case for you. The idea for a prompt has been brought up a lot in the comments, so it’s something I want to try. I’m never sure what to ask about a book after I review it though… those area always tougher questions for me than just the questions at the end of a bookish/bloggish post like this one.

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