Etsy Killed my Online Business

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Remember that time in early 2020, when we were watching the news coming out of China with increasing feelings of “Oh, shit…”?

The day after the CDC let us know we were really in for it, Etsy let me know my business was really in for it too.

Offsite Ads, announced on February 26th, 2020, is a program I can’t opt out of. Here’s how it works:

A shopper clicks an ad, which I don’t want, but Etsy purchases unilaterally on my behalf. Afterwards, if that shopper decides to purchase something — anything — from my shop within the next 30 days, instead of the 8–10% fees I have figured into my prices, I pay 20–22% fees. With Etsy’s old fee structure, that is. Raise those numbers by another 1.5% with the fee increase we’re currently protesting.

But. Most of my business is made-to-order wedding dresses. So for me, let’s talk about how that would really work.

Someone contacts me wanting a made-to-order wedding dress. I quote them a price of, let’s say $900, because custom wedding dresses are time consuming to make. They check out. I receive their payment. But… Surprise! Etsy has attributed the order to an Offsite Ad.

I receive $800, and I still have to pay all other Etsy fees on the entire $900.

Oh, and this Offsite Ad fee is charged on shipping too. I feel like I should mention that. Express shipping, International shipping. If you choose upgraded shipping from a seller on Etsy and it seems outrageously expensive, that’s why. When possible, we try not to get completely screwed by Etsy fees.

The hardest part about running an Etsy shop, or any online business, is how much your income can vary from week to week, or month to month.

Congratulations, now it’s even more variable, with a 12% fee that could apply to none, or technically all of your listings for a time.

It’s a crock. If Offsite Ads were really a benefit to sellers, as Etsy claims, why are we unable to opt out?

They started charging us for Offsite Ads while the first death wave of the pandemic was still raging. I stopped doing custom orders. I had to anyway, with two kids in virtual school. 

But I also never started taking custom orders again after my kids went back to school.

It’s been a huge income loss for me (about 2/3, to be exact). I don’t know what to do. If someone contacts me on Etsy for a made-to-order gown, I don’t know how much to charge them, because I don’t know how much I’ll receive. If I try to complete the sale offsite, I could be banned from Etsy for “fee avoidance.”

That’s it. That’s the issue in our petition that personally means the most to me. If they refuse to let me opt out of Offsite Ads, I have to leave the platform. I have no other choice.

And it’s not fucking fair. I built Etsy, along with all the other sellers who joined when the platform was still this tiny place that had no shoppers.

Etsy had the idea — an amazing idea — but we are the ones who built the platform. We are the ones who created the products that made Etsy unique. We are the ones who kept buyers coming back, by being friendly and fun to do business with.

When Etsy introduced Offsite Ads, they posted a Seller Response Survey. Based on the buzz in the Etsy forums and in Etsy subreddits, they received countless enraged responses.

They ignored us.

But today, we are turning into a force that will be difficult for them to ignore.

This post is part of a series telling the story behind the 2022 Etsy Strike. Click here to start at the beginning.

A Picture of a Fool

In the beginning of 2019, I drew this picture.

Dream Big... And believe in yourself

In my imagination, I was that girl sitting on the moon.

I had all these ideas, and I was so excited to start sharing them with the world. There was even a very practical reason why I felt so hopeful about the future. My youngest child was finally in school and out of my hair every weekday! I was convinced that 2019 would be my best year ever.

And Etsy would help me get there, with the buyers they were bringing to me with the extra 1.5% they had been taking out of my sales. I didn’t realize they had switched to using my money to bring sellers, not buyers, to make themselves more money.

But there were things on the Etsy platform that made me start having doubts. In July of 2019, they started trying to force everyone to offer free shipping on all orders over $35.

Etsy had been recommending that sellers offer free shipping for a long time. They told us it would increase our conversion rate – or the percentage of the people that find our shops that decide to make a sale. I had listened to Etsy’s advice early in January 2018 – despite the fact that back then, it caused me to pay them a bit extra in fees.

My conversion rate dropped in 2018, but I hadn’t done the math on that yet. It hadn’t occurred to me to start checking the math on the things Etsy recommended to me.

The push for free shipping didn’t affect me since I was already offering free shipping, but it really bothered me. For a handmade item, $35 isn’t much. In fact, including shipping, this is a $35 handmade item:

Yes, you’ll find a ton of sellers selling handmade for cheaper on Etsy, but in most cases, that’s because that seller hasn’t had a busy enough month yet to calculate how much they actually earn per hour in their shop. We base our prices on the hourly wage we would like to earn, but how much we actually earn depends on how much time it takes us to do all the tasks that we can’t get paid for.

On a busy month, that’s about half the time you spend running a handmade business. On a slow month, it can be 75% of your time. The point is – you have to figure all that other time into your pricing or you’ll make more per hour at your local fast food place. For a handmade item, $35 should correspond to only about 20-25 minutes crafting time. And it’s hard to come up with a great sellable design that takes that little time to make.

By putting the free shipping price that laughably low, Etsy gave me serious doubts that they had a clue what it’s like to run an artisan business.

And I noticed some other things. I would proofread one of my listings after publishing, and there would be this section on it titled “You may also like…” that featured a bunch of items from other sellers.

I may have been part of a test group and not seeing what everyone else was seeing, but at one point, this “You may also like” section was so prominently featured on one of my listings that it felt like the purpose of that listing was to convince buyers to buy something else.

And I saw the same thing on listings from my sister, except worse. She makes jewelry, so the “you may also like” section was full of pieces I recognized as made-in-China.

It occurred to me that if a corporation like Etsy wanted to make a lot of money, that would be a very good strategy. Use the people that make the truly unique items…

…to bring buyers to the platform, and then do your best to sell those buyers cheap items imported from sweatshops that other sellers are passing off as handmade.

Was Etsy doing this to myself and my sister? Possibly. Through 2019, each hour that we spent trying to grow our Etsy shops had diminishing returns.

And we did try. In both our shops, social media referrals are up. In both our shops, views from Etsy search and “Other Etsy pages” are down.

Initially I planned to hang that picture of the girl on the moon on the wall of the studio I hope to have some day. I’ll probably give it away instead. It’s hard to look at that picture today. The girl doesn’t look like a creative, brilliant artist to me anymore.

She looks like a fool.

This post is part of a series telling the story behind the 2022 Etsy Strike. Click here to start at the beginning.

The Lie Etsy Told Me

In June of 2018, I took photos of this dress – my first fantasy design.

Fantasy Wedding Dress

It was also around then that I got an email from Etsy telling me they would be raising my fees. I was a bit nervous about my shop. I’d heard things about Etsy’s CEO (who had done a lot of for-the-greater-good projects) being fired and replaced with a new one. The new CEO was making a lot of changes very quickly.

From when I joined in 2007, Etsy was always a place where I knew I needed to drive my own traffic. Even as Etsy had gotten bigger over time, it was still a given that success on Etsy required doing your own marketing and promotion. Particularly if you sell something unique. Etsy would bring a few buyers that care about handmade in general to the platform, but if you want the buyers that care about the type of stuff that you make, you should work on bringing them yourself. In return for this, we paid low fees, and the number of buyers on Etsy’s platform kept growing thanks to the hard work of all the sellers in the ecosystem.

The fee increase seemed justified, because Etsy let me know that they would be changing that deal. They told me they would be using the extra money I would send them to bring more buyers to the platform. It was a large increase – from 3.5% to 5%. It would bring the yearly cost I paid to sell my designs on Etsy just in transaction fees (they charge us separate fees for hosting listings, and to process each payment) from about $1100 to nearly $1600.

But more buyers would make it worth it to me. I would continue with my marketing efforts, and with Etsy’s push to bring me new buyers as well, I would end up making more sales.

2018 was my best year. Towards the end of it, it did seem like they brought more buyers to me.

Sadly, that would be shortlived.

The graph shows Etsy’s active buyer counts each quarter for a year and a half before the 2018 fee increase and a year and a half after the 2018 fee increase. That information is public, because they release it to their investors each quarter.

What you see in the blue line on the left is a combination of people like me working hard to grow the platform, and the marketing Etsy was doing for a 3.5% fee. On the right you see two lines. The blue trendline, which is what you would expect to happen with no fee increase. And the red line – what actually happened.

Do you see that jump between the third and fourth quarter of 2018? And how the line goes nearly parallel afterwards?

I really believe Etsy ramped up marketing to buyers for a few months – for as long as they thought their sellers were paying attention. That red line going near-parallel is what would happen if they stopped all new marketing-to-buyer efforts after that point, but we sellers kept working hard to grow the platform. I certainly did.

And look at what happened with sellers in the same timeframe.

I had an amazing end of 2018, followed by a shrinking 2019. It’s exactly what I would expect to happen if Etsy only tried to bring me more buyers for a few months, and then used my money to bring themselves more sellers.

I really believe they took my money, and the instant I stopped paying attention, they used it to make themselves even more money.

They lied to me.

But I didn’t know that back then.

I wouldn’t find out until later.

This post is part of a series telling the story behind the 2022 Etsy Strike. Click here to start at the beginning.

The Death of my Etsy Shop

Image by icsilviu on Pixabay

Hi, I’m an Etsy seller.

I say that, and I feel the import of the words, and I realize something.  It might not mean the same thing to you as it does to me.  I should explain to you what I actually mean when I say that phrase…

Hi, I identify as an Etsy seller.

I guess it makes sense.  When you tell people “Hi, I’m an Etsy seller” for more than 15 years, it starts to become a part of your identity.

15 years ago, I would have told you those words, and then I would have said, “Have you heard of Etsy?”

Most likely, you would tell me no.  In return, I would say, “Oh my gosh!  You should check it out!”

I would explain to you how Etsy is this amazing online shopping site kind of like Ebay but for artists and craftspeople!  You can also get supplies on there, and they allow vintage too – which is totally cool, since vintage items are so fun and unique.

Really, it’s kind of an ecosystem for creative types!  In addition to the shopping, there are forums where you can connect with likeminded people. And oh!  The stuff you can find on there is so amazing!  It’s people – actual real people – making stuff, and sharing it with the world!

Would you smile?  Would you engage? If so, then I would babble on excitedly about Etsy for quite a while to you.  It’s hard to overstate just how enthusiastic I would have been.  If there were a choir devoted to singing Etsy’s praises, I would have been a lead soloist.

But that was then.

This is now.

Today, when I tell you, “Hi, I’m an Etsy seller,” I no longer feel any excitement.  Mostly, I feel tired.  And I feel frustrated.  Discouraged.  Betrayed.

Etsy is still a part of my identity, but it doesn’t feel like a healthy part.  I need to stop introducing myself that way.  Etsy is my master, and I am the abused dog that keeps coming back to them every time they call me.  I need to leave the platform.  I really could, if only I could stop believing in them.

And the phrase “Hi, I’m an Etsy seller” means so many other things to me too each time that I say it.

It means, “Hi, I’m so creative that I fail at life half the time, but holy crap, you should see the things I make!”

It means, “Hi, I’m an outside the box thinker who figured out how to build an online business from the ground up, with no training whatsoever!”

It means, “Hi, would you like to see my soul?  It’s on the internet.  Hang on, I’ll show you!”

This is the story of the death of my Etsy business.  I poured my heart and soul into my shop, and it is true that the first decade I spent with them was amazing.  

Since about 2018, however, they have done everything they possibly can to kill businesses like mine.

February 24th, 2022, was the final nail in the coffin of my belief in Etsy.  They reported a second year of record breaking profits to their investors, and at the same time, reached out to all of us, their sellers, to let us know they would be raising our fees… again.

At that moment, I realized I was done taking all of these horrible platform changes lying down.

I wouldn’t let Etsy kill my business.

I would fight back.

Let’s try to help some Ukranian Etsy Sellers

Isn’t that quote incredible? It went viral, because an old Ukrainian lady walked right up to Russian soldiers, and said that to them as she handed them the seeds.

That’s some serious crone energy right there.

It’s a horribly helpless feeling watching what’s happening to our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. I don’t normally talk about current events, but this is too important.

My favorite Ukrainian Etsy Seller is Dress Art Mystery. I went there yesterday to look, and it told me she was taking a “short break” – which means she put her shop in “Vacation Mode” on Etsy.

You probably don’t know this, but Etsy punishes you for going on vacation. When you put your shop on hold like that, they’ll completely reset your place in the search algorithm. Your items will all be on the very last page, and you’ll have to work so hard to get them back up again. It can take a few weeks, or even a few months to recover and start making regular sales again.

I assumed there would be lots of Ukrainian sellers on vacation mode, and I had the thought of some things we could do to help them get their search rankings back. I posted about it on my blog yesterday. And then I went and sent an email newsletter to everyone on my list without checking if Dress Art Mystery’s shop had come online again!

She’s back online on Etsy now though as of Thursday morning, so everything must be less bad than I thought. So I’m simply going to share her shop on social media today. And I remembered a second awesome Ukrainian shop that I can share tomorrow (who is also online). If you have a favorite shop from Ukraine, send it to me via email/comment/etc, and I will share it too!

When have shared all the shops you send me, I will also add a gallery with links to them here. 🙂

Silver Siren Victorian Witch Costume

It’s way past Halloween right now, but for me, I suppose every day is Halloween!

Every year the fall leaves turn these gorgeous colors, but it happens to coincide with Halloween season, which is the time when all good costume designers become permanently attached to their sewing machines! In 2020, I thought I had the best idea ever. Lol. I did a photoshoot quick-like-bunny right as the leaves turned.

The plan was to sit on the photos for nearly a whole year and then start on them in time to share them all before Halloween 2021. But… I sat on them a bit too long. So here I am, actually sharing them in January 2022!

This is a discontinued design, made to test a couple of new patterns that didn’t quite make it into my regular line. The final version of the shrug is very similar, but the skirt is no longer available. I could offer a similar dress custom made – but I’d probably pair it with a “Vintage Diva” skirt instead.

How about that cute hat? I love those 3/4 size Victorian tilt hats, and I had the idea to make a witch hat version one year! It’s completely one of a kind, and still available in my shop (as of the time of posting this).

My designs are really flattering – but you might be able to tell I’ve gained a size worth of weight over the pandemic! The good news is, my photoshoot samples are now size Medium instead of Small, and I’m pretty sure that means they will fit more people!

This one-of-a-kind dress is posted for sale here. If you like it, and it will fit you, please don’t miss out!

As always, I’m wearing this with some lovely jewelry made by my sister, Fantastical Treasures. This piece is called “Vampiress”.

I wanted to do a fall shoot in 2021 and save them for 2022 (with a better release schedule this time) but I failed to get out there again while the leaves were pretty! Ah well, I guess there’s another chance this year. Now I just have to decide what shall I wear?

Steam-Noir Black Steampunk Wedding Dress

2020 was not the year for photoshoots! Lol, it was not the year for a lot of things, for most of us… On this day, my sister and I met intending to take photos of 4 different looks, but we found that all of the beautiful spaces that are typically empty mid-week were full of people!

Luckily, however, those people seemed to prefer the more outdoorsy spaces at Roger Williams Park, and the huge wraparound porch at the historic casino building was empty. So it worked great to get these pictures of my “Steampunk Noir” Steam-goth wedding dress design.

There’s a joke we steampunks like to make – we say “Steampunk is what happened when Goths grew up and discovered the color sepia.” Lol I love steampunk, but I haven’t outgrown my Goth quite enough to design too many things in shades of brown!

With this design, I thought it would be fun to play on the connections between the worlds of Gothic and Steampunk. There is definitely a lot of crossover between the two!

My sister is modeling the gown in these photos. She makes jewelry, and she always picks a piece that coordinates quite nicely with my clothing designs.

I absolutely love dragons. How about you?

Every time we do a photoshoot, we intend to take a picture with a big smile, in case one of us wants it to go along with a super happy saying for one of our social media accounts. Typically we forget when we’re actually at the shoot. This time, we remembered, however!

I do focus on the front of my designs a bit more than the back, but it is important to me that they be very cute from the back too! “Steampunk Noir” is no exception to this rule.

One of the more fun things about wearing a hoopskirt, is how it’s possible to pose sitting on the ground, princess style. The front steps of the casino building worked perfect for this shot!

The dress pictured here is a one-of-a-kind sample made for the photoshoot. If it’s still available, it will be listed for sale here.

Introducing: Choose your color hairpieces!

I sold this outfit to a customer recently:

And along with it she wrote me a cute little note. She had searched my shop, and couldn’t find anything, but did I maybe have some kind of matching hair piece?  She really wanted something – anything – to match her new look.

I searched my stock room – and predictably, I was sold out of every single piece in burgundy. I’m not sure if it’s my luck, or lack of organization, but despite the fact that making things that match is literally my favorite part of what I do, I fail at having matching looks ready to ship pretty often!

This is a piece I made (and sold) a couple years ago: 

If you take a peacock feather, and first bleach it to remove most of the color, then dye it black, you get that pretty dark iridescent look.  I selected it for this piece because some of the iridescence is close to the deep plum color of the rose.

After reading my customer’s note, I thought of that piece from years ago, and wished I had made more.  I could have easily pulled off the plum rose and replaced it with a burgundy one to match her dress!

And so, a new idea was born:

The new version of the fascinator is bigger than the old.  I don’t know about you – but when I think Saloon girl hairpiece, I want big, and over the top!  So I did a full “fan” of 5 ostrich plumes, and accented each with three black peacock feathers.

The roses come in a ton of colors – but for starters, I’m offering the 6 shown in the above photo.

And me being me, and never short on ideas (haha too many to be practical most of the time!) I also have plans to take this same idea and turn it into a crown!

Back in June I posted this photo on Facebook:

And one of the comments said “Purple and black!”

I thought, hmmm, could I make it in purple and black?  The beads and rhinestones, I couldn’t do in purple (they likely wouldn’t match eachother!) but I can get the roses in several gorgeous shades of purple.

Adding the roses is the last step to making the crowns too – and it’s a quick, easy step that I often wait on since the crowns can be stored in a much more space-saving way before I add them.

But to do this, I will need to purchase more satin roses from my supplier – so far I only have black, white, ivory and red.

And I’d really want to make sure the colors match my fabric too – so that would mean trying to see if I can negotiate to get them to use ribbon I provide to make the roses too…

So many ideas, so little time!

But the fascinator hairpiece is available right now. If you’re in the US and you’re seeing this post right away, you can enter to win your very own here!

Or, I offer the piece for sale in my shop:

Victorian Little Red Riding Hood Costume

The dress I’m going to share today isn’t really a new design – it’s more of a remix!

I like to make these occasionally to show how versatile my designs actually are.

My old design was a red steampunk costume, but with this one, I switched petticoats, and added a cloak to turn it into a “Little Red Riding Hood” costume.

In your opinion, what makes the best cloak?  I think for me, #1 priority is a nice roomy hood:

I also prefer a cloak that is the correct size to sit perfectly flat on the shoulders, and then fall all around in a circular fashion.  As it turns out, that’s about 3/4 of a circle of fabric.

This is actually a capelet – or a short cloak.  I made it that way so it wouldn’t cover the poofs in the back of the skirt.

And it ties with a simple ribbon bow in the front.

You know how hoods often slide off your head?  I have a little trick I use to fix that problem when I make a hood.  There’s a strip of velvet on the inside of the hood.  The velvet both adds a bit of weight to the front of the hood, and helps it to grip your hair.

This is a limited edition costume.  The corset has been discontinued by my supplier.  I have a few still available, and I plan to keep making skirts and cloaks to match them until I run out.

You can purchase your own look in my etsy shop.

Mix and Matchable Skirts

I’m working on a new section on my website to help with ordering custom wedding dresses and costumes from me.  So it makes sense to have a list of everything I can make – every skirt design and jacket design.  And I kid not, I’ve designed and drafted so many beautiful skirt patterns over the years that I have difficulty remembering them all!

One thing that makes it complicated is my skirts are interchangeable.  I have front patterns and back patterns – and you can combine different fronts with different backs for a ton of unique styles.  For instance, here are two fronts, and two backs, and depending on which front and which back you choose, you wind up with four different skirts!

And of course, even more looks are possible if you switch out the petticoat!

Each time I’ve tried to list all my skirts, I’ve missed a few cute combinations.  And I definitely don’t want to miss anything in the new custom orders section for my website.  So I cut up a bunch of cardstock, did some reeeeeally quick sketches, and made cards for every skirt pattern I’ve drafted so far (or am in the process of drafting).

And then I looked at all of them and thought geez, no wonder why I’m getting confused!

Once you start combining all these patterns with eachother, it makes quite the plethora of available styles!  So I’m sorting all my skirt styles into “Silhouettes”.

And here they are!

I think because I’m a Late-Victorian-Era obsessed nut, this one’s my go-to.  When I design new things, I practically have to slap my muse to not design a new bustle skirt!  So there have been a ton of bustle skirts over the years.

Sometimes I like to cosplay a younger character – or an adult character with a cutesy personality, and when I do, I definitely want a petticoat skirt. 

High low skirts are awesome because they look 100% amazing worn by themselves.  If you want a cute look but prefer not to have to mess with petticoats, bustles, or other undergarments, high low is the way to go.

Apparently I need to actually make a few Flowy skirts!  Lol when I went looking for pictures of them, I realized that none made it past the sketch point.  Flowy skirts are based on a full circle’s worth of fabric, and they fall smoothly past the hips.  They are supremely twirl-able, and – well, flowy!

Sometimes, you just want to go all out.  The costume equivalent to this is wearing a hoop skirt!  Many of my skirts have an alternate version to the pattern that’s intended to wear over hoops.  And I have a few dedicated hoop skirt patterns as well.

And then that is only the tip of the iceberg, since every silhouette has multiple skirt patterns, and usually there are multiple looks you can create with a single skirt too, depending on what you wear it with.  For instance, “Vintage Diva” my most popular skirt, can be worn in no less than 6 ways!

Lol, I fail at making/designing anything simple…

Which could explain why I always run late with new designs! I started writing and organizing pictures for this new section of my website way back in June! And I expected to have it complete by mid-July.

It’s September now, and I believe I’m about halfway done. Sigh.

I planned to do the writing/organizing part in all the “free time” I thought I’d have once Virtual School ended, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way!

But until I finish, I thought you all might enjoy this little preview. 🙂

Black and Silver Steampunk Pirate Costume

This costume has been in the back of my head for a very long time.

The actual dress design is from all the way back in 2013!

Pretty much since the day I made it, I thought – wow, this would make a really cool pirate costume!  But I never got around to actually completing all the accessories to turn it into a pirate costume, and take the photos.

Then last year I designed these adorable sleeves.  And after I made the prototype pair and saw just how wonderfully pirate-y they look, I decided it’s time to take that photoshoot I’ve been thinking of for so long.

It also helped that when I placed my last order of pirate hat bases, there was a single hat that was randomly larger than the rest – and therefore it fit my big head, lol.

As always – jewelry by my sister – well, mostly, this time!  I called her before setting up this shoot, and she had sold out of every pirate set she makes with no time to make a new one for the photoshoot.  So I asked her if she could instead just bring me a few pirate charms.

This jewelry was her Christmas present to me in 2018.  It originally contained gothic medieval dagger charms.  But I thought, the steel roses thing would be awesome for a lady pirate too – “Rose of the Sea” or something like that.  So I switched them out for the photoshoot.

Lol, we posted a photo of the jewelry on our social media, and she sold one as a custom order that same day!  So it’s become a permanent part of her collection.  🙂

And this pirate set will most definitely be a permanent part of my own collection.  You can purchase your own set here!

Gothic Victorian Alice in Wonderland Costume

I quite love how this Alice in wonderland costume turned out!

It’s really an updated version of this design from 2018.  I loved and still love the original look – but I wanted to make a couple tweaks that would reduce the time it takes me to make it – and thus make the design more affordable to all my lovely customers! ^.^

The skirt is my ever-popular “Vintage Diva” skirt – worn over this adorable petticoat that I found at a wedding wholesaler.

Normally Alice wears a headband (and last time I made one) but this time, I wanted to try something a little different, so I made a hat!

And of course, my sister made some gorgeous matching jewelry for me.  I love all the little Alice in Wonderland Tea Party charms!

We took these photos at Wilcox Park (very near me in Westerly, RI.)  It’s a Victorian era walking park – so there is a lot of scenery there that meshes quite well with my designs.

Haha I can’t seem to make one Alice costume without getting ideas for another!  Or another two!  So I thought I’d close this post by sharing a couple sketches, to give you a little preview of what I’ll most likely make next time I get a hankering for Wonderland. 

The differences are very subtle as black and white sketches – but the fabrics I have in mind for them will make each one unique!  The one on the left would be made from similar fabrics as the alice costume from this photoshoot, and a corset with the black accents, but also with silver buckles for a more Steampunk look.  The one on the right would be more Steampunk – with bronze buckle accents, and all blue and white or ivory.

I’m unsure which one I want to make first.  Which would you prefer?  🙂

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