Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “ebook”

The Growing Power of the Ebook

My teenage son asked me to download the latest book from his favorite author. He was excited having seen an email that Amazon.com were kind enough to send him announcing the new book. My son is a voracious reader and I am extremely happy about that. He has a kindle and he is not afraid to use it.

I glanced and said no. “Why?

My first objection was that the ebook was $10, a price that I consider ridiculous for an ebook. “I’ll pay half,” he responded. That always gets me that he is willing to invest his paltry wealth into a book. He also knows that gets me.

I change track and suggest he orders it from the public library. His eyes roll as I begin a favorite lecture which can be summed up by: I pay for that library (a brilliant institution, by the way) with my taxes, so we should use it. He reminds me that last time I told him to do that, he was wait-listed for three months before I gave in and downloaded the book for him. “Oh,” he adds. “How long did you wait for that new John Grisham you are listening to?

I wince. I have complained for half a year as I waited for The Racketeer.

Finally, as I desperately stare at the Amazon.com advert, I realize this is a pre-launch announcement and the book isn’t due out for a few months. I sigh with relief. I have not won the battle, only deferred it. 

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The argument rages on: Ebooks .v.Tree Books. I have a kindle as does my eldest, and my youngest can use my phone. Mrs. Blog has snapped a picture of the three of us taking a break from ‘screen time’ to read, and are each absorbed in whatever is on our kindle or phone.

In the past, I have talked about the environmental advantages of the ebook, but my children’s generation will add two factors to the argument that were probably not considerations when ebook technology was being designed:

1) It is instant, as are most things for these young people.

2) It is connected to the bigger information highway that is an integral part of their lives.

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I have been reading and enjoying a how-to book – The Kindle Publishing Bible by an Internet entrepreneur, Tom Corson-Knowles. Tom (May I call you Tom? I feel I know you so well after reading this book) provides very clear instructions and methodology. He enhances this by providing links to examples and further information. Most impressive, he can update something that changes on a webpage and I can receive the most up-to-date data and developments.

I found this added aspect really exciting, but then I am only a year shy of fifty. My sons will take this service for granted…they probably already do.

But there is still that magic of holding a book, gazing at the cover, smelling the musty scent, and hearing the crackle of pages. While recently on vacation, I bought a few hardcovers from a used bookstore. I have read them all and my son was puzzled why I would buy them. They are great books and I want them to adorn my bookshelf and I want to be able to lend them to friends.

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The advantages of ebooks are obvious, their market penetration destined. This is good for the planet, for the increasingly smaller spaces we live in and the need to be on the move and not be laden with heavy tomes, and probably good for the author. My epic fantasy series has been consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.  Moreover, it just fits so seamlessly into the lifestyle that will be prevalent for my children.

I can just imagine them one day, holding their own children’s little hands and staring at my bookcase. “Yes, Grandpa actually read those tree book things, even though he loved the trees. You know he used to make me read them, and often wait months to receive them, even when I could have simply downloaded a book with a click!

The other advantage for the reader is the far more affordable price of a book, often tempting us to try a new author for less than the price of a cappuccino. This might be a good time to share that to celebrate the release of my next Wycaan Master book, Ashbar, my publisher has decided to lower the ebook price of At The Walls Of Galbrieth to $0.99 (see my very different attitude here as the author!) for the month of August.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

A Place for Tree Books

My latest novel, Unwanted Heroes, was released in ebook format over Thanksgiving. I was stoked. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the electronic book revolution and my Facebook status lists me in a steady relationship with my kindle. I would, I admit, consider an open relationship but no iPad came down my chimney last month – I really should ask the landlord for a chimney.

When the ebook was released and I alerted the usual suspects, I was surprised at the number of people who responded with: “Let me know when the paperback comes out.” My surprise was because many were people who enthusiastically embrace the tech revolution and could probably download and read a book simultaneously on their phone, tablet, laptop, computer, TV, and by just staring up at the cloud.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

But they choose to hold a ‘real’ book in their hands. They want the feel, the crackle of pages turning (there must be an app for that), the smell of a book (how about an ink-addiction app?). One person told me that, when buying a book by an author that she knows, it doesn’t feel right if she is not holding ‘a real copy’. For authors she doesn’t know personally, she buys ebooks.

Two months ago my family moved house and for a long time there was a great wall of boxes in every room. I realize that the point when I began to feel at home was when I was able to unpack and shelve my books. This was my identity, my stamp on the territory.

On Wednesday, Three Clover Press announced the release of Unwanted Heroes in paperback. So, all you tree book lovers, I would be honored for a place on your bookshelf.

I have also set myself a goal to garner five reviews on Amazon for Unwanted Heroes. If you have read the novel, please consider leaving a review. It is very important to me. Thank you. 

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And just for the record:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an elderly, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed abruptly surface, cementing an unlikely relationship that just might release each from the tragic pasts that bind them.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Unwanted Heroes – Released Today In Ebook!

Now that’s what I consider a great Thanksgiving gift!

Three Clover Press announced that Unwanted Heroes is now available on Kindle and Smashwords. The paperback will be closer to the expected January date.

They generously agreed to price the ebook at $2.99 for the present. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Lloyd Lofthouse, a fine author and a war veteran, who personally deals with and writes about P.T.S.D on The Soulful Veteran blog. I am sure it was not easy for him to edit my novel.

Lloyd has overseen the project throughout the various stages and provided me with both honest feedback and tough love.

Here is a quick synopsis:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an old, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed memories bring them together, finding in each other, an unlikely ally to free themselves from the tragic past that binds them both.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

Unwanted Heroes follows two other social justice-themed novels, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale, that were both placed in my native England. This novel is the first of three that will be situated in San Francisco, the city I have grown to love and dare call my home. Unwanted Heroes focuses on the issue of how we treat our war veterans and the homeless. The two future novels will deal with other issues relevant to the US – gay rights and gun control. After that, who knows?

But right now, I am very proud to share Unwanted Heroes with you. If you would do me the honor of reading it, please take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon.com or Smashwords. Reviews are playing an increasingly critical role in guiding readers to purchase a book.

Thank you.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Reviewing Reviews and Reviewers

Assuming that most of us are now purchasing novels on the Internet, whether ebook or tree book, the significance of a review is crucial. We are no longer influenced by a staff member’s pick of the week or the paid for book display at the front of the store. I asked several friends (there is not pretense here to being empirical) whether they read reviews that people write on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

The answers I received were really interesting. When you passionately follow an author, you buy his/her new release without hesitation. In fact, while many people have some form of notification to alert them when an author releases a new piece of work, they are often found and targeted by the creepy Internet spiders. 

This happened to me when I recently saw a Facebook advert for the new Terry Pratchett novel. In the past, I had relied on a friend from Ireland (he attends Discworld conferences all over Europe) sending me a pigeon with a note attached.

When it comes to new authors, or rather authors that the reader has not read before, most of my friends told me that they absolutely read the reviews and these can have a big influence on whether they will try the book. This is not even a question of book price. Most of those I asked, were afraid to invest the small window of time that they have every day to sit and read, spent on something that was not good.

The other answer that I received was from people who only read books that their friends recommend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influencer. I find this strangely comforting.

No one told me that they bought a book because of a newspaper review or radio interview. I suspect that had this been non-fiction, this answer would have been more prevalent.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man who was making more than $20,000 a month generating reviews for authors. He was exposed for not having read the books, and accused of offering a five-star review for cash.

I have to admit, I have pondered on a lesser issue. When my next book comes out, I had thought to offer 10 or so ebooks to random people (via twitter) for free, with the understanding that they will leave an honest review and generate a solid collection of reviews on my Amazon page.

Would you be influenced by the fact that the author had given you the book? Certainly, I would expect my friends and family to feel the pressure. When a friend left a so-so review for A Gardener’s Tale, I was upset. Among multiple 4 and 5-star reviews, she alone had given me 3-stars. She takes herself very seriously and I don’t think for one minute that there was anything vindictive in her grading (what she wrote was fine).

Personally, I have never given a bad review. But I have, more than a few times, not left a review because I didn’t enjoy the book, or more likely put it down after a few chapters.

So, I will leave you with a couple of questions. Answer as many or few as you want.

1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book?

2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.).

3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review?

4) Do you use websites that specifically offer book reviews such as Goodreads?

5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far).

By the way – if you ever read A Gardener’s Tale or The Accidental Activist – please consider leaving a review!

I would love to hear from you. Have a great day,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Author Update and Question

The beginning of the month is a good time for a progress report: what is working and what needs tweaking. It is an exciting period of time coming up.

Will be re-released as an ebook in October

A Gardener’s Tale has been professionally edited and, like a middle aged, overweight individual who has let things go in the last decade (no analogies please), is returning leaner and tighter. The novel has lost weight, some 7,000 words in fact, but still retains the plot and characters.  A Gardener’s Tale will be released later this month as an ebook, in time for…

The Virtual Book Tour kicks off in November. There are eighteen stops along the way with interviews, guest appearances, and reviews being organized under the professional auspices of Premier Virtual Author Book Tours. This is a whole new territory for me and I am excited to see how it goes. My publisher, Three Clover Press, has three authors doing this over the next few months, so it will be a fascinating to see the comparison. One interesting facet in the obvious comparison to traditional book tours is the fact that these appearances will stay on the Internet.  I will learn more about this in the next week and keep you posted.

Unwanted Heroes has been submitted to the publisher and will be released in the new year. Now it is time to focus on book covers and the promotional release. Since I envisage Unwanted Heroes as the first in a series of books revolving around many of the same characters and staying in San Francisco, I am becoming excited at the idea of introducing you to the main characters. They are going to be around for a few years and  hopefully you will become good friends.

I wrote back in August about John Locke who became the first independent author to sell one million ebooks. I just read his latest book in which he analyses his success.  One of the key components of his strategy is to clearly define who his target audience is.

John Locke - 1 million ebooks sold.

This has me thinking. Who are the people reading my social justice novels? I would like to create a clear profile of ‘my readers.’ Could you help me with this? Please leave a character profile of yourself or someone who you would recommend my books to. What are your or your friends’ attributes and demographics? When you imagine someone sitting in a coffee shop reading The Accidental Activist or Unwanted Heroes, how would you describe them?

You didn’t expect homework did you? Still, there is only a pass grade and a very grateful author marking your work.  

Seriously though, thank you for all your help and support.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Accidental Activist on Smashwords

The Accidental Activist is now available from Smashwords. I am excited about this as Smashwords is a very interesting organization. Its founder and CEO, Mark Coker, was an early visionary of the ebook revolution and recognized that with the constant technological explosion, there was room for a form of ebook that would fit any electronic format. Smashwords elegantly called their technology the Meatgrinder. I love the irony of this. One of the biggest wastes of the tree book industry is the returns policy that many large publishers offer which results in millions of books being printed, distributed, returned and pulped. Greenhouse effect, anyone?

I believe Smashwords uses more cutting edge technology.

On Sunday, Smashwords reached an interesting landmark. They have now produced an astonishing three billion words with over 70,000 books. To put it another way: “…in the last four months we averaged 8.3 million words a day. This works out to about 350,000 words per hour, 5,700 words per minute or almost 100 words per second. Can you hear the keyboards clicking?”

Yes, I can. And all this in less than four years. Smashwords have other attributes. They allow the author/publisher to set the price, and offer vouchers with discounts. They helped sponsor a program where authors offered ebooks for free to US servicemen and women serving in combat zone. I participated in Operation Ebook Drop and gave away more than 100 books during this period.

Mark Coker is a tireless crusader for the Ebook industry and you can see from his articles, countless speeches and panel appearances that he is passionate about his work and his vision.

Mark Coker often speaks in the Bay Area

I love my kindle, but i must admit that I found a flaw. As Smashwords reached it’s 3 billion word landmark, my kindle screen came up blank. I concede – this has never happened with any tree book that I’ve read. Now where is that warranty?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Insights from the London Book Fair

The London Book Fair has traditionally been a trade conference that  reflects the industry’s direction on a global level. This year, the publisher of a friend of mine sent out a report to his authors describing his experience. It is a personal impression rather than a factual description and we should remember that this was one man’s perspective. But I found it so interesting that I felt I had to share some of his thoughts.


As with many authors who are not A-list or mid-listers, I have seen a general rise in the percentage of book sales in e-book form compared to tree books. There are months where I sell more e-books and these are becoming increasingly common. This might be because The Accidental Activist appeals to a socially and environmentally aware crowd who are comfortable with their Kindles and iPads. It also might be a cheaper way to check out an author with whom you are not familiar. The Accidental Activist in trade paperback sells for $11.50 and the e-book for $3.99.

However, it is interesting that the prevailing feeling at the London Book Fair focused on the emergence of the e-book. Publishers, CEO’s, distributors and editors packed the seminars that related to digital publishing. This publisher actually suggested that these industry professionals were ‘obsessed’ with the topic.


Brian Murray, the President and CEO of HarperCollins, said in his address that for some of his company’s front list titles more than 50% of sales are for digital formats. Mr. Murray stated that this was “a watershed” moment for the book trade.

He continued by adding that US e-readers grew from 15 million to 40 million in the past year. This growth “was having a disproportionately large effect on the market because they had reached ‘core’ readers, defined as those buying more than 12 books a year. ‘Some of the heaviest book buyers no longer visit bookstores.’

It is a universal business rule that it is easier to sell more products to a loyal customer than the first sale to a new customer. Mr. Murray went on to say that if these people are not visiting bookstores but buying online, then this fundamental shift is only the tip of the iceberg for the publishing industry.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

The Morning After…

Did you wake up this morning the proud, or maybe confused/intimidated owner of something small, electrical, and vaguely rectangular? Did you smile meekly while your loved ones looked on with baited breath as you pulled open the packaging and did they cheer and clap their hands welcoming you into the technological age?

And did they notice when you reached for that glass of brandy and took a gulp instead of a sip? Thousands of years in the future, archeologists will discover that man had a propensity to collect random items and leave them in their boxes. Often, they will claim to skeptical crowds, these gifts ran off of some obtuse energy source which was, no doubt very rare, since these gadgets seem to be hardly used.

Furthermore, they will note, primitive humans had a propensity to acquire the same gadget with slightly better features dispite hardly using the gadget’s predecessor.

Have another sip of brandy. Oh, I forgot it’s the morning after. Well you can always lace your cereal if you do it discreetly.

We are all entering the technological age, whether through brave adventurism, or via our loved ones desire to pull us along with them. You might as well take a deep breath and plunge in. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

Such things as cell phones and iPods seem to be accepted by all but a brazen few, even if the desire for the latest phone has nothing to do with actually making a call. The battle, for now, is over the e-book reader. The world (at least those of us who don’t need to worry about a roof over our heads, food at our next meal, or what’s in the water supply) is divided into three groups.

1. Embracing the technology. These people don’t just use their iPad, Kindle or Nook, they embrace it, often with an annoying missionary zest. They don’t take it out of their bag at the coffee shop or on the bus, they brandish it, like a mighty sword from days long past.

They are liable to chastise you, often in a smug, sympathetic way, as you balance your hardcover on your lap. “Oh,” they whine in true Bob Dylan style, “How many trees does a Luddite reader fell…” When dealing with these people, it can be advantageous to note that the hefty hardcover has a distinct advantage over the light, sleek screen – it is far more effective when you take a swing at aforementioned annoying individual.

2. Luddite Conviction. No way! We are already spending too much time on screens. A book is more than just words on paper. You can smell it, feel the page crackle as you move through the novel, feel the weight of the author’s perseverance as you hold his/her masterpiece in your hand… And then the classic, yet oft-doomed line: It will never catch on.

3. Dithering in the Middle. There is some middle ground. I have to admit that I love my Kindle. It is light, convenient, and I get a kick about the environmental aspects. I am also a confirmed Star Trek fan.

However, I do also miss the feel and smell of the book. I love the art of a well thought out book cover, and I also love reading while soaking in a hot bath. My bookshelves are an important part of my identity in the house I share with my family.

Some Advice for The Morning After:

Firstly: Don’t Panic! Take a deep breath and slowly unwrap the gadget and take it out of its box.

Then: Go on your computer and find either the website for the company or go to You Tube. There are some really good, simple, step-by-step videos for people like us. Remember how hard it was to drive a car when we were learning?

Finally: Have another brandy. It is the holiday season after all. And take note: if you are reading this blog, then you have already embraced the blogosphere, the cutting edge of the Internet. You are already firmly in the 21st century, dude. YOU CAN DO THIS!

Oh, and if you did receive a Kindle, iPad, or whatever, this might be a good first book to read on your gadget (couldn’t resist!).

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

Some Ebook Developments & Updates

As the ebook market continues to expand, new battlegrounds are opening up throughout the market. Here are two interesting articles:
1) Jim Milliot explains about one such battle between two giants, Amazon and Penguin, in Publishers Weekly at this link
2) Michael Stackpole then takes everyone to task regarding the percentage that the publishers and distributors are taking from ebooks at this link.

By the way, if you are in the writers business, you would do well to keep an eye on Michael’s blog.

My ebook update is less dramatic than the great wars being played out, but at least I’m involved…somewhat.

Kindle – the ebook provider of Amazon.com has reduced the price of Oilspill dotcom (ebook version) to $4.99 for a limited period. I don’t know for how long this sale will continue, but it brings it into line with my other e-outlets.

Smashwords – have signed a deal with Apple that will make them distributors for the iPad. I am i-excited about this. Smashwords have done a great job positioning themselves (and us, the authors) with Sony, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and just about everyone else.
I am also proud of the fact that the next soldier to rake advantage of Operation Ebook Drop, and download my novel for free will be the 50th soldier to do so. Know someone deployed in a combat zone? Please refer them to my website for a link to this great program.
Finally last week, Oilspill dotcom was accepted for Smashwords’ Premium Catalog. This has many marketing advantages for me, but is also validation of the level of my work.

Scribd – nothing much happening with my book through Scribd. I suspect that I am not utilizing it properly. If you use Scribd, please drop me a line and offer some advise.

In fact, I would love to hear from anyone who is seeing success with their ebook. I’d be happy to share your secrets (with your permission of course) and in doing so promote your book on my blog.

Viva La Ebook Revolution!
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

Happy Thanksgiving, Ed.

I guess that Thanksgiving is all about doing good, feeling good, and eating…

I am not sure why, but since Veterans Day, I have had soldiers constantly on my mind. It might be that I have nearly finished my first edit of Unwanted Heroes (the latest in a long line of titles), or from making a new friend who shared with me his war experience from Vietnam and his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Yesterday, I read the weekly update from Smashwords detailing many exciting changes. But I want to share the story of one man, a war vet himself. Edward Patterson is an established author. You can see his profile on Smashwords at:
http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/EdwardCPatterson

Oh and while you are there, please check out his books.

One of the great features of Smashwords is that an author can create coupons, giving discounts for specific groups. Ed had the idea to offer a 100% discount to our troops, and began to promote the idea among fellow authors.

I just signed up and am proud that I can offer something, however small, to those far from their families. Perhaps Oilspill dotcom might provide an opportunity for them to lose themselves, if only for a short while, in something far away from the tense job they do for all of us.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m feeling thankful to our troops, thankful to their families, and thankful to Ed for providing this service for the troops and giving me the opportunity to do some good,

Happy Thanksgiving Ed and to all my friends.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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