Talking About People Who Aren’t Here

Let’s be somewhat rude and talk about people who aren’t here, by which I mean, people who aren’t on the internet.

I know, can you imagine? There are people who aren’t online. I can’t fathom not having the internet. I find it peculiar and disorienting when I am not connected to faraway friends and people who like to talk about romances and cooking with white beans and removing whatever bug is eating my peppers and whatever immediate concerns I’m harboring.

But there are people who are not on the internet, romance readers, specifically. Romance, if you recall from the oft-quoted statistic, is a $1.6b annual industry in the US. And we on the internet who are so vocal and loud and gregarious and passionate about Passion’s Raven Flame, we do not amount to $1.6b of sales.

I asked a former bookseller about these offline romance readers. Who are they? Do they subscribe to Romantic Times or another magazine? Where do they get their reviews or find books to read in the genre? Are they in bookstores, asking the bookstore employees (they’re not asking any of the bookstore folks I know, as they don’t know much about romance at all)? Are they in libraries, asking savvy librarians?

Her response, in part:

…a surprising number of romance readers really aren’t connected to the internet, romance magazines, etc. I think some of them do rely on libraries or booksellers, but really—and this is hard to believe for those of us keyed into the romance community who read magazines, participate on romance boards, or interact with fans online—a lot of these readers are grabbing a few books off the shelves at the grocery store, Target, Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, etc. They often buy them without knowing much about the book or author, and are judging based on cover art and cover copy.

Seriously, this is the unsung majority of romance readers. There may be a handful of authors they buy based on name, but for the most part, they are buying what they can buy, when they can buy it. As for what percentage of romance readers this encompasses? I think it is well over 50%—somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 to 75%.

It is so easy to forget this group when you think about romance readers, but the reason we forget about them is that they AREN’T online or attending conferences, etc. They are simply buying and reading the books.

Well, thank you for that, oh, people who aren’t online reading this! Thank you for buying books so that more romance is published.

But I remain so curious as to where these people are finding books, and how, and where. I know many people don’t shop the way I do, or have as intelligent or savvy a network of fellow romance readers—or have people at all to talk to about romance novels. Yet such a large romance readership flies under the radar, so to speak, and buys so freaking much.

So who are these people who are not on the internet who buy romance? Do you know a reader like this? How does she shop? Where do they buy and what do they look for? Cover art? Author name? Is she older or younger than you?

Where does she go, and to whom is she listening for romance reading suggestions? 



Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Bronte says:

    Funny although I’m relatively young I was one of those people until about two years ago. I used to get recc’s from a really good second hand bookstore and from a romance bookstore that had a monthly newsetter. The lady at the second hand bookstore was really awesome and she would always have a good recommendation.

    I have to say I have that in total now a lot more hits than misses now that I have discovered resources online!

  2. 2
    ritu says:

    In a way, I was the not-online reader for a while. Before I came overseas for my university studies (5 years back), I was a voracious but not particularly discerning. I would read everything I got hold of in my school library. From Enid Blyton to Robert Ludlum to Leon Uris – all by 15 yrs. Romance – not particularly. The only “romantic” author I knew of in high school was Sidney Sheldon! It was a guilty secret reading of me and my friends.

    Then I came to Singapore for my university studies. We have a very good library system here both public and university. I used to spend most of my time in the libraries. Initially, started reading books of the authors I knew. Slowly started reading neighbouring authors and books I found lying elsewhere. I found Sandra Brown, Jayne Ann Krentz, Amanda Quick, Johanna Lindsey in this way. And then I find authors by going during the peak time and see where there are a lot of people picking out books. By this I found out Nora Roberts, Karen Robards. Only last year, I came across DA, SBTB, TBS, TBB etc sites which completely changed my outlook. Now I can’t imagine reading books without these sites. A big thank you from me for steering towards new authors and very good books. Thanks to you my TBR list never seems to end!

  3. 3

    Sarah, I would be curious how young you are … because I am feeling old right now at 45.  Twenty years ago when I was a computer officer in the Air Force, we had intranet for interoffice communications … but the Internet was not widely used for every day use (we also had a typewriter in case we didn’t have an electronic version of a specific form – I can still remember typing travel orders on the Selectric). 

    It would be another 10 years before I came a romance reader during an overseas assignment.  I found a copy of Cathy Maxwell’s A Marriage Contract in an Army Thrift Shop in the Netherlands.  The bookstore manager was a huge fan of Bertrice Small, so she recommend (and even ordered) Bertrice’s books for me (I now know Bertrice through the military charity for which I write a monthly newsletter).  I formed a small readers’ group that included an embassy staffer who drove 2 hours from Den Haag to interact with other romance readers.  We collectively subscribed to Romantic Times to keep connected to the romance world.  .

    Now, of course, I rely upon your website and other blogs to “chat” with other romance fans.  I still rely on Romantic Times magazine and website for upcoming releases.  Kathryn Falk is the pioneer in promoting romance and her staff has kept RT relevant in this exploding industry.

    Spam word was Married12 … indeed, I have been married for 12 years to my hero!

  4. 4
    sara says:

    Silent reader delurking! I think there’s also an in-between group in there that must be a fairly large category: the person who may be online quite frequently, but not specifically for her romance reading. I’m pretty much as you described yourself (and maybe worse), tethered to the internet at all times, but until I found your website about three years ago, I never followed the industry. I still don’t, really. I just wanted book recommendations/reviews, and didn’t keep track of publishing trends and schedules.

    In fact, I remember being a little confused when I first came to sites like this and Dear Author because there was so much insider knowledge and industry parlance that I felt really lost. I would pick up a book at the bookstore, flip through it, and if I liked a certain author I would buy her following releases. Never on a schedule—just, if I went to the store and there was a new title, I’d go “Ooh!” and buy it. Actually, replace “to the store” with “saw on Amazon” since bookstores have such limited selections.

    I bought a lot of duds that way, but with online book swaps I didn’t feel too bad about that since I could get rid of unwanted books in exchange for a new title. I’m a more discerning reader now, but I was a haphazard buyer for more years than not.

  5. 5
    valor says:

    Now I am online fairly frequently, but once upon a time, I lived in the boonies and couldn’t get a connection (no, not even dialup). Back then, I had a pretty good system. If I was paying full price, I bought Nora Roberts, or something that was compared to Nora Roberts on the cover (My Nana liked Nora, although she prefered the sort of Oprah-esque book where the heroine always died…) Then, when I was at a used bookstore, I would try something different. And if I liked an author, she moved into the willing-to-pay-full price category.
    It’s a good thing Nora Roberts has ten thousand books available.

  6. 6
    Tina C. says:

    Until I found this site, a couple of years ago, I did most of my reading in the hit-or-miss style, with a lot of misses.  I have a huge list of “oh, I love their books” authors in various genres, but anyone new was always a gamble.  As for where I was getting books during those earlier years, I was (and still do) getting most of them at grocery stores and Walmart, followed by used book stores and other, more expensive, bookstores (ie, Barnes and Noble, etc).  I’ve always been a browser and I can spend hours roaming shelves, reading cover copy and possibly the first chapter.  I still do that when I happen across a sci-fantasy/urban fantasy book by an author I don’t recognize because I haven’t found an equivalent website to this one that does those types of reviews.

  7. 7
    Ana says:

    My mom is one of those, she gets her books either at the supermarket (she buys those that are heavier than the rest – same price, more pages – and those that, after scanning through the pages, she thinks have a good ratio dialogue/rest of the writting). She also gets a lot from collections at the kiosk, as each year they’ll start selling each week a theme-based collection like: “dangerous lords” or “armed forces heroes”, those basically cost around 4-5 Euros per book, hard cover. Right know is Karen Marie Morning on.
    I don’t really agree with this method because that’s how last year she ended up with “All that glitters” by Linda Howard (worst book I’ve ever read), so now I’m trying to direct her towards authors I know and like.

  8. 8

    That’d be my mom, too. She doesn’t buy books (romance or otherwise) but has probably read half the library. She picks up a romance now and then to cleanse her brain between heavier tomes, and does so based on the author (she digs Amanda Quick, among others). She’s tech savvy (and a podcast addict) but aside from work uses, she’s of that generation that treats the internet as a daily chore, like checking the mailbox or going to the store to buy a specific thing.

  9. 9
    Allie says:

    I was that reader, and in some ways I still am.  I found romancey things on the internet around 3 years ago with eHarlequin, but didn’t spend much time there until I found this site less than a year ago.  I have read books based on reviews I’ve seen here (like Bitten, a book from a genre I generally dislike immensely) but in general I read Harlequin for my romances (why break with the tradition of my teenhood after all :D ) and I find those by going down to my local shop, picking up the ones in the categories I like and choosing based on the cover blurb.  There were authors I followed pretty religiously several years ago, but I am finding myself liking less and less of the most modern ones.  I have now found a good second hand shop that sells books from 3 or so years ago which are far more to my taste.  I like the internet and I enjoy reading reviews and talking to other people, but my romance choices are still pretty much dictated by what I read on the cover of the book in my hand at the shop.

  10. 10
    Francesca says:

    My earliest reads weren’t necessarily romances, but historical novels: Angelique, Forever Amber and especially Jean Plaidy. My piano teacher was a fellow Plaidy addict and I read any number of other authors based on her recommendation.

    When I was about 18 I found a savvy second-hand bookstore owner, who would make suggestions. And, like Valor above said, certain authors would be “promoted” to being bought new.

    Eventually, I discovered Romantic Times, but found that, overall, I didn’t really agree with a lot of their reviews. By that time, however, my tastes had been formed and I could usually make a selection based on my own criteria. I still occasionally ended out with a stinker, but could usually find something I would enjoy.

    Discovering this website, however, has allowed me to expand my reading pool. I’ve picked up a several new authors and tried out a new genre, and, on one occasion, bought a book because the review was so excruciatingly funny (The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl).

    But how did people choose books before the internet? I would imagine in much the same way I did: through recommendations by friends and others and simply by trial and error.

  11. 11
    Joanne says:

    Kim in Hawaii is right, internet use wasn’t available when I started reading romance. Hell, I’m not even sure we had private phone lines. (party line; my son’s friends thought that it was something I made up! No, you shared your phone line with your neighbors and if you had a Chatty Cathy on your line you waited. A lot.)

    Harlequin had books everywhere. Smart. Harlequin had Nora and Linda Howard and Margaret Way and Betty Neels and a host of other authors. They had HEAs. Yea! Brand Loyalty was born.

    Now is more convienient but back then finding a keeper was a personal victory. Now is better.

  12. 12
    Debbie Q says:

    Oh I remember those days when I would be perusing the book shelves at the grocery store, KMart (we didn’t have a Walmart then) or even SAM’s Club. I just re-read that sentence and I sound about 75 rather than my rather childish 50 years old. I was that romance reader/shopper until I discovered the internet maybe 12 years ago. But then, I had been a romance reader off and on since my high school days when if I wanted a romance I really had to go and find one at an actual bookstore or used book store. And if you wanted to read an author that you had never read before you just had to hope that the blurb on the back gave a good description of what the actual book was. But back then I read just about everything. Now, I am a bit more picky.

    HAHA – my security code is “probably 65”. No I am definitely not.

  13. 13

    I’m still more or less that reader. Until I became a romance author despite being on the internet since 1996, I wasn’t on any of the reader blogs at all.  I read them for industry info and fun, but I really don’t pay much attention to the reviews and such, unless I’m bored and looking for something new. Typically my taste is different from most, and most of the blogs don’t review the type books I like to read. I am on a board for multicultural readers, but I don’t follow the reviews there either. If everyone else on the planet loved it I’m almost guaranteed to loathe it. I’m just built that way. I have my fave authors that I auto-buy and every now and then I pick up someone new if it looks interesting. Usually I try newbies at the UBS, if I like them I glom them on Amazon.

    Actually I think it’s kind of odd that people spend so much time online talking about romance books. For me, reading is a solitary exercise, one of the few in my life and that’s what I treasure about it: It’s the one space that I don’t have to talk about, defend, discuss or analyze. It just IS, and generally I’m not interested in talking about it. Prior to my mother’s death I discussed romances with her, our tastes differed someone, she liked sweeter and skewed toward romantic suspense, but other than that I have no real interest in discussing it.

  14. 14
    KimberlyD says:

    My mom is that reader. She doesn’t read books often but when she has time, she picks up books at the grocery store or Walmart or wherever she happens to be. I’ve never asked what her selection criteria is but I’m sure its cover art and back cover blurb. She is on the internet (facebook) but its very techno-challenged and only uses the internet to chat with friends and see pictures/videos of her grandbaby. The funny thing is that my mom is fairly young-she will be 47 this year. She just isn’t interested in all the internet has to offer.

  15. 15

    I’m fascinated by all of this as a writer.  Back when I began writing/publishing there were 8 women known as the “Avon Ladies” and a guy from Texas named Jennifer.  We were Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Johanna Lindsay, Shirlee Busbee, Joyce Verette, Laurie McBain, Patricia Gallagher and yours truely, Bertrice Small.  The guy from Texas wrote as Jennifer Wilde.  And to be fair, Roberta Gellis, and Jennifer Blake were writing then too.

    There was no – GASP – internet.  Most of us began writing on large yellow legal pads with Bic Clic ballpoint pens.  It was
    Shirlee Busbee who finally convinced me to use a typewriter.
    THE KADIN, LOVE WILD AND FAIR, ADORA, and yes, SKYE O’MALLEY were all written by hand!  So was half of UNCONQUERED.  Remember, chickadees, this was the 1970s. Most of you weren’t even born then, Sarah who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting either. 

    I am probably one of the last writers to come to a computer, and the one I write on isn’t connected to the internet.  Don’t ask!  The internet has opened up a whole new world for all of us, reader and writer alike.  But I still don’t know half the sites involved, and as anyone who knows me can tell you I’m not a techie like so many of the younger writers.  Say “cut and paste” to me and I grow faint.

    So that the story from the other side of this equation, and I’ve babbled on long enough.  Have a good day, Sarah, and you lovely readers out there too.

  16. 16
    Nancy says:

    I’m that reader.  I use the internet to track when new things by authors I like are coming out, but other than that I often impulse purchase at Walmart.  All of their paperbacks are 25% off, which makes it easy to justify…  Oh, and I’m 26, so it’s not just an old person thing.

  17. 17
    Faellie says:

    I think it’s probably safe to say that the majority of romances I’ve bought and/or read were either pre my personal internet use or apart from it. 

    Because I’m mostly in the UK, where “romance” usually means either category romance or family sagas, anything else has been hard to find most of my life. The 80s bodice rippers did make it over here, and were pretty much my introduction to the modern romance: before that it was pretty much only the divine Miss Heyer. 

    Airport bookstores used to be one source for US published romance, and when I lived in Brussels I found some bookstores had translated versions (Anne Stuart and Karen Robards are still on my keeper shelf in French.)  But there is nothing like a good bookstore for finding new authors: for many years Murder One in the Charing Cross Road had a better selection to browse through than any big US store I’ve ever been to.  They introduced me to many good writers, and published lists of upcoming releases.  I am in mourning for it still.  Online sources are no replacement for picking up a book and reading the blurb and the first few pages to see whether it works for you personally.

  18. 18
    Julie says:

    Even though I am online and fairly tech-savvy (having been a computer programmer for a while), I have not relied much on the internet for book recommendations. I get some recommendations from friends for fantasy/mystery/general fiction books, but rarely discuss romance books. I started reading romances with my grandmother’s Heyers nearly 40 years ago. As an adult, I spend a lot of time in Barnes & Noble. I generally choose based on covers, back copy, the first page and often a few paragraphs near the middle. I have my favorite authors (Beverley, Quinn, Putney, Balogh, Gracie) whose books I nearly always buy. Others I will write down and borrow from the library. Only lately have I started trying new authors based on interviews/reviews at Word Wenches ( and here.

    And yes, I read “real” books nearly exclusively. I like the feel of books and the look of them on my shelves. I like tech gadgets, too, but have not yet been seduced by the ereaders.

  19. 19

    I was that reader until a few years ago.  Reading romances was a solitary activity, one that I really didn’t have anyone to talk about.  I was on the internet, but hadn’t yet discovered sites like this.  I read authors I knew about, and picked up new ones by the covers at the supermarket or Target.  Don’t underestimate the Amazon recommendations, either.  Readers like you have also bought…. led me to quite a few favorite new authors.

    Your site and Dear Author got me to finally pick up Harlequins which I was too snobby to do before, and introduced me to so many great new authors.  I’m on a contemporary kick now, especially Jill Shalvis, from reviews on both your sites.

  20. 20
    Rachel D says:

    I am surprised that more people haven’t mentioned recommendations from friends.  I have a good friend who isn’t online much but we regularly trade our good books and alert each other when we come across a good author.  I take credit for getting her hooked on the crack that is Kresley Cole.

  21. 21
    Clare says:

    Faellie, don’t tell me that Murder One has closed down! How awful! I lived in London for a few years and whenever I was having a bad day I would wander into their room where it was floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall romance books. Heaven!

    I originally got into romance by reading my mother’s secret stash so I was limited to whatever she had, but now I tend to borrow from the library so it doesn’t matter if something I’ve picked up blindly turns out to be no good.

  22. 22

    My mom’s online, and she visits my blog every day, but other than that she has no interest in the online romance community, and doesn’t purchase her books online. She’ll often buy off the rack at the grocery store or airport gift shop or what have you) if she’s travelling (which she is a lot), but mostly she uses the library and her local Chapters (we’re Canadian).

    She will go online to request books through the inter-library exchange, but that’s the extent of her search for books on the internet. She’s got a good memory for authors she likes, and will hunt for those on the brick and mortar shelves. If she’s out of town and all she’s got is what’s on display at the drugs store, that’s usually when she’ll take a chance on someone new.

  23. 23
    Annie says:

    I was 10 when I first started reading romance novels; it wasn’t that I was particularly interested (I really, really wasn’t), but that I didn’t have another option. In that tiny, tiny rural Iowan town where we were living, the only places to buy books were Wal-Mart and Hy-vee. And both places only sold romance books and sports manuals.

    And I wasn’t the only one town mentally shrugging and going, “Well, we could drive 60 miles to the nearest bookstore or…” and buying the romance books.

    I got more interested in finding particular series and stories as I got older (and the way I read the books went from “*wince* Who invented sex?” to “…Well, I can’t say it’s the best sex scene ever, but okay.”).  And I eventually searched things out on the internet.

    But I can tell you for a fact that the people who are still searching the grocery store for *something* (anything) that isn’t a 40 year old western probably aren’t coming online to find “more polished work” for one reason or another.

  24. 24
    ks says:

    Silent reader delurking! I think there’s also an in-between group in there that must be a fairly large category: the person who may be online quite frequently, but not specifically for her romance reading. I’m pretty much as you described yourself (and maybe worse), tethered to the internet at all times, but until I found your website about three years ago, I never followed the industry. I still don’t, really. I just wanted book recommendations/reviews, and didn’t keep track of publishing trends and schedules.

    This is also pretty much how I read.  I love romance and I get most of my books from the library (my city has a really great public library system, and it would be much better if the state would quit cutting funding), but most of my online time is not spent at any site that has anything to do with romance. 

    But I grew up with romance novels, as my mom and aunts all read them and mostly still do.  They tend to buy books wherever they see one that looks interesting and then pass them around among each other until they fall apart.  And my mom used to get the Harlequin books in the mail every month.  All the walls in her bedroom were covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves and she had practically every one of those skinny contemporary little white Harlequins that came out in the 80s, in order on those shelves.  My sisters and I used to sneak them when she wasn’t home, as we were allowed to read some of the more steamy books as young teenagers.

    My sisters and cousins have a similar network, but as we’re spread out over the country, it’s a bit harder.  We all have our favorite authors and will pick up books by them, but there’s also a lot of hit or miss reading going on.  We’re all online, but very little of that online time is devoted to anything to do with our offline reading material.

  25. 25
    Danielle says:

    I used to be a reader like that! I found my romances:

    - At the library, where they were free. The librarians had helpfully labelled the spines with a heart logo on many hardbacks, and the font, colour choice and cover image also helped to identify them. Then I read the back cover/cover flap and a few of the pages, just like I did for the other genres I read. It didn’t really matter if the books were a miss as I’d just return them. Once I found an author I liked I’d read their backlist.

    - At used bookstores, occasionally. I’d buy them based on the blurb/first few pages or based on the author.

    - Category romances from Target etc. I’d buy within specific categories based (again) on the blurb etc. I’d also buy within specific imprints, although not as much.

    - Those little ads in the back of the book promoting other titles by the same publisher were a good way of finding new books!

    - As I started to earn more I also went to new bookstores and browsed the shelves a bit, checking out the books near books I liked.

    - Through my sister, with whom I swapped all my romances. If only my friends had been as into them as me…
    (Speaking of which, I found out yesterday that one of my friends has never read a romance novel. Not even one! I was surprised.)

    (Captcha is she44: she has 44 ways of ferreting out new things to read. Well, almost.)

  26. 26

    My paramour is quite the fan. She’s is on the internet all day for work and reads for escape; her office is mostly female, has several other romance buffs and books get passed around a good deal. It’s the “shoemaker’s children go barefoot” syndrome, she just feels that computers take up too much time already. She also goes to the library and once she finds an author she likes tends to read all their books.

  27. 27
    Elizabeth L. says:

    The majority of romance readers I know are not visitors to online romance sites.  My grandmother, for instance, doesn’t even have the internet.  I actually only know two people who read romance ebooks, and they both have an ereader.  Everyone else, myself included, reads print copies, mostly of the paperback variety.  I, being a librarian and seen as a romance-novel-addict, am a source of information for my family and a good number of friends.  But we all find books in different ways.  I read blogs (like this one!), stalk my favorite authors on facebook, and obsessively shop amazon and for new titles.  My mom likes to pick up whatever strikes her fancy at WalMart, a used paperback store, or, very occasionally, the library.  My grandmother uses the library (and the librarians for recommendations), the paperback store, and trades books with me.  My friends spend long periods of time combing the romance section of B&N to find good books, based mostly on titles, known authors, and back cover blurbs.  We also trade books and recommendations.  I agree with your statement that the majority of romance readers are not on sites like this one or in the forums.  They are picking up random books at stores and reading them that way.

  28. 28
    Andrea says:

    I’ve only recently included information from the internet in my personal romance novel shopping.  I would buy by author (Kinsale and Medeiros) and by subject (Scottish heritage, Scottish romance novel lover) and by much in store browsing at Barnes & Nobel.

    I will say this site + kindle reader for my iphone = romance novel WIN for me.  I learned about Loretta Chase and many other authors that I can buy and download and start enjoying instantaneously. AND my house is no longer being overrun by paperback novels.

  29. 29
    LizC says:

    My mom is a reader like that. Would have to be considering she’s been reading romance novels longer than I’d bet most of us have been alive which means before the internet existed. She still doesn’t, have the internet and she’s the one who introduced me to Nora Roberts, Lisa Kleypas, Julie Garwood, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, Penelope Williamson, Georgette Heyer, and tons of others I can’t even remember and somehow she found them without an online community. Shocking! 

    My mom usually buys her books at the bookstore. In another life, i.e. before I was born, she worked at a Waldenbooks. She’s actually not really a grocery store book buyer, though will buy from Wal-Mart if she isn’t going to be in a city with an actual bookstore (where she lives there isn’t a single bookstore in the entire county unless you count the Christian bookstore).

    She picks her romance novels like she picks the other books she reads: authors she knows or books that look interesting.

    Hell, that’s how I buy a lot of my books still. I will still buy or borrow from the library books by authors I’ve been reading since I was 11 years old. I’d say I buy and read only a tiny portion of the books I do based on online reviews and recommendations no matter that I read several book blogs a day. I usually buy one book a month from the book aisle at Kroger (my Kroger sucks foodwise, but of the Krogers in my vicinity it has the best book selection) and sometimes it’s books I read about online but just as often it’s books with shiny covers or interesting descriptions.

    @Joanne I’m only 27 and I remember the party line. I think we had one until I was 7 or 8. I remember these 2 old lady’s in the area were always on the phone talking to each other for hours. Truly annoying.

  30. 30
    Quill says:

    My mother, who is 69 this year, buys most of her romances (generally Regencies) at the library’s used book sale.  She does not get any recommendations from the Internet—in fact, she makes me place her Amazon orders.  She has a few authors whom she will purchase new, or at least wait until they come out in mass-market form to buy.  I think she may get recommendations from a friend on occasion (the lady is the same age). 

    Mom says she likes the mass-markets because they fit better on her shelves, but also, she balks at paying hardcover prices—not that I can blame her.

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