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adegiulio

RIP Gourmet Magazine: 1941-2009

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I used to read it just for the Laurie Colwin articles. That was a serious blow to the magazine (and the food writing world) when she passed away. I still make some of her recipes!!

This is what I mean, a writer in the kitchen, not just another wannabe attempting to "stretch".

The link to the $1/issue subscription is still working. This is another problem with the publishing industry, and probably what doomed Gourmet (and more to come)--inability to guarantee advertisers adequate circulation. For some reason, my BA subscription morphed over the years to one that expires (as of now) in 2012, simply because of special offers, etc. I certainly haven't paid for that length subscription. I continued to receive Sauveur for more than two years after my one-year-paid subscription expired and have recently received two other magazines unsolicited with obscenely-cheap invoices to follow.

Cooking Light has now gone to the teach-the-novice approach, so the subscription will be allowed to expire in two months. There has to be a happy medium between the "how-to-professionally-style-your-dinner-party-appetizer-trapeze" and the "peel-back-foil-to-reveal-tater-tots" genres....

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This is another problem with the publishing industry, and probably what doomed Gourmet (and more to come)--inability to guarantee advertisers adequate circulation.

The WSJ noted that subscriptions to Gourmet have stayed at historical peak levels (of just under a million), but that newsstand sales were down 25% year-on-year. That doesn't sound so bleak to me, but I'm not in publishing. Maybe if they'd invested what they paid McKinsey in keeping the thing alive...

Cooking Light has now gone to the teach-the-novice approach, so the subscription will be allowed to expire in two months. There has to be a happy medium between the "how-to-professionally-style-your-dinner-party-appetizer-trapeze" and the "peel-back-foil-to-reveal-tater-tots" genres....

Yeah, it really seems to be hard to find a balance. Cooking Light and Bon Appetit have seemed way too pedestrian lately, and to be honest I haven't been able to enjoy Food and Wine since Dana Cowin's navel-gazing, damning-with-faint-praise article on how, gee, Philadelphia might not be a culinary wasteland! I guess that just leaves Saveur?

It will be interesting to see what Ruth Reichl does next.

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This is another problem with the publishing industry, and probably what doomed Gourmet (and more to come)--inability to guarantee advertisers adequate circulation.

The WSJ noted that subscriptions to Gourmet have stayed at historical peak levels (of just under a million), but that newsstand sales were down 25% year-on-year. That doesn't sound so bleak to me, but I'm not in publishing. Maybe if they'd invested what they paid McKinsey in keeping the thing alive...

Subscription sales and newsstand sales are a paltry contributor to revenues (with the standard deep-discounts offered to most subscribers, I'd be surprised if a subscription even pays for the paper, let alone postage, for a given magazine). It's all about ad sales. This year, according to the NY Times, Gourmet took at 43% hit in ad pages this year, through October, and showed no sign of climbing back up in the current economy. That's too deep to sustain.

Christopher

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Additionally, I liked how they [Gourmet] started to try to do things differently from the food norm - with the photography, the content. As far as the recipes - with some commenting that they were too complicated: I subscribe to five - well, I guess, now, four- magazines- Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food&Wine and Cooking Light and really, make very few of the recipes featured in the magazines. They serve more as reporting of trends, inspiration and teaching of different techniques than anything else. It was nice to have a magazine not give the same old easy dish recipe. It is sad that Gourmet has been shut down, particularly in a market where there are so many magazines which are aimed at the more "ordinary" American with simple recipes, endless explanations of beginner skill sets, etc.

Gruzia, you took the thoughts right out of my head - as a professional pastry chef, I applauded Gourmet for showcasing the trends and staying true to this in their choice of recipes. Not all cooking magazines out there should be made for the "home cook" - otherwise they would all be the same: boring and somewhat condescending in the relentless explanation of very basic skills. Gourmet was wonderful to bring the trends and inspiration of the professional field to the main stream. I mean - with so many people loving the Food Network, isn't it only natural for them to want to read about and better understand the things they see on Iron Chef?

Gourmet was a natural progression for those foodies, who have mastered the basic skills, and are looking for more of a challenge. Needless to say, not all recipes are designed to be easily made in home. But reading such a recipe allows for a person to get a better idea of a technique and then adapt it for use, experiment with it, evolve as a cook. (That's what happens as professionals progress in their field: master the basics and then chellenge yourself to evolve.)

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I, for one, am bereft. I subscribe to both Gourmet and Bon Appetit, as well as Saveur, Fine Cuisine and Cooking At Home. They all fill different needs and niches in my life.

I used to take Food and Wine, but dropped it when I realized that it had become meh-ish. It seemed as though all the articles in F&W were re-do's of articles that had appeared in BA and Gourmet 6 months earlier. I do still pick it up from the newsstand when it looks interesting. That's been maybe 3-4 times per year recently. I also used to take Cook's Illustrated, but dropped that one this year; I feel as though I've moved past it.

But Gourmet, I will sorely miss. It was the writing, the quality and the depth of the writing, that drew me in, and has kept me coming back for many years. There have been stretches where I wasn't a subscriber....then I'd pick up an issue or two, and realize what a void it left in my culinary education when I didn't have it. I had just gone through one of those spells....hadn't subscribed for about 2 years (busy life/bad ju-ju coming down/not enough time to keep up with the magazines/not enough $$$ for all of them...), and I had been going back and reading some of the multi-year backlog I had of Gourmet/BA/F&W from the times I subscribed to all of them.

Gourmet spoke to me. Maybe as I've matured, I've come to appreciate the art better. I don't know. I do use recipes from Gourmet, just made one last weekend as a matter of fact. But yeah, it was never so much, at least not lately, about the recipes. It was about the articles. They were frequently gems.

I look at BA as the "Lifestyle section" of food magazines.....lots of fluffy features, and decent recipes. Gourmet was equivalent to the Op/Ed section of the New York Times. From Reichel's opening letter to the last page recipes that were variations on a single theme, there was almost always a piece in each issue that made you pause, and think, and go....."hmmmmm".

I too, am very much looking forward to what Reichel will do next. I've loved her work for decades.

Its just too damn bad.

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As someone who subscribed to Gourmet almost fron its inception until a year or so into its stewardship under Ruth Reichl, I am somwhat saddened, but far from surprised by the news of its demise. Under the (so called) leadership of Ms Reichl it went from a journal which was loaded with quality content, to one which was bereft of substantial content to one which emphasized flash at the expense of what had made the magazine successful for numerous decades. That's what happens when you eliminate the steak at the expense of sizzle.

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I actually cheered when I read that Conde Nast is shuttering Gourmet. It is unfortunate, but not a surprise to me at all. Ruth Reichl let her ego drive the magazine into the ground. It's content scarcely differed from that of Bon Appetit or frankly any of the many other food magazines on the stands. If you've never read Gourmet from 20-25 years ago, go the the library or a garage sale and pick up a copy. It was filled with quality travel writing, recipes that could be made at home by normal human beings, a fantastic wine column and more--all presented with panache and class. It devolved into food-porn photography, preachy articles and recipes that were close cousins of any other cooking rag on the stands. Good riddance!

Gourmet never improved, never changed. It was never fun to read. I never ever once said, "OMG I need to get this months Gourmet!"

Saveur is, what Gourmet SHOULD have morphed into. y/n?

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I'm confused the more I read the reactions about the demise of Gourmet. I don't read American food periodicals regularly due to cost and availability, so I don't have my own opinion on what the magazine is today, but I'm seeing two general kinds of reaction emerge: Ruth Reichl saved/modernized Gourmet and Ruth Reichl ruined Gourmet. It seems the audience for the magazine was divided over what they expected the magazine to deliver. If the magazine used to be less ad-driven, but is now, in its ad-heavier version, being shuttered due to decreasing ad revenue, we can only wonder if it was ever profitable. I guess advertisers saw that their market for Viking ranges and Italy wine tours (or similar) shrinking, and reacted accordingly. I wonder if anyone with older, pre-Reichl copies, could tell us the type of ads the magazine used to run in comparison to recent issues. Has there been a dramatic change?

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This is what I think of when I think of Gourmet. And the wonderful compilation cookbooks I own.

As many of you know, Gourmet’s subtitle is “The Magazine of Good Living.” Mrs. Montant had worked at the magazine under the original owner, Earle R. MacAusland. Mrs Montant was loyal to Mr. MacAusland’s mission and often reminded us what “Good Living” really meant.

She’d often tell us that Good Living did indeed involve trips to fabulous country houses and seaside villas. Of course, it involved fabulous croissants in Paris and truffles in Italy she’d tell us. But, more importantly, she reminded us that Good Living could be found in the simplest things, such as a perfect cup of tea served in a beautiful bone china tea cup. She’d often tell us that Good Living didn’t have to involve a lot of money or travel to far flung places. It really just involved an appreciation for the littlest things right here at home.

I’ve taken this philosophy to heart for many years now, and it continues to guide me on a daily basis. Of course, I love to travel and dine out. But, I realize that I can only have those luxuries in fits and starts. I’ve learned to take pleasure in life’s little luxuries—a great local oyster cooked over the campfire or a day cruising on the Puget Sound with the wind in my face and my children at my side.

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I've bought my last Conde Nast magazine. Seriously.


Edited by violetfox (log)

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If I read it correctly, this morning's NYT characterized Gourmet as upper class and Bon Apetit as more middle class. I'm not sure that's how I would have described the difference. Over the years I have intermittently had subscriptions to both. At one point I was convinced that BA simply had more recipes, so I went back and counted recipes in both magazines from the same time period. I was correct, though the difference in no. of recipes per issue was not as much as I had thought. Then I went through the recipes that I had either clipped and saved from these two magazines, or flagged and saved. In the last 5-10 years, more recipes from BA have established themselves in my rotation than those from Gourmet. Some of those have come off Epicurious rather than print editions.

Both magazines have changed in the last few years, but Gourmet has changed more. There is far more emphasis on travel than on home-cooking than that magazine used to have, and more generally than BA had or has now. If that difference reflects a difference in readers' income, so that Gourmet readers are more likely to eat out and spend money on travel than the readers of BA, who apparently do more home-cooking, then I suppose it's about the economy, and diversified readership.

One example of the emphasis that for me has been a turn-off about Gourmet is the use in the last year or two of two-page photo spreads, in which each page is devoted only to one plate/dish looking huge and beautiful. I prefer smaller photos that illustrate more recipes. Personally, I don't buy a culinary magazine for fashion photography; good quality smaller pix are enough to make me want to tackle something, which is what it's about, at least for me. The amount of space devoted to huge photographs seemed wasted.

The fact is, in these times I don't subscribe to either; I go on Epicurious and scan the recipes instead. I love getting a food rag in the mail, so my daughter gave me a subscription to Fine Cooking a couple of years ago, and that's the only one I get now. For some reason I'm in the habit of buying one or the other in the airport before I fly, but I usually base my purchase on a quick page-shuffle and buy whichever strikes my fancy. But I'm sad, since Gourmet has been an institution ever since I can remember. Ruth Reichl was my favorite restaurant critic of all time. I used to look forward to her reviews even though I lived 3,000 miles from the restaurants. She's always been a fun writer, but I agree with several posters above, that she didn't do much that I liked with Gourmet, and perhaps she'll be free to do more writing now and less editing.

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So will it become a web-only entity? Seems like far too valuable a brand to fade into oblivion. I can't say that I liked the recent trend toward photo-heavy, idealized party scenes: boring as hell, with too little writing about the food and too many pics of lovely people dining outdoors, or by the lake, or in a Parisian apartment, etc. My subscription would have lapsed long ago, except for the $12 annual rate. I'm still subscribing to Saveur, but it's substantially less interesting than in the early years.

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This is a painful subject. Seriously; I'm about to dig through the bags under the bathroom vanity for old opiates.

I pulled a muscle digging around in the cellar to check on my Gourmet back issue collection. I'd boxed them in ten year increments in Rubbermaid tubs but I hadn't checked on their condition for years. My Dad was in the meat packing business back in WWII and they bought ads in magazine from issue one. They received a complimentary subscription that my Mom hoarded over the years.

I received my own subscription for my thirteenth birthday back in '65 and have kept it current through good years and bad. My sister thought me crazy that I didn't chuck the pile out when Mom passed away twenty years ago. I didn't. That makes me the proud owner of a complete set of Gourmet from 1941 to date. I wish I could say they were all in mint shape. Many have suffered kitchen mishaps. I read each one when they arrived, usually with a special snack and snifter.

Now that it is gone, I'm torn about my next move: Should I re-box them and schlep them back to the cellar or perhaps a defiant bonfire in the fire-pit. I'm torn. Sad Sad news.

Monty Burr :sad:

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I think there were a lot of unknowns in terms of how this came to pass. The Wall Street Journal article by Russell Adams today said "Gourmet presented the most difficult call. Executives considered reducing the magazine's frequency, according to people familiar with the talks, but the November issue will be the last." You can't tell me that was just a boardroom-only discussion...but I don't know the culture at Conde Nast.

Good article by Adam Hanft on the Huffington Post: Gourmet Starved to Death

Their website is what people in the industry charitably call Web 1.0, meaning that it is essentially a one-way, digital version of the magazine. Even now, there aren't any meaningful, interactive, Web 2.0 tools and functionality. No blogs, no data feeds, no profound user-contributory mechanism, minimal video.

Check out the site, while you still can, and you'll see what I mean. You'll be greeted by big, luscious, sexy photographs. The editors are trying to replicate the magazine experience, and that's dead wrong. Content-providers (hateful term, but clear) who succeed online do so because they are able to create experiences that take advantage of the medium. People who love food don't need to have half of their screen colonized by shots of sexualized pomegranates. They want lots of timely, useful, information - much of it local. They want to share ideas and recipes.

Meanwhile, while Gourmet has been dozing, a vast and lively food ecosystem has exploded online, faster than early-spring asparagus - much of which could and should have been part of the Gourmet online presence.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-hanft/gourmet-starved-to-death_b_311687.html

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Both magazines have changed in the last few years, but Gourmet has changed more. There is far more emphasis on travel than on home-cooking than that magazine used to have, and more generally than BA had or has now. If that difference reflects a difference in readers' income, so that Gourmet readers are more likely to eat out and spend money on travel than the readers of BA, who apparently do more home-cooking, then I suppose it's about the economy, and diversified readership.

See, yeah......I don't think I agree with this. IMHO, it's the opposite. I used to subscribe to Gourmet probably 25-30 years ago, and it was MUCH more travel-centric and much less geared to the home cook. Stodgy is how I'd describe it then. That was why I dropped it then, and, after another 2 or 3 years of subscribing, dropped it again about 5 years ago. But when I'd pick it up recently at the grocery store (like the last 2 years or so....) it was more about things *I* could do. Even if it were based on haute cuisine concepts, they seemed to be making an effort to make those recipes accessible. Less stories about the private chefs on the yachts with the magnums of Dom, and more about "here's how you make the latest/hotest/trendiest dishes in YOUR kitchen". They still took you to the Riviera, but told you how you could cook that food in Long Beach. Or Lodi. Or Lompoc.

And the writing never really faded.......or disappointed. The photography was part of the allure, I think. It was the "artsy-fartsy" side of the magazine, and that was part of the appeal, at least to me.

But finally, yes, more actual writing by Reichel can't be a bad thing, even though it comes at the price of passing of the icon that was Gourmet.

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Interestingly enough, the average income of a bon apetite subscriber was higher than a gourmet subscriber. 88K vs 81K.

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I think the magazines have different audiences, or at the very least, they cover different topics. I think it's a bit simplistic to say that publishing two magazines about food is overkill. Is Toyota being stupid by selling a Highlander and a 4Runner, or Gatorade by selling both berry and orange flavors?

There's consolidation occurring in the auto industry too, for example the retiring of the Pontiac brand.

The assumption that the magazines are so different may not hold up under a side-by-side comparison. I do think Gourmet offers better writing, in general, so on balance I'd much rather keep Gourmet. But it's actually hard to open to a random page of each magazine and guess which one you're looking at. And do they really have such different audiences?

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So does anyone know when the last issue will be? I wonder if they will be refunding money, probably not.

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My thoughts too. It is a sad event in the cooking world that the Gourmet mag is being shut down at a time when "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is on the top of the charts. To me, both go hand in hand.

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Last issue is November.

This plan to continue the brand seems odd to me. Short-term, I get. Today's NYT contains an article on the whole mess that has Reichl city-hopping to promote the new cookbook, Gourmet Today:

Over the course of nearly 70 years, Gourmet has a recipe database enviable in both size and quality. The pool is so deep that Gourmet compiled a cookbook of more than 1,000 recipes in 2006, then turned around and published more than 1,000 more in “Gourmet Today,” which arrived — in one of the industry’s great moments of bad timing — in September.

“It feels like the last act of this magazine should be to support this book,” said Ms. Reichl, who is heading to the Midwest this week to promote it.

As an aside, I can't imagine a more awful way to spend the fall than spending it making money for the folks who just axed your magazine. Makes sense to me that "she and her staff gathered bottles of wine and liquor from the office and held a wake at her apartment" (and how nice that they have such a cache, unlike, say, my office).

So, ok, they promote the cookbook. And then what? Take the Gourmet brand, which made its mark on high-quality, long-form magazine food writing, dump the rest of the recipe database onto epicurious.com, and try to sell "Gourmet" as quality new media? As a fan of the magazine dating way back (and as someone deeply involved in new media right here in eG Forums), the irony is perplexing.

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November will be the last issue. They won't even finish off the year. What a pity.

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it's always sad when a great magazine folds. I liked gourmet as I like many others that are still out there. I'd never have thought Gourmet would be the one to fold though.

As for their (and other magazine's) website, I don't know if I ever looked at it. I like magazines as I can read them in comfort anywhere, I can make notes, cut things out, etc. I spend a ton of time online, but reading magazines or news is not high on my to do list. I prefer my paper in the morning with my cup of coffee. Maybe once I have a screen built into the table, otherwise no thanks.

If I look for a recipe I google and might end up on gourmet's site, otherwise I can't see the site alone being a business that will be around much longer, once the magazine (that actually does try to send you to the site) is gone.

Sad, no matter the personalities etc. It was an icon.

Oh well.

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kind of ironic, I just pulled my subscription confirmation to Gourmet out of my mailbox...

I'm sad to see it go, maybe they'll bring it back some day.

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Today there was an op-ed in the New York Times by Christopher Kimball, the editor of Cook's Illustrated, about the death of Gourmet. I thought it was about as poorly reasoned and self-indulgent an op-ed as could have been written on the subject.

Rather than provide any insight into the reasons behind the closing of Gourmet, Kimball talks about himself and then attacks the internet. It's always entertaining to see out-of-touch print editors pontificate about the internet. Kimball, after expressing his pride that Cook's Illustrated is alive and Gourmet is not (Conde Nast apparently put the old Cook's magazine out of business), argues that:

The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up.

And then goes on to stand bravely against the tide of mediocrity represented by the internet:

To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice.

I hate to break it to Mr. Kimball, but in my corner of the internet a lot of people think Cook's Illustrated is the lowbrow, lowest-common-denominator source -- the one where their tasting panels often conclude that supermarket brands of pasta and chocolate are better than superior products. The one about which Steve Klc posted here years ago, saying a variant of what many of us have said over time:

Cook's Illustrated, which has also quoted me in the past, is descending along a degrading, dumbed-down and frankly boring road that will ensure its marginalization and irrelevance. A far cry from the mid to late 80's--when it was known as "The Cook's Magazine" and without doubt the most interesting food magazine in the country--savvy, significant and knowing, read and appreciated by home and pro cooks alike.

Kimball's confused misunderstanding of new media is not uncommon. Dinosaurs of all stripes believe the internet -- which is the most diverse medium in the history of media by several orders of magnitude -- is a single thing. But the internet encompasses examples of mediocrity, highbrow brilliance and everything in between. So, for example, Holly Hughes, who edits the Best Food Writing book each year, was recently quoted in an interview in Publishers Weekly saying:

We have to regard these major foodie sites like eGullet and Culinate as the same as magazines. The writing there is a little greater volume and a little bit more uneven, but the good writing there is as good as the good writing published in any glossy magazine.

The true story of the death of Gourmet remains to be written. But consider this: Yes, there's a recession. Yes, the new media have put pressure on the old. But plenty of magazines -- Bon Appetit chief among them but also Saveur and Food & Wine -- are still in business and, as far as I know, profitable using an advertiser-supported model. So what's different about Gourmet, which if anything is a more iconic brand than any other food magazine? It's hard to escape the conclusion that it's an editorial failure. Maybe Ruth Reichl, while a brilliant author, critic, speaker, personality, artist and promoter, is not such a brilliant magazine editor.

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Kimball's op ed adds little to the discussion, it's true, except to testify to the fact that he, and the NY Times, seems unable to appreciate the editorial challenges for someone trying to balance both old and new media. However that history is written, Gourmet is likely to end up an object lesson in business school courses for misunderstanding the nature of the contemporary culture of food (and for taking a nearly unassailable brand down with the ship).

In particular, the magazine was clearly trying to be all things for all people lately. Here in eG Forums, members can focus their attention on cocktails, NYC restaurants, Top Chef, bread dough, or any of a thousand of other interests, and easily ignore the freakish obsessives talking about cocktails, NYC restaurants, Top Chef, and bread dough.

Not so easy when you pick up an issue of Gourmet (or any other magazine). Hardcore cooking readers looking for multiday recipes are annoyed if their magazine has a four-page spread featuring models eating tapas on a Napa ranch, whereas others love the Gourmet Institute/star chef/product tie-ins for the celebrity culture they promote. One wants Entertainment-Weekly-styled bits and bites, with fifteen tweets on a catch-all page; another wants long-form journalism with subtle arguments and careful research.

As a result, in its final years the magazine had seemed a bit desperate editorially, trying to support this trend or that format even if one jarred with the other. But in old media, you can't read about baking principles, bake and ice one gateau and one yummy choco-monster cake, and eat 'em all, too.

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