1
Fighting the bear with pea shooter? Publishing companies’
online strategies
Miia Kosonen
Lappeenranta University of Tech...
2
between strategic objectives and means, i.e. firm capabilities and the available resources. The
research questions can b...
3
i.e. the so-called dynamic capabilities required for building new capabilities by combining
existing ones, vs. capabilit...
4
Figure 1. Theoretical framework
Methods and data collection
The choice of research design was based on the objectives of...
5
Altogether, 19 interviews were conducted during the year 2009. The interviews themes
covered issues related to publisher...
6
Regarding tangible resources, for publishers it was mostly about content produced by the
editorials. However, the interv...
7
to the fact that newspapers were targeted to a wider audience and perhaps lacked a ‘niche’
type of interest that would s...
8
company representatives underlined how important it would be to have internal ‘champions’
or key persons who would be ab...
9
product (amount of subscriptions), while also gaining more visibility for the well-established
brand:
"For the newspaper...
10
Discussion
The aim of this study was to identify publishers’online strategies, and to explore the linkage
between strat...
11
From managerial point of view, this study carries several implications. As many publishing
companies have faced severe ...
12
Bowman, E.H. and Hurry, D. 1993. Strategy through the options lens: An integrated view of
resource investments and incr...
13
Valanto, V., Ellonen, H. Kosonen, M. Are publishers ready for tomorrow? Publishers’
capabilities and online innovation....
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Publishing companies online strategies

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Publishing companies online strategies

  1. 1. 1 Fighting the bear with pea shooter? Publishing companies’ online strategies Miia Kosonen Lappeenranta University of Technology, School of Business, Finland miia.kosonen@lut.fi Abstract The rise of the Internet and digitalization are strongly influencing the media industry. They are changing the existing market dynamics and activities, and thus require new strategies. The purpose of this paper is to explore the strategic impact of online services in newspaper and magazine publishing. Drawing on a comparative case study of six publishing companies, the study examines how the strategic objectives and means, i.e. firm capabilities and the available resources, match with each other. Based on the study, it seems that there is asymmetry as publishers have aimed at targeting a too wide a set of objectives with the provision of online services but with very limited resources. With their existing resources and capabilities, publishers seem to get support to their strategic objectives regarding brand support and being closer to customers. Yet considering the long-term strategic objectives – growth and profitability –the available resources and capabilities remain a pea shooter with which it is impossible to shoot ‘the profitability bear’. The study identifies new capability areas that are required in order to set up novel types of online applications and also target new customer groups with them. Keywords strategy, online strategy, publishing companies, media business Introduction In recent years, the media industry has been confronted by complex and rapid change, high competition, new forms of production and distribution, and also entirely new types of products (Küng, 2004, Chan-Olmsted, 2006). Researchers have followed this development and proposed that the rise of the Internet and digitalization are strongly influencing the industry. They are changing the existing market dynamics and activities, and thus require new strategies (Doyle, 2002). While several researchers (Doyle, 2002, Küng, 2004, Chan-Olmsted, 2006) have noted the dramatic changes that are going on in the industry, current research fails to address the competitive implications of this development. Respectively, Shaver and Shaver (2006) have called for studies investigating strategic issues to do with the Internet in media industries (see also Ellonen, 2007, Ellonen and Kuivalainen, 2007). The purpose of this paper is to explore the strategic impact of online services in newspaper and magazine publishing. In particular, the study focuses on the perceived match/mismatch
  2. 2. 2 between strategic objectives and means, i.e. firm capabilities and the available resources. The research questions can be stated as the following: 1. What kind of online strategies do publishing companies have? 2. How do publishing companies’strategic objectives and means (resources and capabilities) match with each other? The rest of the paper is structured as follows: firstly, the theoretical background of the study is shortly introduced. Thereafter, research design, methods and data are described, after which the empirical findings are presented. The paper concludes by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of the study. Theoretical background Competitive advantage is a central concept in strategy research and refers to the ability of a firm to outperform its industry and create above-average returns or rents (Besanko et al., 2000). However, strategy theories differ in terms of explanatory factors used investigating the sources of competitive advantage (Rumelt 1991, McGahan and Porter, 1997, Hawawini et al., 2003). Since 1990’s, the dominating view in strategy research has been the so-called resource-based view that links competitive advantage to the rare and value-creating resources and capabilities of a single company. The central tenet of the resource-based view is that a firm is a bundle of idiosyncratic resources and capabilities (Wernerfelt, 1984, Barney, 1991, Peteraf, 1993). Resources are tangible or intangible assets that a firm possesses, controls, or has access to, and from which it may potentially derive rents (Helfat and Peteraf, 2003), whereas capabilities reflect firm’s capacity to deploy these resources (Amit and Schoemaker, 1993). Respectively, firms are heterogeneous with regard to the resources and capabilities they possess. Firms endowed with superior resources are able to produce more economically and/or better satisfy customer needs. According to Barney (1991), a firm’s competitive advantage is based on its valuable, rare, imperfectly imitable and non-substitutable resources, i.e. so-called VRIN attributes. In addition, both ex post limits on competition and imperfect mobility of resources are needed for the sustainability of rents (Peteraf, 1993). In summary, resource-based view of the firm can be seen as a ‘meta-theory’behind the strategy selection, building and operationalization of the strategy in firms. Grant (2002) has categorized resources as tangible, intangible, and human resources. While tangible resources are financial or physical in nature, intangible ones may consist e.g. of technology and culture. Taking the human-bound nature of knowledge into account, knowledge and skills are approached as human resources (Grant, 2002). Such knowledge- based resources are non-imitable and cannot be replicated due to their nature (Amit and Schoemaker, 1993). In this research, the three-part categorization of tangible, intangible and human resources was applied as the basis of the examination, in order to provide a comprehensive view on different types of resources related to publishers’online operations. Capabilities, in turn, can be classified based on their type, content and input in firms’value creation processes. Typically a distinction is made between higher vs. lower level capabilities,
  3. 3. 3 i.e. the so-called dynamic capabilities required for building new capabilities by combining existing ones, vs. capabilities that are needed in everyday operations (e.g. Teece et al., 1997, Danneels, 2002). Further, these operational capabilities can be classified as customer-related (market) and technology-related capabilities (Abernathy and Clark, 1985, Danneels, 2002). Market capabilities consist of customer knowledge, meeting customer needs, customer relationships, and channels for customer communication, while technology capabilities refer to design and manufacturing, production systems and know-how, and managerial skills (Abernathy and Clark, 1985, Danneels, 2002, Valanto et al., forthcoming). As noted by Danneels (2008), market and technology capabilities also have their “second- order”side, such as market sensing and R&D competences. Market sensing refers e.g. to scanning the environment to identify new customers, or access new customers. Second-order technology capabilities (R&D competences) reflect the firms’ability to identify promising opportunities and set up new production facilities. Such explorative organizational learning is needed to build new capabilities to serve new markets, or to use new technologies. This study follows the classification by Danneels (2002, 2008) and approaches capabilities as market and technology-based, carrying elements of both operational (first-order) and dynamic (second- order) capabilities. Finally, firms’ strategies emerge from resources (Bowman and Hurry, 1993). Hence, resources can be perceived as assets that are addressed to reach the strategy purposes. Grant (2002) summarizes firm strategy as a way to match the resources and capabilities to opportunities in the external environment. For the purposes of the current study, we approach media companies’online strategy as a pre-defined set of goals and objectives regarding online markets, shaped alongside the available resources and capabilities. Figure 1 summarizes the research framework.
  4. 4. 4 Figure 1. Theoretical framework Methods and data collection The choice of research design was based on the objectives of the study. In order to gain new insights from the publishers’perspective, a descriptive and exploratory research strategy was chosen and a qualitative research approach was applied. A comparative case-study approach (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007) was considered suitable for increasing understanding about companies’online strategies, as they remain an understudied area (Shaver and Shaver, 2006). Within this setting, each case is treated as an independent experiment standing on its own as an analytical unit (Yin, 2003). Researchers may justify whether an emergent finding is idiosyncratic to a single case, or consistent within a number of them, by comparing findings from the individual cases (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007). The research setting consisted of six case companies representing both magazine and newspaper publishers, three of each. The sampling approach was purposeful sampling, with a view to reaching information-rich cases (Patton, 2002), while allowing coherence and comparability between cases. In other words, the selected companies were rather symmetric regarding their respective markets and company size, allowing researchers to focus on the similarities and differences regarding online strategy objectives and means. The data collection method was semi-structured interviews (Shank, 2006). Both strategic- level managers and executives/experts responsible for individual newspapers and magazines were interviewed in order to produce complementary insights from each publishing company. RESOURCES Tangible IntangibleHuman Market capabilities First-order Second-order Technology capabilities First-order Second-order ONLINE STRATEGY
  5. 5. 5 Altogether, 19 interviews were conducted during the year 2009. The interviews themes covered issues related to publishers’ strategic objectives in general, market/customers, partners, the development of online services, and the skills and capabilities needed. Also additional questions were made via email to some informants to complement the interview data, particularly in order to tackle the amount of personnel and other resources related to online service provision. The interviews were fully transcribed, resulting in a dataset of 219 text pages. The data analysis was conducted in two phases. First the individual cases were analyzed thoroughly using the above-presented theoretical framework as a base for coding. In the second phase, a cross-case analysis was conducted to find recurrent themes and patterns across cases. In order to maximize the reliability (Kirk and Miller, 1986) of the study, a detailed enough description of the research process should allow the reader to follow the researchers’ reasoning. In terms of validity (Kirk and Miller, 1986) a chain of evidence (Yin, 2003) was built, using the Atlas TI program as a coding tool. Results Resources Editorial skills and multi-channel journalism represented a key internal resource for all studied publishers. The core of publishing companies’operations was to produce valuable content that customers could not obtain elsewhere. This required understanding on e.g. what types of content is appropriate and of enough high quality. Many interviewees also highlighted the necessity of being able to produce content across a variety of channels and not focusing only on print publishing: “If we do not exist online, we do not exist for younger readers at all.”(Editor-in-chief) However, a problematic issue was the limited internal resources for developing and updating the online services. In many cases, there were no technical resources at all and the editorial content-creation online was expected to be executed “on the side”. This had resulted in increased workload and rigidity of online service provision: even minor changes in publishing systems had been difficult to implement. Taking the lack of internal resources into account, external know-how was increasingly utilized in particular through partnerships with web service providers and through building networks with other media companies operating in same types of markets. Many of the interviewees noted how even the publishers had started to ‘open themselves to the outer world’, its opportunities and synergies; earlier, they typically relied only on internal resources. “Through partnerships, we gain visibility also outside our circulation area.”(Editor-in-chief) “Being online requires not only content… It is reasonable to buy technical know-how from outside the house.”(Editor-in-chief)
  6. 6. 6 Regarding tangible resources, for publishers it was mostly about content produced by the editorials. However, the interviewees pointed out how the role of external content generated by users or advertisers was gaining more ground, and the online services were seen to support networking with external stakeholders by nature. Another distinctive resource was the customer base and increasingly also the e-community of users/customers. Particularly for some magazine publishers, the active community of online customers represented a focal and unique resource, allowing them to establish close relationships with their audience while providing access to a wealth of customer information and discussions. As one interviewee described, “our online service practically equals with the community”. The most salient intangible resources were newspaper and magazine brands. In addition, the available Internet technologies and online applications also represented an important resource for publishers’operations. As noted earlier, these were typically accessed through technology partnerships, at best leading to innovative website solutions combining in-house content with external knowledge. Figure 2 summarizes the identified resources. Figure 2. Online-related resources in publishing companies Capabilities Regarding market capabilities, both newspapers and magazines were considered as reliable authorities in their own field. Respectively, their role was to provide spaces for customers to interact in a ‘safe place’, and to bridge different people together. Across a variety of cases the interviewees underlined the importance of such community-hosting capabilities; however, regarding online markets and hosting online communities, magazine publishers were in general considered to have succeeded better in this task than newspapers. This may be related HUMAN TANGIBLE INTANGIBLE internal external Editorial skills, multi-channel journalism Partnerships, external know-how Customer base, e-communities Editorial content Content by users and advertisers Brands Technology, online applications
  7. 7. 7 to the fact that newspapers were targeted to a wider audience and perhaps lacked a ‘niche’ type of interest that would support community formation. Another focal aspect of market capabilities was being able to acquire and harness customer knowledge. One of the interviewees described the need to not only gain customer knowledge, but to take customers’thinking into account in every situation: “The key is the ability to live the readers’everyday life.”(Internet producer) Communicating with customers was important for the daily routines in terms of being able to provide attractive content and thus meet customer needs, but it also manifested companies’ ability to sense their market, i.e. second-order market capabilities: “Via the online service we get a huge amount of information about what our target group thinks and wants.”(Editor-in-chief) At the same time, the publishers pointed out how they were lacking systematic means to deploy online customer knowledge. In other words, the internal processes of providing the online services were not yet aligned with the knowledge residing in customers. Another problematic issue with market capabilities was the publishers’ability to provide appropriate customer applications, regarding consumer audience but business customers in particular. For instance, the interviewees described how they lack competence related to online advertising and selling, while customers would expect publishers to take an expert role and be able to offer also novel solutions. “Our business customers would need practical guidance, consulting, about how each of them should implement their advertisement solutions.”(Editor-in-chief) Typically, most publishers relied on simple banner advertisements. Only the largest publishing companies –which were not involved in this study –were seen to have succeeded in selling online services. This was recognized as an important field of capability development, as the online advertising markets are growing notably. All in all, the studied companies yet considered market capabilities as their relative strength. In contrast, across all cases the publishers’technology capabilities were perceived as relatively weak. This is related to the nature of their operational work, where providing content is a key area and technology only provides the necessary facilities. Respectively, the strongest capability area was matching channel and content, which is also identified as a novel dimension of technology capabilities. Due to their relatively long history in providing online news and content, the studied publishers had been able to develop their related operational competences. At the same time the publishers felt incapable of evaluating the available technological solutions, selecting appropriate technologies, and modifying them. This was in issue of internal coordination and collaboration capability: as one of the interviewees illustrated, the corporation posed a lot of technological know-how but it was difficult to repatriate in the local units. Taking their limited resources and capabilities into account, in many cases the
  8. 8. 8 company representatives underlined how important it would be to have internal ‘champions’ or key persons who would be able to speak both technical and journalistic language and operate in that interface. In cases where such persons were available, the operational tools had been better aligned to match the unit’s needs and also novel online solutions had been successfully implemented. “It is not about lack of ideas or visions… but if we then try to define which kind of online tools and applications we would like to have, we cannot say.”(Development manager) Secondly, enhanced online service development in terms of project management facilities and R&D was called for. The studied publishers were largely in the stage of learning: as one interviewee noted, they have not had tradition of doing systematic development work but R&D has rather operated “on the corridor level”. However, a lot of effort had been put to restructuring the organization to better serve the provision of online services. “We have systematically started to lead the online operations.”(Development manager) “At least now we have an own unit to do online business, finally.”(Editor-in-chief) Figure 3 summarizes the identified capabilities. Figure 3. Online-related capabilities in publishing companies Online strategy objectives Regarding online strategy objectives in the long run, all the studied publishers emphasized the growth objective (amount of online customers, both readers and advertisers) and making the online services profitable. Naturally these were also the most important objectives. In the short run, publishers aimed at using their online services as a vehicle to support the print MARKET CAPABILITIES TECHNOLOGY CAPABILITIES Dynamic, 2nd order Static/1st order, operational Customer knowledge Customer applications Customer communication Community hosting Channel & content Project management R&D collaboration Restructuring Market sensing
  9. 9. 9 product (amount of subscriptions), while also gaining more visibility for the well-established brand: "For the newspapers the role of the Internet is increasing all the time, it’s creating and strengthening our brand." (Development manager) In addition, the nature of the online services allowed publishers to ‘hear the voice of customers’and establish a closer relationship with their target audience. However, there were only a few cases explicitly identifying it as a strategic objective, and it still carries contradictory elements. It seemed that all magazine publishers highlighted the importance of getting closer to customers’thinking and nurturing customer relationships online, while newspaper publishers were rather uncertain about how online services would eventually support this objective in comparison to the long tradition of print publishing. In other words, they approached the provision of online services as rather taking them further off from their customers, and were searching for means to get closer to the audience. “How people use the Net… We can never establish such a close relationship there, as our print newspaper does.”(Development manager) “The first role is to support the print. That’s where our money comes from. From the net, we get coins. The second role is to make our coins bigger, to get some earning logic to the online service.”(Managing editor) There were also cases characterized by a hope that online services would turn profitable, but no specific online strategy development work had yet been conducted. This could be seen as a classical ‘hen-egg’dilemma: resources would be allocated to online strategy work only after online operations would pay off, but turning them more profitable through online service development was practically impossible because of the limited resources. Finally, figure 4 summarizes the identified online strategy objectives along a timeline (t) and demonstrates their relative weight in the studied publishing companies. Figure 4. Online strategy objectives Having presented the results of the empirical study, the next sections will summarize the key findings and suggest some practical implications and future research directions. GROWTH, ATTRACTING MORE ONLINE CUSTOMERS BRAND SUPPORT AND VISIBILITY more subscriptions BEING CLOSER TO CUSTOMERS LONG-TERM PROFITABLE ONLINE SERVICES t
  10. 10. 10 Discussion The aim of this study was to identify publishers’online strategies, and to explore the linkage between strategic objectives and the available resources and capabilities. Based on the current study, it seems that there is asymmetry, i.e. mismatch between online strategy objectives and the available means. This implies that the systematic development of online strategies should be paid more attention to, instead of trying to target too wide a set of objectives with the provision of online services. Figure 5 summarizes the findings of the study. With their existing resources and capabilities, publishers seem to get support to their strategic objectives regarding brand support and being closer to customers. However, considering the long-term strategic objectives, the available resources and capabilities remain a pea shooter with which it is impossible to shoot ‘the profitability bear’; instead, new capability areas are required in order to set up novel types of online applications and also target new customer groups with them. Figure 5. Results of the study Based on the results, it seems that there are certain market and technology capability dimensions that are of specific relevance for operating in online service markets. These include community hosting capabilities, meeting customer needs with online applications, and the related channel & content capabilities which illustrate the match between technology and content. Online services provide publishers direct and on-going channels for maintaining customer relationships and gaining customer knowledge, while allowing increased feedback and pools of content generated by both consumers and advertisers. Editorial skills and content, multi-channel journalism Brands BRAND SUPPORT, VISIBILITY Partnerships, external content, online applications BEING CLOSER TO CUSTOMERS GROWTH, ATTRACTING MORE CUSTOMERS LONG-TERM PROFITABILITY OF ONLINE SERVICES Customer knowledge Customer applications Customer communication Community hosting Channel & content Project management R&D collaboration Restructuring Market sensing operational capabilities dynamic capabilities
  11. 11. 11 From managerial point of view, this study carries several implications. As many publishing companies have faced severe problems in turning online news and content profitable, they should opt for experimenting online and developing market-related capabilities that are needed to serve both advertisers and consumers. In order to achieve the strategic objectives, more emphasis should thus be given on developing new capabilities instead of focusing on the traditionally strong capability areas. The results indicate that publishers need to 1) develop organizational structures by resourcing in independent online units, 2) develop their R & D and project management skills, 3) establish partnerships in order to develop their collaboration capabilities 4) target also new customer groups online, and 5) develop their community-hosting capabilities by providing customers spaces for interaction. According to Grant (2002), strategy should be a manifestation of firm’s resources and capabilities. However, without systematic development effort, online strategy objectives may fall into their invidiousness. It would be valuable to initiate the strategy development process by mapping the resources and capabilities available vs. the resources and capabilities needed. Conclusions The contribution of the study was twofold. Firstly, it added to the literature of media management by explicating publishing companies’ online strategies and providing a categorization of their strategic objectives and means to reach the objectives. Secondly, by revealing certain mismatches between strategic objectives and resources and capabilities, it gave practical insight on how to better align the publishing organizations for online services and operations. An obvious limitation of this study is that it investigated six cases operating in the same type of markets in Finland. Future research endeavors should be conducted to further test and validate the identified capability dimensions within the industry, e.g. to gain a detailed understanding about the content and nature of community-hosting capabilities that are needed for breeding customer interactions. Taking the changing media landscape and advances in social-media types of online services into account, such capabilities are of specific relevance also for future media business. References Abernathy, W.J. and Clark, K.B., 1985. Innovation: Mapping the winds of creative destruction. Research Policy, Vol. 14, pp 3-22. Amit, R. and Schoemaker, P.J.H. 1993. Strategic assets and organizational rent. Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 14 No 1, pp 33-46. Barney, J.B. 1991. Firm Resources and Sustained Competitive Advantage. Journal of Management, Vol. 17 No 1, pp 99-120. Besanko, D., Dranove, D. and Shanley, M. 2000. Economics of Strategy. 2nd edition. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
  12. 12. 12 Bowman, E.H. and Hurry, D. 1993. Strategy through the options lens: An integrated view of resource investments and incremental-choice process. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 18, No 4, pp 760-82. Chan-Olmsted, S.M. 2006. Issues in strategic management. In Albarran, A. B., Chan- Olmsted, S. M. and Wirth, M. O. (Eds) Handbook of Media Management and Economics, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey, 161-180. Dannels, E. 2002. The dynamics of product innovation and firm competences. Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 23, No 12, pp 1095-1121. Danneels, E. 2008. Organizational antecedents of second-order competences. Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 29, No 5, pp 519-543. Doyle, G. 2002. Understanding Media Economics. Sage Publications, London. Eisenhardt, K.M. and Graebner, M.E. 2007. Theory building from cases: opportunities and challenges. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 50, No 1, pp 25-32. Ellonen, HK. 2007. Exploring the strategic impact of technological change –Studies on the role of the Internet in magazine publishing. Acta Universitatis Lappeenrantaensis 261. Ellonen, HK. and Kuivalainen, O. 2007. Magazine publishers and their online strategies: Review and implications for research and online strategy formulation. International Journal of Technology Marketing, Vol. 2 No 1, pp 81-100. Grant, R.M. 2002. Contemporary strategy analysis: concepts, techniques, applications. Blackwell, Massachusetts. Hawawini, G., Subramanian, V. and Verdin, P. 2003. Is performance driven by industry- or firm-specific factors? A new look at the evidence. Strategic Management Journal Vol. 24, pp 1-16. Helfat, C.E. and Peteraf, M.A. 2003. The dynamic resource-based view: capability lifecycles. Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 24, pp 997-1010. Kirk, J. and Miller, M.L. 1986. Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research, Sage Publications, Newbury Park. Küng, L. 2004. What makes media firms tick? Exploring the hidden drivers of firm performance. In Picard, R. G. (ed). Strategic Responses to Media Market Changes. JIBS Research Reports Series No. 2004-2. McGahan, A.M. and Porter, M.E. 1997. How much does industry matter, really? Strategic Management Journal Vol. 18, pp 15-30. Patton, M.Q. 2002. Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks. Peteraf, M. A. 1993. The cornerstones of competitive advantage: a resource-based perspective. Strategic Management Journal Vol. 14 No 3, 179-191. Rumelt, R.P. 1991. How much does industry matter? Strategic Management Journal Vol. 12, pp167-185. Shank, G.D. 2006. Qualitative Research. A Personal Skills Approach, 2nd edition. Pearson Education, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Shaver, D. and Shaver, M.A. 2006. Directions for media management research in the 21st century. In Albarran, A. B., Chan-Olmsted, S. M. and Wirth, M. O. (Eds) Handbook of Media Management and Economics, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey, 639-654. Teece, D.J, Pisano, G., Shuen, A., 1997. Dynamic capabilities and strate-gic management. Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 18, pp 509-533. Yin, R. 2003. Case Study Research. Design and Methods, 3rd Edition. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.
  13. 13. 13 Valanto, V., Ellonen, H. Kosonen, M. Are publishers ready for tomorrow? Publishers’ capabilities and online innovation. International Journal of Innovation Management, forthcoming. Wernerfelt, B. 1984. A resource-based view of the firm. Strategic Management Journal Vol. 5 No 2, pp 171-180.

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