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Thread: selling your work

  1. #1

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    selling your work

    Here in the UK it's hard to sell photographs for good money. I sold something recently for 60 which sounds like a lot but it cost me 50 to have made (and that didn't include the time/effort/cost put in taking the pic). I am looking for ideas to sell pics to the general public, basically I class it as art, and try not to take pics where someone says "oh my uncle Bert could do better than that."

    I saw a blog about keeping limited editions in perspective (ie don't have a huge number if you are unknown) so i would limit A3's to 20 maximum. One main point is trying to think what the public would want to buy to put on their walls. Some advice I picked up was to be myself, and let the public come around to my way of thinking rather than me try and take pics that I think they would like. However, I once eavesdropped a couple viewing a painting, and apparently they bought it because a little bit of red would match their sofa.

    Thoughts and opinions welcome!
    cheers, martyn
    Last edited by McQ; 7th April 2011 at 04:48 PM. Reason: formatting

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    Re: selling your work

    One option would be to look for better pricing, perhaps a volume discount. You didn't mention the type of print stock you used for your sale but based on some pricing I've seen at certain websites stretched canvas sells for at twice the price of fine art paper.
    Last edited by McQ; 6th April 2011 at 08:54 PM.

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    Re: selling your work

    Hi Martyn,

    Hopefully others will chip in here as well, but my experience is that it's a steep mountain to climb.

    Some dis-organised thoughts ...

    Limited Editions are something that people tell me work, although how well, I'm yet to be convinced. One thought I'd had was to make the image 10 times the cost of what you'd normally charge, and make it a "limited edition of 1" so it literally becomes a "one of a kind". I'm guessing that the lower the number produced, the greater the value, so on one hand if you have a limited edition of 20, it's possibly under-valuing the product when you'll struggle to ever sell 5. Having just said that though, I think of these things as "digital assetts", and few things please me more than someone buying a copy of an image I made years ago, an in essence all I have to do is "File -> Open -> Print" (not quite that simple, but you get the idea), so it would be a shame to have the sale but not be able to sell the print because it had reached the end of the run.

    Personally, I work (almost) exclusively with canvas - in the end I purchased my own wide-format printer and did my own printing - purchased my own spray equipment and did my own spraying - and purchased my own woodworking equipment and did my own framing; wee bit of an initial outlay, but I've cut my costs dramatically, and can also go from studio to "ready to hang" in as little as 2 hours (which beats the competition by about 7 to 10 days!).

    In terms of the actual selling, I'm pretty sure you won't find just the one mechanism that'll set you up for early retirement ... so I suspect that the best approach is a multi-pronged one where you have some for sale via a website - some via shops - some via (whatever). The more mechanisms you can build the better.

    Don't get caught up in price wars - you'll always be the biggest loser. Having just said that, if everyone could always sell everything at high prices then everyone would be doing it, but that just isn't reality. Reality is that it takes time and effort to establish reputation and marketing mechanisms, just like any other business. The harsh reality that could apply to any of us is that there may well not be a market that delivers to us a compensation for our efforts that exceeds the value what it takes to create that item. How many people do you see on "stars in their eyes" who can sing a song as well as their chosen "star", but at the end of the day, none of them ever make any serious money out of it, whereas the real stars (who don't sound any better) do. Life isn't fair.

    Don't underestimate what the market wants; I've had people say "ohh - I don't like those peachy colours" and 6 months later someone else says "Oh - I just LOVE those peachy colours". Having just said that though, I think a lot of people seem to think that they can put out as much crap as they like because someone will always buy it ... all I'd say to that strategy is "don't bet the farm on it"; just because we see the beauty in our work doesn't necessarily mean others will too. I remember showing a lady a whole collection of my landscape (which is mostly sunrises and sunsets) - at the end she said "I don't really like sunrises and sunsets" *** PLONK ***.

    Hope this helps

  4. #4

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    Re: selling your work

    hey thanks for the input so far, i understand that if i limit certain pics then once their gone there gone, one idea is if the prints sell well i can always do an A4 batch of maybe 50,(i know certain people that class a limited run as that picture,at that size,in that frame) but i reckon thats taking the mick,
    on some of my work i had 40inch stretch canvas made at considerable cost (beech fames) for an exhibition, you really need a big place to hang these,
    i was hoping to sell to dance studios and keep fit centres but nothing has come of it so far,
    dont worry about selling too cheap,i run a small business and have seen competitors undercut each other and end up going under,
    i have also seen traders selling chinese made stretch canvas prints for as low as 8, i think i wont go down that route,rather keep the exclusivity ,
    a group of us have held exhibitions in the past with very little success per outlay,its quite hard dragging the public into a gallery,its now time to change tack and take the art to the people.
    we held an art car boot last year and it was quite successful,it was a lot of hard work promoting it (local radio,local newspaper,flyers in shop windows,etc),everything that could go wrong did go wrong,wrong postcode on info packs,venue moved at short notice, football match on ,in spite of this quite a few members of the public turned up to view local art and all the traders (ie artists) said they would come again,
    this year we are planning something better, thats why i need to be prepared,lol.cheers martyn

  5. #5

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    Re: selling your work

    Selling work certainly isn't easy and there are many factors to consider. I sell mainly at exhibition, limited edition (12) and between 200 and 500 euros per framed print depending on size. Like Colin I cut costs by printing, mounting and framing my own images and also in this way I can control quality and have matching frames at exhibtion. Apparently people respond better to photos framed identically in an exhibition, paintings another deal altogether.

    The price targets a sector of the public, those who are willing to pay a reasonable ammount for a 'work of art' and at that price they expect a quality product and something a little 'special'. Hence the limited edition of a small number which intrinsically says 'You're getting something exclusive here'. I emphasise the fact that I print on fine art paper with really good ink and that the print will last about a hundred years thus giving the impression (hopefully) that it is something a little out of the ordinary that they are going to buy. I take great care framing, mounting and printing so that the end product does have a quality feel.

    I'm starting to get better known in the area which gives people confidence and over the last couple of years more people have been turning up to exhibitions (which is good, nothing worse than being stuck in a gallery on your own surrounded by your own photographs, this gets real boring, real fast)
    So step one for me is to supply a 'product' which justifies its price tag given its quality and my reputation, also known as the easy bit.

    The next step is to figure out where to exhibit. Getting to know other artists (photographers, painters etc) and exhibiting with them is not a bad way to start particularly if they exhibit regularly and sell well. Obviously to sell you need to have people visit the exhibition, exhibiting in the town hall of a village with a population of half a dozen (been there, done that and never doing it again!) is never going to be a success. Large towns and cities give you the best chance, you will probably pay more if you have to rent a gallery but it might be worth the extra expense. I had a far greater success rate in a Paris gallery in a few days than I had in a small town gallery over a fortnight, this is probably the most important point - the where. Sadly I live in the middle of nowhere or at least the suburbs of the middle of nowhere so easier said than done for me to get to population centres.

    Time of year has an impact, if it's cold, wet and miserable not many people will turn out unless you're famous or famous and dead which seems particularly popular :- given a choice strive for the former. In my area September/October seem to work the best, Christmas and Easter the next. The middle of summer isn't that great, loads of tourists visit the exhibition and then leave and spend their money on ice creams for their kids. I had a summer expo in a local tourist haven, one week and five hundred visitors. I sold one print, the local ice cream vendor retired to the South of France.

    A theme seems to work well, I did some shots for a book on an historic abbey with an exhibition timed with the release date. Loads of people came up saying they loved the work (don't be fooled into thinking this means they're going to buy anything but it's a step in the right direction and does give you a warm feeling - not as good as putting food on your plate but nice nonetheless). The shots that sold the most by far were all on the abbey 'theme'.

    Stick to your guns, if you think your work warrants the price then defend it. I've had very few people tell me I was overpriced, I took some time to explain to them why I wasn't (politely of course). Only one or two came round to my point of view but a moment of self justification felt really good.
    Conversely a couple of clients recently asked if the price included the frame as well, possibly a sign that my prices my go up a little next year.

    Don't just let people wander round an exhibition and leave (lock the doors ). You have to be a bit of a salesman, I'm not unfortunately and find this by far the hardest part of an exhibition. I people linger in front of one or more works then approach them, an extra problem for me is that I'm doing it in a foreign language - I live in hope that my stumbling French is perceived as charming. My feeling is that (here anyway) knowing or having even a short relationship with the artist will take you a little way towards selling your work.

    Never try to guess what the public want, I have hung works of incredibly beauty () that people have walked past without noticing only to buy the print I hung just to fill a space - try not to act too disappointed if this happens it tends to put the buyer off 'What you really want to buy this piece of crap???'
    This is a short synopsis of my experience here in France, depending on your work and the price you sell for it may or may not be useful to you.

    Slightly off topic but something I learned from a friend that I've found useful. Occasionally at an expo somebody will come up to you and ask you in an accusatory fashion if you use Photoshop or retouch your images, invariably they'll be carrying a camera. Answer in a defensive, apologetic manner and you're in for a debate you're unlikely to win and which will keep you from talking to other possible clients. Look them straight in the eye, smile and say 'Well yes of course' in your best what a ridiculous question but thank you for showing an interest tone of voice. 99% of the time it's debate over, a knock out in round one and they'l usually wander round looking at the photos with the rest of the clients. Consider it a real victory if they dash out to buy a copy of Photoshop

    Here's a very interesting article on the subject of selling prints, well worth reading, I've totally ignored some of his advice (wrongly or rightly) but a lot of it makes good sense.
    http://www.danheller.com/biz-prints.html
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 17th January 2011 at 12:44 AM.

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    Re: selling your work

    I am going to step into this conversation from a gallery owner's perspective. Keeping a gallery open (done correctly) is damnably expensive. You must be climate controlled, have tons of insurance, do a mountain of advertising and join a local prayer group just to survive - break even.

    I owned one gallery outright and half of another (never do that again) and sold limited edition artwork to major galleries/museums all over the USA. I took a 40% commission on each work sold (that is industry standard) for established artists, and 50% for new artists until I made back what I 'd put out getting them established, then drop them to the 40% standard.

    In both configurations, I watched the art market fluctuate more than the local tides. Art sales are very much determined by what colors are selling at Macy's regardless of the artist's influence. Picasso's only sold well when the fashion/merchandising market went minimalist. Chagall's, Miro's and Kandinski's went well when it was a bright color year. Trying to not just keep up, but stay even with the marketplace required the hiring of a person to go to NY/LA/Chicago each year to see what the trend was going to be each year. Long story, very short is that after five years in the gallery business, though I was slightly ahead, I called it quits. Two years later, I got out of the art sales business altogether and have never looked back. Then I went into retail art supplies sales, which was the proverbial buying a boat..a big hole in the water you pour money into each year. Got out of that as well.

    Limited edition work is a catchall name for getting as much bang for your buck as you can. There is a rather famous artist in this country named Thomas Kincaide. His original works sell for upward of $100K or better and his "editions," which consists of remarqued giclees and hand signed can sell for as much as $4-5,000 US each. These are nothing more than inkjet pritns which have a glaze or some pinpoints of light hand applied by some poor little Chinese girl at $.08 pennies an hour and signed by "Kincaide - or not." His "limited edition" prints, plate-signed sell for $100 each, +/-. Signed editions go upward as high as 250 in number. Print 250 in the art world is no better than the paper it is printed on. His plate-signed editions go up to 2500 in number which even 1/2500 isn't worth any more than the paper it is printed on, nor in reality, any more than #1.

    Were I in the business of trying to sell my work as a fine artist photographer (and I have sold quite a number of photographs in my day), I would limit my editions to 20 and I would strike (mar) the negative when I hit #20. Digitally, there is no way to do this other than permanently trashing every vestiage of the imprint on your computer and that's what scares gallery owners...that someday, when Ms Edna Claire Bigbucks wants edition #21 and you give in and sell it as an AP (Artist's Proof) and immediately screw the collectibility factor right into the ground. Or, dare I say, you put out the same image as a B&W, again devaluing the edition - an edition the gallery owner has made considerable investment in - equally, and an investment in his reputation.

    Personally, I think everyone would be better off selling one of a kind work. The cost factor isn't all that much other PP and the more you do, the better you will get. If you are to do editions, keep them small and NEVER break the cardinal rule of #20 is the LAST ONE, ever...ttfn
    Last edited by MiniChris; 16th January 2011 at 02:48 PM. Reason: TYPOS..always typos

  7. #7

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    Re: selling your work

    thanks for your imput, i did a study about print runs,some fantastic info here
    http://bit.ly/fpwB7o
    and as ChrisC said, you will only exceed the run once, then your name will be mud, i along with a few other photographers have done a few exhibitions with very limited success,
    i once looked into setting up a gallery to sell local art but the figures didnt crunch well, one thing i thought of was charging artists for wall space so you made money whether the items sold or not, it seemed a good idea at the time but i guess a lot of artists are struggling to pay bills never mind give money away to see their work hanging on a gallery wall,
    I know what you mean about people saying how nice your picture is then going off to buy ice cream,
    basically we have an outdoor venue/place coming up for grabs, we will have it for the third sunday of each month (starting april,but we will probably leave out oct/nov but have an xmas one),the footfall is 30,000 a day,price is about 15 a stall so it wont break the bank.
    i notice a lot of artists now have their work put on greetings cards (i think companies like vistaprint does this sort of stuff), some people dont want to leave without buying something but probably cant afford a big picture and this sounds ideal for that market,
    cheers martyn

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    Re: selling your work

    What an enlightening thread; my thanks to Coilin, Paul and Chris for some very interesting experiences from different angles.

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    Re: selling your work

    Martyn, I make a small number of greetings cards, again of fine art paper etc (that's what I'm set up to print anyway). I buy card blanks and cellophane envelopes and they go (reasonably well) at 5 euros a pop. They sometimes earn beer money at an exhibition but I look on them more as an expensive business card. The card has all my details on the back so for one it's nice to sell an image that somebody likes and secondly if they want to come back and buy something else they know where to find me or see my stuff online. I usually pop one or two in with a picture as a freebie along with a business card or two. People like to get something for free so it makes me look like the nice guy I really am and again it's not bad advertising if they send one off to a friend or two.
    Chris, really interesting to hear from the gallery owner point of view. Apparently it would seem that you're not the money grabbing sob's that artists in general seem to think.
    We briefly toyed with the idea of a small gallery in a local town to display our and other artists works but decided it was a no-go pretty early on (location/cost/insurance etc)

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    Re: selling your work

    thanks for the info so far,my main interest is dance/movement, i will let you all know how it goes, cheers martyn

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    Re: selling your work

    Hi Martyn,

    Well I take quiet a different approach.

    I do sell my prints at markets and deliberating set about reducing the cost base so I could maintain a reasonable selling price. I sourced framing suppliers by buying one I liked in a framing shop and then contacting the maker, who advertises their name in the fly leaf of the frame. They will probably cut mount board to suit and you have a very professional job at a good price.

    I do not sell limited edition prints. I prefer to work on volume but I do not discount my worth. Limited edition prints (of almost any size) sell for around $400 (Australian Dollars) including the frame of course. I sell framed A3 prints for $120 and A4 prints for $90. My gross profit is around 75% and I would prefer to sell 2 or 3 prints rather than wait for someone to pay more. I am reasonably confident that by the time you paid the retail cost for frame and mount board plus a commission to the gallery I am not making much less in net terms. I will take the image out of the frame and sell it with just the mount board, as a number of buyers are visitors or want to send it overseas as a present and worry the frame will get broken. I sell unframed prints less the retail value of the frame.

    My price is also driven by the fact I sell at markets and people like value but do not carry $400 to a market. I have sold 21 prints in the last 3 months. I am upfront and tell customers the price reflects this fact but I prefer people to have the print on their wall and enjoy them. I also like to see my prints carried away and enjoyed by people. It is important to make sure you go to a vibrant market where people come for the market and not a market that is associated with a famous restaurant cafe area where people are there to meet and greet friends and will use the market purely as an entertainment factor - not to buy.

    Some prints are fine art but I also use other prints for a local calendar. I have sold 300 this year up from 200 last year and also a range of gift cards. I deliberately take images to suit different products.

    I have tried hanging my images in locations (cafes, etc) but if I am not there they do not sell. The buyer likes to meet the artist and this gives some provenance to the piece. I also offer to email the buyer a story about when, why and why I took the image. This normally goes down very well and gives me a new name for my contact list for when I update my web site. At a market you can be flamboyant and just talk to people and stop them. I also have a dog bowl of water – if I cannot stop the patrons I’ll stop their pooches.

    I also use the market time to sell my workshops - “If you like what I do learn to do it yourself”. Once you teach them how to take the image you have also told them they need to do some post processing so you have sold another workshop on an introduction to post processing. I also do lectures at the local community education centre. This also gives a feed into the post production workshops.

    Don’t underestimate the interest in people wanting to learn how to use their cameras. I offered my workshops at the first market in January and have filled 4 and need to take them off the market until I complete those. It happens every time I offer them.

    I am about to launch a Gift Voucher, as I hear many people say so-and-so should do that. Now they can or give them a present of a workshop or an image.

    It has taken me 2 years to build this from scratch and it is growing all the time. I am actually finding it hard to do both normal work and my hobby at the moment. When I retire I will have something to keep me interested and out of my partner’s hair.

    There are many ways to share you images and your photographic interests and it is just a matter of working out what best suits your personality and style. It wouldn’t be worth a recluse doing what I do.

    I hope this helps.
    Last edited by Peter Ryan; 17th January 2011 at 05:48 AM.

  12. #12
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    Re: selling your work

    For those who do their own printing, do you take into account that by using a professional printer any mistakes they make on the output isn't charged to you. When you do your own printing any mistakes you make, you have to bear the cost.

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    Re: selling your work

    Mistakes are one thing (and I am not sure what is a mistake they could make if I have done the processing and not them) but bad interpretation or a mismatch in my processing to their system, etc is not covered. I did spend a lot of time, effort and money getting it right but I don’t make too many mistakes now. The costs keep you focused on getting it right. I would not change to control and quality renditions I get for anything.

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    Re: selling your work

    some handy tips there Peter, i am starting to move away from the idea of limited signed prints idea, i have still got a couple of months to sort it out, i think i will have just a few images framed and mounted, most people have their own idea of what frames they want anyway and its not usually the same as mine,
    do people think signing your prints adds any value ? cheers martyn
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 18th January 2011 at 08:26 PM. Reason: correct typo

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    Re: selling your work

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Ryan View Post
    Mistakes are one thing (and I am not sure what is a mistake they could make if I have done the processing and not them) but bad interpretation or a mismatch in my processing to their system, etc is not covered. I did spend a lot of time, effort and money getting it right but I don’t make too many mistakes now. The costs keep you focused on getting it right. I would not change to control and quality renditions I get for anything.
    I suppose the obvious errors would be equipment issues, depending on the type of printer you have, the problems could be paper related (aged, incompatible with the ink) or printer based (clogged nozzles, cartridge malfunction). If your output (the print) is less than acceptable, the cost is obviously expensed. Do you build into your cost model the possibility of having rejected prints or do you price the print on 100% efficiencies?

  16. #16
    rob marshall

    Re: selling your work

    Afraid I have to break the flow here. I used to sell, but it was far too much effort for a small return. Someone emailed me the other day asking for a print and I sold them one, but I really can't see the point. Unless you are really good (and I'm not yet) you are not going to make very much. It can only ever be hobby sales. Pin money.

    I would rather (and do) focus all my efforts on getting really good at photography, developing a style and techniques, and exploring as much as I can. I know that eventually, the right opportunity will occur - it always has in the past. Why waste time flogging a few prints to people who want something to match their sofa?

    Sorry to be the lone dissenter.

  17. #17

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    Re: selling your work

    Quote Originally Posted by rob marshall View Post
    Afraid I have to break the flow here. I used to sell, but it was far too much effort for a small return. Someone emailed me the other day asking for a print and I sold them one, but I really can't see the point. Unless you are really good (and I'm not yet) you are not going to make very much. It can only ever be hobby sales. Pin money.

    I would rather (and do) focus all my efforts on getting really good at photography, developing a style and techniques, and exploring as much as I can. I know that eventually, the right opportunity will occur - it always has in the past. Why waste time flogging a few prints to people who want something to match their sofa?

    Sorry to be the lone dissenter.
    Here-here, let's hear it from the wise Welshman, though I am not sure how much better he thinks he can get...to me, if I was where he is, I'd think I'd grabbed the brass ring. With a few exceptions, unless you are, as Rob says, really-really-really good, it's a break even venture at best.
    That said, I do all my own black & white printing but only because the only other place that uses my ink system for printing is the company that manufactures the ink, and they are right proud of their product. If I was making $800 to $1,000 per print, then I'd never give it another thought. I rarely sell anything, mostly just give it to friends and family.

  18. #18

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    Re: selling your work

    Quote Originally Posted by rob marshall View Post
    Afraid I have to break the flow here. I used to sell, but it was far too much effort for a small return. Someone emailed me the other day asking for a print and I sold them one, but I really can't see the point. Unless you are really good (and I'm not yet) you are not going to make very much. It can only ever be hobby sales. Pin money.
    I think the classic mistake a lot of people make (and I'm not just talking photographers here) is that many people assume that because they're good at doing the technical work of a business (ie "they're good photographers") then they'll do well running a business that does that technical work (ie "making money from photography"). The reality is though of course that there is so so so so much more to running a profitable & successful business than just the "photography"; obviously things like accounting / advertising / marketing / selling - things that most people know nothing about (or even worse, they THINK they know something about), and as a consequence they either don't do these other CRITICAL things, or they do them badly, and the "business" fails.

    So it's my conviction that many here have the knowledge and skill to succeed with the photography side of a photography business, but that's not what it's about. Heck, I've had a "previous life" in business building / sales & marketing / advertising -- and I've built my own computer company - and I'm STILL struggling to build the photography side of the business (it's getting there - slowly). I think that anyone who thinks they're going to immediately enjoy significant and effortless success is in for a rude awakening (not pointing that at you Rob; it applies to all of us -- I just thought your last reply was a good catalyst for my little lecture!).

  19. #19

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    Re: selling your work

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisC View Post
    I rarely sell anything, mostly just give it to friends and family.
    I think if we want to succeed - as a business - then probably a good starting point is to take a close look at what the Scott Kelby's and the Joe McNalley's and the David Ziser's of the world are doing. They're working damn hard - they're very likeable people - they blog - they twitter - they facebook - they "feed the monster" constantly - and - they're astute businessman - and great photographers too. They sewed the seeds - harvested the crop - baked the bread - and now they're enjoying the fruits of their labour. They take a VERY leveraged approach; we don't. In many ways I think what we're doing is so "1960's".

  20. #20

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    Re: selling your work

    Totally agree Colin and unfortunately it's that side that myself (especially) and others are really weak at. Being a photographer it seems is 30% photography and 70% .... other stuff.
    Sewing seeds, harvesting the crop, baking the loaf and ending up with fruit ? Is that a mixed metaphor or an example of astute business acumen

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