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Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be?

Suresh Ramasubramanian

According to a recent article in Domain Name Wire, "shares of domain name company Tucows are down over 15% in early trading after announcing earnings."

Elliot Noss, President and CEO of Tucows, says:

"We delivered solid financial performance in the second quarter, which benefited from the sale of a block of 2,500 domain names from our portfolio,"

And then,

"… disappointing Google ad revenues resulted in weaker year-over-year revenue growth"

The article comments on Tucows selling off some domains from its portfolio:

"This is equivalent to a company selling off revenue-producing assets. This is a smart move if the price is right, but eliminates the revenue potential of those assets. Second, it appears that Tucows domain name parking revenue with its partner Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) came in below expectations."

Of course, the fun part is that parked domains DON'T have any actual revenue they produce other than pay per click (PPC) or click through traffic, Google ads etc. And that is ALWAYS going to be far, far less than the multi million dollar values attached to some domain names, most of which get bought and sold among domainers rather than going anywhere near the "general public".

Even very high levels of overinflation in the market, can remain completely unnoticed, in such an incestuous market.

This article only reinforces my frequent comparisons of "domaining" to the Tulip craze or the south sea bubble.

By Suresh Ramasubramanian, Architect, Antispam and Compliance

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names

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Comments

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? customer  –  Oct 24, 2007 7:09 PM PDT

C'mon!  Comparing the purchasing of domains to the tulip craze of 1637?  With all due respect, I think this author can't possibly be more wrong!

I saw this topic referenced at http://www.SubliminalMessages.com and would like to add my two cents.

Does anyone out there believe the internet is a fad?  If so, stop reading this right here right now.  I do not want to argue with someone who is crazy — people may not be able to tell the difference.

Assuming the net is here to stay, it is safe to assume that people will continue to set up shop online.  I think it offeres numerous advantages to brick and mortar.  These include no inventory (just pictures), no greedy landlords with endless rent increases, no zoning restrictions, no fire marshalls, no handicap accessibilty requirements, no signage inspectors, no vagrants, no robberies, no staffing headaches, no occupational license, no expensive showcases, no paint, no carpet, no alarm/security system needed, no cash registers needed, no credit card processing equipment, no insurance, and BEST of all...no (or very very few) employees!  If you have no or few employees, then you have no workers comp, no 401K plan with IRS compliance rules, no raises, no overtime, no pregnancy leave, no drug testing, no sexual harassment claims, no vacation time, benefit hours, cigarette breaks, no discrimination claims, blah, blah, blah.  Ok, you get the idea.  It's just a much better way of doing business.  Pure business without any of the annoying conventional brick and mortar distractions.

Other than a restaurant or doctor, what prudent businessperson WOULDN'T prefer the internet?

If you agree so far, the rest is easy.  Those who decide to establish an online business need a good home for their venture.  Same rule of real estate applies:  location, location, location.  In this case, your online location is determined by your domain name.  The guy with the good one will always beat the guy with the bad one.  Paper - rock - scissors.  Good domain beats bad domain.  Always.  No exceptions.  Short beats long.  Correctly spelled beats incorrectly spelled.  Dot Com beats "Dotanythingelse".  Always.  No exceptions. 

More traffic means more eyeballs which means more customers which means more money.  Very simple.

Nope, definitely not the tupic craze, Suresh.  Tulips die.  Demand for tulips die.  Have you ever heard anyone predicting the death of the Net?  Nope, me either.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 24, 2007 8:02 PM PDT

customer said:

C'mon!  Comparing the purchasing of domains to the tulip craze of 1637?  With all due respect, I think this author can't possibly be more wrong!

.. for all that, the perceived valuations on most domains held in "portfolios" is way overblown and they don't

1. Fetch anywhere near that kind of value in the open market

2. Fetch anywhere near like that in revenue from ppc traffic.

The boosting of e-commerce sites is not totally relevant to this.

The tulip craze is dead, yes. However, people still do buy tulips. In flower stores, for a few bucks a bunch of tulips, not millions of dollars a tulip. 

srs

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? customer  –  Oct 24, 2007 8:16 PM PDT

Opposite, my good friend, opposite…

Domainers pay wholesale prices.  It is widely known amongst them that each URL in the portfolio will fetch a higher sell price if marketed to a end user.

You are correct in that the price may not justify PPC revenue, but who cares?  If you buy conventional property, you'll have alligators too, no?  In the case of cyber property, the alligators are very small and don't bite very hard.  Yet.  As the prices climb and people start taking out mortgages to buy domains, this may change.  But we are certainly not at that point yet.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 24, 2007 9:03 PM PDT

customer said:

You are correct in that the price may not justify PPC revenue, but who cares?  If you buy conventional property, you'll have alligators too, no?  In the case of cyber property, the alligators are very small and don't bite very hard.

Gators? Yes, if you're selling florida swampland to gullible retirees. 

In fact, that's a far better analogy to domaining than the tulip craze one, thank you so very much.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? The Famous Brett Watson  –  Oct 24, 2007 9:10 PM PDT

If you agree so far, the rest is easy.  Those who decide to establish an online business need a good home for their venture.  Same rule of real estate applies:  location, location, location.  In this case, your online location is determined by your domain name.  The guy with the good one will always beat the guy with the bad one.  Paper - rock - scissors.  Good domain beats bad domain.  Always.  No exceptions.  Short beats long.  Correctly spelled beats incorrectly spelled.  Dot Com beats “Dotanythingelse”.  Always.  No exceptions.

As is adroitly proven by ebay.com vs. auction.com (what the heck is an "ebay" anyhow?), amazon.com vs. books.com (why would anyone go to "amazon.com" looking for books?), youtube.com vs. tv.com (a complete no-contest), google.com vs. search.com (not even the correct spelling of "googol", which is obscure and undescriptive anyhow) and slashdot.org vs. techblog.com ("slashdot.org"? Utterly laughable!).

I think these examples make the vital importance of having a short, correctly spelled, and appropriately descriptive ".com" address abundantly clear.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? customer  –  Oct 24, 2007 9:50 PM PDT

If you are right, would you care to explain the following?

Why did Monster buy Jobs.com?

Why did Barnes & Noble buy Books.Com?

Why did Fixodent buy Dentures.com?

Why did KitchenAid by FoodProcessors.Com?

Why did Intel buy Chips.com?

Why did Proctor and Gamble buy Dish.com, Toothpaste.Com and hundreds of other generic category killers?

Same with Johnson & Johnson. 

Why did Ragu buy Eat.Com?

Why did Edy's buy IceCream.Com?

Why did Bank of America buy Loans.Com?

Why did Kraft buy CreamCheese.Com?

Or Office Depot buy School.Com? 

Or why did JC Penny's buy Gift.Com? 

Or why did Calvin Klein buy Underwear.Com?

Or why did Disney (Buena Vista Prductions) buy both Movie.Com and Movies.Com?

Or why did Bayer buy Aspirin.Com?

Or why did Radio.Dial buy Cigarette.Com?

Or why did Hasbro waste money on Game.Com?

Or, TacoBell (Pepsi) on Taco.Com

Uh oh! Better tell Tiger Direct not to complete their recent 2.2 Million dollar purchase of Computer.Com!

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 24, 2007 9:53 PM PDT

Lots of retirees, who might very well have been smart, clued etc - still end up buying florida swampland, with maybe the brooklyn bridge thrown in to boot. Next, please?

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Alex Tajirian  –  Oct 25, 2007 9:45 AM PDT

Tulip mania or not, prudent domainers can make money either way. The important question for a domainer is not who is right, but what are the potential losses if you guess wrong. Thus, irrespective of whether you believe it’s a bubble or not, you should actively look for signs of reversal. On the other hand, if you stayed away from domain investments, you lost a historic opportunity.

As in the Internet bubble, informed money was aware of the bubble. Those who were able to bail out did, but there were also market constraints that prevented some of the informed from exiting.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 26, 2007 7:14 AM PDT

Surviving in a bubble is a fine art .. and knowing exactly when to bail out of one is the acme of that art. Certainly.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Dave Zan  –  Oct 27, 2007 11:12 AM PDT

Something that might "interest" you, Suresh:

http://www.yvoschaap.com/...

Won't be surprising if that blog author read your "rant" here. Enjoy. :)

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? The Famous Brett Watson  –  Oct 28, 2007 7:58 AM PDT

Why did Barnes & Noble buy Books.Com?

Clearly, it was done to crush their arch-enemy, amazon.com! Amazon's superior Internet mind-share will not stand long against the power of this short, relevant, generic .com domain, and the indubitable tsunami of direct type-in traffic that it grants B&N!

Hey — wait a minute. What's going on here? B&N acquired that domain name in 1999. Dude — that's not a good example. It's just going to give Suresh ammunition for his "bubble" theory. I mean, 1999? It's not like any sane domain name decisions were made then.

Aw, man, are you trolling me? That list of generics looked so promising. I was hoping to dive right in and find irrefutable evidence that brand power and first mover advantage were being swept aside by the irresistible might of generic dot-com names, thus putting to rest once and for all the rationality of their re-sale valuations. Instead, what do I get? "B&N spent an unknown (and probably embarrassing) sum on 'books.com' during the dot com bubble, to no obvious benefit!" Sheesh — way to prove your point.

Tell you what, "customer" — fool me once, shame on you. Next time you cite a pile of evidence like that, you can provide the additional context which proves that the evidence supports your case. If you don't, I'm going to assume it's a bunch of smoke and mirrors like this books.com rubbish: a facade with the superficial appearance of supporting your assertions, but one which falls flat under the slightest scrutiny.

Don't expect me to do that additional research on your behalf, either. Maybe I got lucky and just happened to scrutinise the only bad example on your list, but the odds are against it, and I don't like it when people try to pull the wool over my eyes.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 28, 2007 8:19 AM PDT

That article is umm.. ambiguous.

This all making domains a very attractive asset due to its stream of income for an unlimited period*, and it’s possible after-market value.

(...)

There are many uncertainties*, to many to discuss here, but can we assume that the basis of all of this is on if people keep typing in these domains? And, will there be growth in these numbers of visitors and CPC? Is it a long term growth business providing a landing page with ads only?

You could sit on that domain and collect typein traffic all your life, then bequeath it to your descendants who will continue to collect typein traffic from space aliens, once ipv10 brings us intergalactic internet and we're doing intergalactic governance forums, milton mueller's great^n grandson debating whois with tentacled aliens from Tau Ceti IV etc.

You just might be able to recoup your purchase of the domain by then, if all you bank on is typein traffic. Else, you could find another sucker, whoops, pardon me, domainer, to unload the domain on, at a profit, yet .. As Alex Tajirian said upthread, something about the potential losses when you guess wrong.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? customer  –  Oct 28, 2007 5:38 PM PDT

Ok...Books.Com was purchased by B&N a while ago.  So?  Not sure why this is so significant or why it hurts my argument, but, nevertheless, you want more recent examples of valuable oceanfront domains?  Ok, happy to oblige.  How about Vodka.com, Diamond.com, Men.com, Porn.Com, Business.Com, Outparcel.Com, Professions.Com and Sex.Com.  All will provide their new owners with an endless supply of traffic/customers.

To set the record straight, I show the url you referenced was actually purchased in 1992.  If the domain "books.com" was such a waste of money for B&N, why then, did they go back and buy the singular version of the url a few years later? 

Each of the forward thinking companies companies referenced in the above list obviously realized that their initial expense will quickly be dwarfed by the advertising savings they will realize by harnassing the natural type-in traffic that a premium generic domain will generate.

Looking back, they were clearly right.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? The Famous Brett Watson  –  Oct 28, 2007 11:01 PM PDT

Ok...Books.Com was purchased by B&N a while ago.  So?  Not sure why this is so significant or why it hurts my argument…

That should be obvious. Suresh is making a perfectly credible counter-argument that the valuations of generic domain names are inflated due to hype. If you're going to cite the massive prices paid for anything during the dot-com bubble to bolster your case, then you're not so much providing a counterargument as demonstrating that you're unable to perceive bubbles at all, even in hindsight!

What do you know — Suresh is right on the money. The players in this game are all so blinded by dollar signs that they've completely lost sight of what constitutes a rational basis for anything. Clearly this the time to ensure one has one's exit strategy in place. Come to think of it, such an exit strategy may involve persuading other suckers that now is a good time to enter. Yikes! I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you're not mendacious, however.

To set the record straight, I show the url you referenced was actually purchased in 1992.

You've shown nothing of the sort, and I'm not even sure I know what you mean. Are you saying that the party who sold it to B&N acquired it in 1992? How is that even relevant? Are you trying to tell me that the domain was sold at a substantial profit? I believe you! That's not my point of scepticism at all. The serious question is, "what are these domains actually worth, and to whom, and how?" Only that way can we tell whether the market is overvalued or not.

As for those other generic domain names that you've mentioned in passing — forget it. The saying goes "fool me twice, shame on me”. You already made me waste time by chasing up the details of "books.com" (sold to B&N in 1999 for an undisclosed sum). If you're going to present evidence of this sort from now on you can fill in the extra details yourself. Failure to do so just makes me suspicious that you're generating hype. I want to see dates and prices, not just generic names. Am I clear?

Each of the forward thinking companies companies referenced in the above list obviously realized that their initial expense will quickly be dwarfed by the advertising savings they will realize by harnassing the natural type-in traffic that a premium generic domain will generate.

Now here we have something approaching a rational statement, given sufficient factual backing, but it's a pretty tame one. Listening to your advocacy, I started out with expectations that B&N's acquisition of "books.com" would grant them undisputed ownership of the online bookselling market, and yet they remain a distinct second fiddle to the upstart Amazon.com — one of the few companies to come through the dot com bubble intact and viable. If all you're claiming is that "books.com" attracts a certain degree of type-in traffic, and this presents a "first impression" advantage to the owner of that domain, then yeah — obviously it does. But you make it sound like you can't sell a book online without "books.com", or that ownership of "books.com" is as good as owning the market. Reality just refuses to come to the party on that claim.

It's pretty easy to evaluate "books.com" on the basis of type-in traffic: it's just whatever profit you can make on selling books via direct type-in traffic of that name, and I suspect that this figure is significantly greater than zero for B&N. Without hard figures, though, we'll never know how it compared to the cost of acquiring the name in the first place: it's just a once-off fee of X dollars for total recovered benefits of Y dollars for unknown X and Y.

Looking back, they were clearly right.

You say this without citing a single dollar figure. This whole thing is just so much magical pixie dust unless real-world figures get involved somewhere.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? customer  –  Oct 29, 2007 1:21 PM PDT

Not convinced and still respectfully disagree.

Not a bubble and here is why…

Supply and demand. 

Let's say Sally Seller grossly overpaid for Abc.com and bought it for $X.

When Joe Buyer comes a knockin' and wants to offer her $X-1, why would she possibly sell it?  Since her carrying costs are so low, it pays for her to simply reject his low ball offer and wait for the next bus to come along with a higher offer.

Can't do that with a stock.  You have to sell at what the market dictates.  Can't do that with gold.  The price for bullion is published in black and white in the daily paper.  Same with diamonds, houses, collectibles and most other investments. The article gets appraised and, if you decide to be unreasonable, your item will probably go unsold.  Unless, of course, it is a one of a kind.  And, with that in mind, let's talk about .COM domains.

.COM domains are a different animal.

As Wil Rogers said of conventional real estate...they are a good investment cuz they stopped makin' them.

No law that says Sally Seller needs to be reasonable.  She has it, you want it.  You need to pay for it.

If you are waiting for the "domain name bubble" to pop, you're in for a disappointment.  It ain't gonna happen since there is no bubble.  It is supply and demand in its purest sense.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? jaysen merrick  –  Oct 29, 2007 4:13 PM PDT

Hello, just want to add a thought hear… its seems to me "Customer" has it all right while the self proclaimed "Famous One" may have it all wrong. Mr. Self proclaimed "famous one" seems to forget about the fact that over 66 miliion .com domain names are now registered. This year alone the registrations of.com names are up well over 130 percent. As time goes on, .com names are becoming more difficult to obtain and are becoming more valuable. (even two and three key word domain names). Mr. Famous seems to have forgotten the basic tenants of the theory of supply and demand.

What about Cowboys.com… did you follow that interesting event?! Surely you must think you are sane and everyone else is insane....

Moreover, I would like to also reference some of the great domainers of last and this year.... Garry Chernoff, Scott Day, Frank Schilling, Howard Fellman, Yun Ye and Craig Lovik… Go ahead google them, see what they think and read what they are doing… I am curious what, if any domain names you ("Famous") either registered or sold recently. You seem to make many value judgments while at the same time not really express a true understanding of what is going on here… You do writewell, I will give you credit for that....

I recently purchased a domain name from the guys who own www.assumedomain.com and already have realized my purchase was a good one. Yeah I know they probably paid 15 bucks for the name (I paid 1500.00) however, the investment was a wise one as I am now hosting a great website that receives new traffic, email and inquiries I never would have received. In fact, I have already sold services that exceeded the mere 1500.00 investment,

All domain names are investments, anyone who thinks differently has blinders on. The domain name business is not only Tucow selling blocks of names or big companies auctioning off names like greetings.com for $350,000, weddingcatering.com for 10,000, ChristianRock.com for 31,000, its people who have a vision and are not influenced by one article or a single opinion as Mr. Famous is… or, Mr.

Please excuse my writing I am slightly disabled.
JM

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? The Famous Brett Watson  –  Oct 29, 2007 10:20 PM PDT

customer said:

Not a bubble and here is why…

Supply and demand.

Every bubble is based on supply and demand. The difference between a bubble and the common or garden variety of supply and demand is that prices in a bubble have been driven up to unreasonable levels by irrational demand. People buy into the bubble not because they want the thing they're buying, but because prices are going up, and they want to get a piece of the action by buying low and selling high.

Come on, guys, you don't need a degree in economics to understand this stuff: we've all lived through a particularly memorable instance of it.

Let's say Sally Seller grossly overpaid for Abc.com and bought it for $X.

When Joe Buyer comes a knockin' and wants to offer her $X-1, why would she possibly sell it?  Since her carrying costs are so low, it pays for her to simply reject his low ball offer and wait for the next bus to come along with a higher offer.

Yes, that strategy will work just fine if a better offer ever shows up.

If not, then she's stuck with an overpriced domain: one which has a net realisable worth of less than what she paid to acquire it. She's the one who couldn't find a chair when the music stopped, and she's become one of the sources of all this money that seems to be flowing into the bubble. Bubbles are like Ponzi schemes: it's the last people to join who wind up funding the scheme retroactively.

Can't do that with a stock.  You have to sell at what the market dictates.  Can't do that with gold.  The price for bullion is published in black and white in the daily paper.

With gold, your gold is the same as everyone else's gold. With a stock, your stock is the same as the stock that everyone else is trading under the same symbol, although distinctly different from every other symbol on the market. With domain names, your domain name is unique, and if someone wants your name, specifically, then you are the sole source of supply. You have achieved that coveted position known as a legal monopoly, and you can try to use that monopoly position to force a high sale price.

Success is far from guaranteed, however. A domain name like "books.com" probably has a substantial net realisable worth to a multi-million dollar bookseller, but if you think that generic domain names are in short supply, I think you'll find that the deep-pocketed businesses who can make highly profitable end use of those generics are in even shorter supply. A rational buyer isn't going to pay more for the domain than they believe they can earn back out of it in the space of a number of years, your monopoly supply position notwithstanding.

Of course, you don't have to sell to a rational buyer who believes he can make profitable end use of the domain. You can sell to another speculator who believes he can resell it at a higher price. That's life in a bubble — until it bursts, at least.

jaysen merrick said:

I have already sold services that exceeded the mere 1500.00 investment.

Then you have made profitable end use of your domain name. Good for you.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 29, 2007 10:38 PM PDT

jaysen merrick said:

I recently purchased a domain name from the guys who own www.assumedomain.com and already have realized my purchase was a good one. Yeah I know they probably paid 15 bucks for the name (I paid 1500.00)

Yeah. You can probably make $1500. Or even $15K if you are lucky. But then you are using that domain for what I assume is your business.  And so you have to find some way of differentiating gains you make from people typing in that domain to reach your business, and people who google you up, hear of you from a friend who bought services from you etc.  If that new domain is your sole correspondence address and website, that's hard to distinguish.

Further, you are an end user or customer of the domain, not a domainer as such.  At least in that case.

If you stick affiliate links and ppc ads on it, and wait for typein traffic .. you are not going to earn nearly that much. Unless you treat the domain name as saleable and are focused on selling it at a profit, with whatever you earned by way of typein traffic and ppc revenue just so much gravy. 

So, if you pay hundreds of K for it, or worse, millions for it, it is still worth just what its face value is, $10 (or less if you are a wholesaler) UNLESS you sell it. 

With a reasonably performing stock, and especially with a blue chip stock (like these blue chip generic domains that keep selling for millions) I am reasonably confident that I can place them on the market and get them taken off my hands almost immediately.  And possibly unload just part of my holdings in that stock, or buy the stock back. 

Not so with a domain.

brett watson said:

With gold, your gold is the same as everyone else’s gold. With a stock, your stock is the same as the stock that everyone else is trading under the same symbol, although distinctly different from every other symbol on the market. With domain names, your domain name is unique

Yup. Domain names are not exactly what you would call fungible assets like Gold is, or Stocks are.

Nor are most domain names (the sort that stay in "portfolios") as liquid as the owners think they are. Especially in a market that's overheated way beyond insane levels.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 29, 2007 10:42 PM PDT

My comments are of course e&oe the case where one domainer sells to another domainer .. that's part of the endless money circulation scheme that this domain name bubble is. Like ponzi schemes, it doesn't really take too much to make people at the base of the pyramid lose their shirts.

Re: Are Domain Name Portfolios Actually Worth What They Are Touted to Be? Nick Wilsdon  –  Nov 06, 2007 1:33 AM PDT

It's hard to ignore the supply/demand argument when it comes to domains. Only this week the last free 4-letter .COM was sold (456,976 in all) so they are now only available through private sale or auction. Of course this was true for 2/3 letter .COM domains some time ago.

That is a vivid example that the .COM space is finite. Long, hyphenated domain names are not attractive or practical. There is already a prestige with shorter domains as well as a definite marketing advantage. While there will no doubt be a rise in the level of ccTLDs for businesses working in specific country markets, .COM is the original. So far none of the attempts at launching other gTLDs to take the pressure off have been particularly successful.

Dissenting Opinion Jeff Ostrovsky  –  Jan 19, 2009 8:28 AM PDT

I disagree with Suresh.  Domains are not a tuplip fad.  They are the real estate of the 21st century.  Get your piece of land now while it's available to be got.  I agree with Customer in that only .COM matters.  The rest is garbage.  Always was, always will be.  Also, I agree with Customer in that the alligators, for now, are small.  As government gets involved, this will change, but for now, it's where the growth action is and will continue to be for years to come.

No tupid fad happening here.

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