There’s No Need to Change Amazon’s Kindle eBook Return Policy

oEKiurzzuCtigWf-556x313-noPad[1]Have you ever returned a Kindle ebook? That option might soon be going away, thanks to a petition over at Change.org.

The petition calls on Amazon to change their customer-friendly Kindle ebook return policy. Even though this petition is only 4 days old it has over 2 thousand signatures from authors and publishers, all of whom want Amazon to now block some types of returns.

The petitioners don’t see the return policy as reassurance to readers that we can return a poorly written or poorly formatted ebook. Instead they view it as a loophole that is being gamed by serial returnees.

There is some truth to this idea, but would it surprise you to know that Amazon is a step ahead of serial returnees?

I first read about this petition on GalleyCat, and I was surprised to learn that I was the only one who knew about Part B of Amazon’s return policy.

A lot of authors are bothered by readers who appear to be gaming the system (buying, reading, and returning multiple books) and that is an entirely understandable concern. Amazon is bothered by that as well, and that is why they have long had a policy in place for responding to serial returnees.

If a customer buys and returns too many ebooks, Amazon will put a block on their account and not allow any more Kindle ebooks to be returned. I know this policy exists because I encountered it in 2009.

In December 2009, while I was still blogging for MobileRead, I shared an email that a friend had received from Amazon. It very politely noted that my friend seemed to be buying a lot of Kindle ebooks by mistake:

Hello from Amazon.com.

We’re writing regarding your request of Refunds.

Unfortunately, the number of issues you have sustained with your Kindle Store orders has led us to believe that there might be a larger issue. Since it appears that many of your orders have been accidentally purchased, we ask that you contact Customer Service for troubleshooting in an effort to avoid these issues in the future.

Effective immediately, we are unable to compensate you for any additional issues with your Kindle Store orders.

Thank you for your understanding.

Best regards,

Account Specialist
Amazon.com

So as you can see there’s no need to change the policy. Amazon already has it covered.

I’m not sure whether Amazon sent the email when the returns hit a certain threshold or whether his buying habits fit the pattern of a serial returnee. But I do recall that this email was sent after 30 titles were returned.  In absolute terms that is really not a lot of ebooks; I’ve bought more ebooks than that in a single month.

But it doesn’t really matter why Amazon sent the email; what matters is that they have a policy in place to cover anyone trying to cheat.

Furthermore, I am a little surprised at the number of authors who don’t realize the importance of Amazon’s return policy.  While a few people use it to cheat, the rest of us see it as a promise that we can return a crappy product. This increases the probability that we will take risks with unknown authors.

Few ebookstores have a return policy as generous as Amazon’s. Barnes & Noble does not allow returns at all and nor does Sony. In fact, Google Play Books (and Kobo, or so I am told) are the only significant ebookstore that let you return ebooks.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I would bet that Amazon’s return policy is at least partly responsible for Amazon continuing to dominate the ebook market all the way through Agency pricing. It is is less risky to buy ebooks from Amazon that anywhere else. And TBH if Amazon did not have this policy I would be far more cautious about spending money there.

That is the point that the petitioners seem to have missed. They are upset about the tiny fraction of people who are gaming the system and in order to stop serial returnees the petitioners want to hurt the rest of us as well.

I would say that the cure is worse than the disease, wouldn’t you agree?

76 thoughts on “There’s No Need to Change Amazon’s Kindle eBook Return Policy

  1. Amazon dominates ebooks because they have mindshare and throw more cash at advertisements than the entire market capitalizations of the other ereader companies combined.

    It isn’t because they will return ebooks.

  2. “The petitioners don’t see the return policy as reassurance to readers that we can return a poorly written or poorly formatted ebook. Instead they view it as a loophole that is being gamed by serial returnees.”

    I honestly think you have that entirely backwards. The core issue is precisely that under Amazon’s existing policy they can’t just dump unproofed raw OCR output on us and say “Suck it up, buttercup” without fear of repercussions. Serial returnees gaming the system are a cover for the real concern (and a way to sucker in auctorial support).

  3. I’m always amazed at how quick authors are to form a mob and act stupidly. It reminds me of how they took down that one legit book lending site several months back.

        1. Lendink appears to be a bartering scheme for profit and the evasion of taxes which are due on barter transactions. One wonders how much Lendink will profit now that the affiliate system rules have been modified, and affiliates are not paid if the majority of clicks go to something other than sales.

          Lending is reasonable when a purchaser loves a book and wishes to share it (once, as allowed by Amazon), privately with a friend who is likely to enjoy it.

          When they wish to trade their “lend” of a book with a stranger in exchange for a borrow of another book, that is gaming the system. Moreover, there are sites that encourage members to snag promotional reads when they are free even if the book does not appeal to the member, explicitly for the purpose of subsequently trading the freebie for a book they really want to read.

          1. You have a particularly narrow concept of lending. Libraries and their lending practices must really burn you up. Or do you just believe that a library’s patrons are close personal friends to the library. What about a site like PaperBack Swap (http://www.paperbackswap.com/index.php)? Aren’t they doing pretty much the same thing that Lendink did, but with physical books? In fact, I’m sure that’s an even more egregious sin because those books can be swapped multiple times, unlike the Kindle books which can be lent ONCE FOREVER.

            I should be able to lend my books to anyone I choose, even if I don’t know them personally and have only communicated through an online site. Once I paid for my license for the Kindle book, I’m entitled to ALL my rights within that license, even lending if it is allowed.

            If you have such a problem with eBook lending, don’t allow it on your books, it’s as simple as that. Granted, it’ll take you out of the sweet profit spot, but that’s the choice YOU must make, don’t make it for everyone else.

    1. So, what? We’re just supposed to let Amazon treat our books like library books? We are not stupid because we treat our writing as we should, a business. It takes a lot of time and money to get books out in the different venues. You look young, Tristan. One day you’ll learn cheaters really do prosper, and only as a group can we as authors stop them. As for the free reading site that was taken down, it is probably because writers don’t like writing for free. They pay too much for making a book available to the public. Do you know covers for books can cost in the hundreds to design?

  4. Kobo does allow returns, and always have. I have gotten a few refunds from them for books which had problems. In all cases, they asked for details about what those problems were, and once they verified that I was correct that the book had legit problems, they refunded my money with no problems.

  5. Yet another attempt to erode physical-world, consumer-friendly policies we’ve always enjoyed in the digital space. At this point, I just wanna ask writers backing this kind of garbage why they hate readers so much. I’m starting to agree with Bob Mayer’s take. If these writers hate Amazon’s return policy so much, then pull your books and go with B&N. They don’t even allow returns, that should be their panacea. Of course, maybe they actually want to sell books.

      1. Some authors have earned themselves a lot of scorn.
        The lendlink lynch mob, Scott Turow, Sue Grafton…
        The signees to this petition are good candidates to join that select list. :)

        1. Absolutely. It seems that the underlying problem here is that there are huge numbers of self-publish authors who are absolutely SURE that their book OUGHT to be earning them more money than it is. So when they find that sales are dribbling in at a pathetic rate, it MUST be because somebody is cheating them out of the fame and fortune they deserve.

          Heaven forbid that they consider the notion that people just aren’t buying their book because it’s not worth buying.

          1. As an Amazon author you can see your sales and returns. And when you have a 5 star rating on a top 100 book that is formatted and editing thoroughly. And watch your refund # increase yet the person fails to leave a rating of the book. It can only be classified as scamming. If you are unhappy with a product why shop in the genre. you get to read up to 10% of most books before you buy. 10% is enough to see spelling, grammar and formatting errors. You shouldn’t be able to return a book because you didn’t like how it ended. I can’t return albums to itunes when they suck ass. I have signed the petition asking that amazon change the policy not eliminate it. Seven days is too much of gap to return a book, you can read in seven times in that time frame. Also, there should be a price threshold. Seriously, returning 20 99cent books a month is ludicrous. And thirty returns for a year is still excessive and I read about that in 30 days. The money comes out of the authors pocket. You can’t benefit from a product and then ask for you money back. We stay at amazon because that is where our good honest fans are too. But because of the policy many authors are making up that income by not allowing lending and borrowing. Either way authors are losing out.

  6. Hi Nate, a slightly off topic question: if you’ve on occasion purchased more than 30 ebooks in a month, how many do you tend to read on average? I don’t see where you find all the time ;-)…Dave

  7. I think Amazon’s return policy should be revised, at least. If you read more than 20% of a book, you should no longer be eligible for a refund. That’s enough to determine if the formatting has a problem or the book is just bad.

    1. Tori is correct. Before purchasing any book, read the sample on Amazon. These samples usually contain the first 40 to 60 pages of the book, which should be more than enough for anyone to decide whether or not the book is worth buying. If there’s no sample, don’t buy the book.

      On the flip side, self-published authors need to start reading their own books (not only to hunt down and eradicate mistakes but also to polish and perfect their masterpieces) before submitting them to online vendors for sale. If your own book isn’t interesting enough to hold your attention for a thorough read from start to finish, what makes you think it will hold mine?

  8. I’m wondering within what period of time this person did 30 returns. If it was within a month, that seems excessive.

    With e-books being so inexpensive, I really don’t see why people should get any leeway with returns after 2 days. That’s time enough to know if a book was bought by mistake. Also, it’s their fault if they didn’t read the generous sample first.

    1. Returns aren’t just for mistaken purchases, they are also for poorly constructed ebooks.

      I’ve had Kobo refund a ebook due to obvious construction errors. Amazon just sent me an email letting me know that an ebook I purchased has been updated with better construction, I haven’t opened the original ebook because it hasn’t made it to the top of the TBR pile yet.

      I’m amazed at the level of typos and bad punctuation in purchased ebooks.

      I’ve had ebooks that I’ve purchased that I haven’t opened yet. I haven’t needed to. Yet.

  9. Amazon has never been able to effectively answer my queries about one thing. If they do indeed have a seven-day strict return policy, why do I show, say 100 sales for Book A in January and February combined and 190 returns for the very same book for the very same time period. I’ve graphed out multiple times the discrepancies in the number of returns, which far outnumber the actual number of sales in a given time period, and they’ve never been able to provide an effective answer. It is simple math.

    I had 177% more returns than sales on several titles the entirety of 2012, and no, my December, 2011 wasn’t so successful to make up for that extra 77% in returns. My formatting on said titles were just fine and there were no returns on any of the other venues.

  10. I believe that more information is required to make Nate’s case. For instance, did the serial returner “purchase” more than one e-book by the same author? Did the serial returner avail himself of the free reads, the look-inside opportunities, the legal lending on Amazon, the blurbs and reviews, and many other free opportunities to check out the writing and formatting of any work before “buying”?

    How many e-books did he buy and keep?
    Did he rate or write reviews of any of the e-books he returned?

    30 returns may seem fair to Nate, but that is potentially 30 authors who were not compensated at all before one serial returner was asked to mend his ways.

      1. Amazon tracks returns.
        Amazon also terminates accounts of people that *do* game the system.

        Considering that serial returners generate no revenue for Amazon but generate download charges they would be the most interested party in kicking them off the system, no?
        Either you trust them to apply their rules or you don’t.
        If you don’t, peace of mind alone would suggest you take your business elsewhere.

        1. Actually, authors get charged for download too, so much per book! As a reader I have returned books, because I read so many books that often I’ve forgotten that I’ve actually read xyz book in paper format. I’m pleased to see Amazon does have a watch on serial returners. As this is the digital world, surely Amazon could build a way to tell how much of the book a person has read. If they have read the whole book, I don’t think a return should be allowed. That is not fair. But on the other hand I suspect many readers will try a new author KNOWING that if they start the book and don’t like it they can return it (often we don’t have time to read the sample, especially if the book is on special). This could mean new authors get read and enjoyed when otherwise they might not.

  11. As an indie author, I would NEVER waste my time worrying about returns. I see them occassionally, and they are just part of the landscape of selling books. Most readers are honest, good folks and the returns are mostly mistaken purchases. To think that all or even a high percent of books returns are cheaters is silly. I’m not that paranoid or pessimistic or bitter in life. Even if if the returns were ALL cheaters, I still wouldn’t care, cause folks who want to cheat the system will find a way and won’t convert to paying customers–so I pay them no heed. they are the minority in this world, not the norm.

    I love my readers and would never do a thing to hassle them. The customer is always right. I’m a Nordstrom shopper for the same reason–don’t hassle me if I need to make a return. So I’m perfectly happy that Amazon is kind to customers in these situations…so let it be!

    1. Well said. Thank you.

      I am in the very early stages of writing a book. I hope to have enough confidence in it to put “Money-back Guarantee” on the cover.

  12. I haven’t seen this more than hinted, but I would expect that a certain group of authors would see a higher percent of the returns. Just like Nate was saying, being able to return a book if it is crap makes you more likely to get more books. But it also means that the authors who write the crap books will see a lot more returns. And if those authors think their book is good it will look to them like people are gaming the system instead of the returns being a reflection on the quality of their book.

  13. I don’t understand how authors can petition against ebook returns and not against physical book returns! In theory, I can buy and read any physical book, then return it, so what’s the diffence?! Ridiculous petition.

    Kudos to you for not regarding your readers as thieves, Christine. I will check out your books after posting this.

    I have only returned 3 ebooks ever, and only because I don’t get to read my ebooks within the first 7 days after I purchase them. Therefore, as a customer, I am already keeping a lot of books that are poorly written or that are so full of typos and punctuation errors that I abandon them after a few chapters.

    To address an earlier comment, being able to return ebooks is not why I favor Amazon, but their very easy, customer friendly, return system is what makes me like them so much more.

  14. I was contacted by a fellow author and asked to read and sign the petition. After consideration, I declined. I did so for a number of reasons, first of which is that I’ve seen no indication that petitions influence Amazon’s policies in any positive manner at all. So it’s a big fat waste of time that makes the powerless feel like they’re doing something to control their destiny. That’s my pragmatism kicking in.

    I sell tens of thousands of books every month. A typical return rate is 1.5-2.5%. Call it 2%. I’ve checked with other authors in my genre, and that seems to be the number. For whatever reason 2% of purchases get returned. Why, I have no idea. Part of it is probably abuse, but it’s impossible to know how much, unless you’re Amazon and have access to an important data point: How much of the book has been read.

    To me it would be pretty simple. Amend the return policy to be something more reasonable – return within 3 days if the book has been read 25% or less. If over 25%, guess what? You didn’t like the ending, felt it should have been done differently? That’s called not liking the ending. It happens. I can’t recall how many films I’ve walked into and felt the film fell apart halfway through. But I didn’t demand a refund. That’s part of the experience of going to the movies. It’s also part of the experience of buying a book.

    I’ve read reviews where readers didn’t like the amount of swearing, or aspects of the plot, or the character arc, or the denouement. Guess what? You can’t please everyone. I’ve got back to back reviews on one of my extremely well rated novels saying, in essence, that reader A didn’t like the ending because it was a cliffhanger and they don’t like cliffhangers, and reader B didn’t like the ending of the same book because she wished it had been more of a cliffhanger. I can’t make this stuff up. If you try to please everyone, you’ll please nobody, and there will always be those who dislike a book for some reason, often something completely irrational, or that they got wrong. It goes with the territory of running a retail business, which is what bookselling is.

    I would more than happily sign a petition lobbying for refunds to be terminated once a reader has read 25% or more, even though I think it would make no difference to Amazon what 2000 of its authors did or didn’t think. Perhaps they are already ahead of that, and have looked at their data, and concluded that most returns don’t make it that far through. Or maybe they just don’t care because a 2% cost of doing business is basically a rounding error if the customer is happy and the net revenue from that customer is still positive for the company.

    I find it difficult to believe that a company that’s so customer-centric and has been so ahead of the curve in this arena would have missed the mark on returns – something that costs not only the author money, but more importantly to Amazon, costs Amazon money. My hunch is that this is another tempest in a teacup, and just part of the bookselling game.

    Russell Blake
    Suspense Author
    http://RussellBlake.com
    Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Russell-Blake/e/B005OKCOLE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

  15. I agree with Christine. As a writer, I don’t worry about returns. I worry about getting out the best book for my readers. I do think that some readers will take a chance on a new author regardless of whether or not they can return the book. From my experience, as a reader, I’m always looking for new authors. It’s always a thrill when I find an author I know is on auto buy. But returns are just a matter of doing business.

  16. I’m not a writer, but I purchase all of my books through amazon and have never had a problem with returns. But I can see that there may be people out there abusing this privilage by returning books after having read them, it takes all kinds you know!

  17. I’m not even a writer and I believe Kindle’s policy is flawed. Once a book has been read past 20% or 48 hours hours after purchase the book should not be able to be returned simple as that. A 7 day return policy on e-books is ridiculous.

  18. It’s all very well some authors saying that they only see a 2% return rate, or that only “crap” books get frequent returns. For those of us who write erotica and see someone buy each book in the series, then one by one see them returned, it isn’t easy to support this flawed return policy. I think it’s disgusting that people are allowed to abuse the system like this.

    I cannot WAIT for things to get worse and start affecting those 2 percenters; listening to them change their tune will be music to my ears. Because things will deteriorate, you can count on it. Amazon is where people go for freebies — they’ve created a culture where people expect ebooks to be free.

    Nice work, Zon. Nice work.

    1. Thank you for posting this. I had wondered if it was just the genre I was publishing in that was causing the returns or as others have said, maybe the books just suck. I see almost a 10% return and as you said, I’ll see a series bought in sequence and then RETURNED in sequence as well. And not to blow my own horn but I don’t beleive for a second that the books I publish are crap. In fact not one book in my roster has less than 4.5 stars, a few of which have a full 5 stars.

  19. There are way too many people out there that are buying books, reading them, and then returning them. It’s called stealing. I thinks it’s great that Amazon is going to change their return policy to stop this practice from continuing. Every costumer on Amazon that is interested in buying an ebook has the opportunity to review 10% of the book prior to purchasing it. If you can’t determine if the book is ‘poorly written’ after reading 10% of the book, then you should go to the book store and sit in the coffee shop like all of the other cheapskates that don’t want to buy anything and read the paperback edition. Most ebooks only cost $2.99 on average, so stop complaining like you are spending $15.99 on a book! If you want perfection then start paying $15.99 for an ebook. What? Too much?

  20. If eLibraries can expire a file on my eReader after a certain date then Amazon should be able to tell how much of an eBook has been read. Personally I’d never abuse the system, despite supporting many Indie authors who don’t give their readers the benefit of a quality editor, but I’ve also returned a few eBooks – including one that would not even open due to a code error on the publishers behalf. eBooks should be returnable, like most everything else, but the policies should be perhaps a little tighter, or the process not so easy. As a previous poster said, scammers are going to scam no matter what.

    (Kobo Canada btw, has currently an “all sales final” policy – though they will not-so-graciously give you a “one-time exemption” if you buy an eBook that won’t actually open)

  21. I completely agree with you, Nate.

    The first time someone returned my Kindle book, I was a bit upset. But actually, I think returns help me. I don’t want my book to get into the hands of people who don’t like it – that’s where bad reviews come from. If someone finds that my book isn’t what they thought it would be, I’d far rather they could return it and get a refund than that they felt they had to persist with it, or feel resentful for wasting the money.

    And I can’t imagine anyone gaming the system by getting a refund for a book they’ve absolutely loved, so I think asking for a refund is always an expression of dissatisfaction, however mild.

    I’d like people to enjoy what they read, and I don’t want to make any money out of people who don’t like my book.

    1. Thank you! I tend to travel and I tend to read a lot- as a result when I travel for a week or do before I buy a huge amount of books- and while I do read samples amazon’s return policy IS why I buy with them. Unfortunately not all samples give you enough of the story- I have enocountered samples that its 49% over with before you even get to the actual book between their indexes and whatever else the author put in….then a chapter or two into the book I’m encountering ‘missing pages’ where you flick to go to the next page and its cut out entire parts of the story, or you run into major errors. Granted it might be entirely the process putting them online….but if unloading and downloading don’t fix it I deserve a refund. Also to people who get annoyed after someone returns a book after a certain precentage…if you don’t like a product- you have the right to return it. I buy a shirt in the store get home and decide I don’t like the fit or the Color I can return it. That’s part of American commerce …consumers can and should be allowed to return products they aren’t pleased or satisfied with. I own a shop- returns are part of business…not everyone will like a product and they will return it. It doesn’t mean there is dome conspiracy or they are ‘stealing’ – if you’re stealing you’d be scamming a refund and keeping the book. Not something amazon allows and frankly as the author pointed out- amazon has it handled. Keep your pants on and accept the highs and lows of business or go peddle your wares elsewhere. This is America where customer service pays. If you don’t like it please say so in your description- you Hate readers who font love your books and are going to try to ‘get’ anybody who isn’t satisfied. You aren’t confident enough to guarantee your product- hey no problem but you’ll probably see a REAL drop in sales then.

  22. The problem isn’t that people are buying the books and returning them after reading them, the problem I’m seeing is most definitely piracy. Every time I see that a book has been returned I’ll wait a day or two and then start searching for pirated copies. Sure enough, shortly after the return happens it almost always ends up on a pirated site. The “major distributors” of pirated ebooks buy the book, crack the kindle DRM, and then return it. The pirates don’t even buy the book to begin with. It bothers me that Amazon effectively gives the book to these people.

  23. Soo.. what happens when a sample isn’t provided? I’ve seen this happen many times when I’m interested in a book, and there’s no sample. So I take a chance, purchase it, hate it, and return it. Samples are awesome, I agree with this sentiment. But you’re kind of making a pretty big assumption here when you say *~ZOMG ALL EBOOKS HAVE SAMPLES~* because they don’t.

    1. Most of them do. Mine has a generous sample and I’ve gotten returns form people who buy it one day, read it then, return it like a library book.

  24. When it comes to Kindle books, the return policy should be no more than twenty-four hours. Kindle books are received instantly. Therefore, twenty-four hours is plenty of time for a reader to browse the book and decide if the content and quality are acceptable. Combined with the free preview, there is absolutely no excuse to return a book after twenty-four hours.

    I’m sick of competitive indie writers buying my books, stealing content and concepts, and incorporating key features of my material into their books and marketing descriptions. If they’re going to steal my work, then the least they can do is pay for it! On another note, I’ve noticed an increase in returns over the past few months. I can’t help but think that readers are now gaming the system.

  25. I have to say…I signed this petition…but as a reader as well as an author. I’ve had a Kindle for 3 years and I’ve only ever returned ONE book, a mistaken purchase. When you buy a hardback or paperback, does Amazon let you return it because you feel it’s poorly written? No. I’ve been stuck with many a crappy book. When you go to a restaurant, sit down and eat, and the food gives you heartburn, you can’t get a refund then either. You can’t eat it and say, “I didn’t like it. I want my money back.”

    But I respect your opinion. However, a greater number of people than you suspect are buying them, reading them, (even liking them at times) and returning them. There’s a lady on Goodreads who has a shelf called “Bought and Returned” and many of these titles got at least a three-star rating from her. http://www.goodreads.com/genres/bought-and-returned

    It’s people like that that drove authors to starting a petition. Like everything else in life, it’s often maybe just a few, but the actions are bad enough to start something.

  26. Brian M, I’ve noticed the same thing. It’s always a mere few hours after the first return that the book reaches its first pirate site. I have no idea how they do it though. Boggles my mind.

  27. I’ve written several hardcopy books with a major publisher and now have my first ebook. It comes with secure access to a pile of tools and templates that appear in the book, but you need to have access to the ebook to download them. So, what’s happening? Some people are buying the ebook, downloading all of the templates, and then returning it.

    My solution is that Amazon could offer a link to authors that they could use for downloads offered with their books. The link would forward to the actual download URL, but once the link was triggered, no refunds.

    Plus, I’m with the 48 hours or 20% read idea. No refunds for that either.

  28. 1. The petition doesn’t call for Amazon to “block returns” – it calls for Amazon to reduce the time period in which returns can be claimed
    2.”That option might soon be going away” because of a petition?? laughably optimistic assessment. As others have stated, Amazon could care less about its authors wants/needs. I have rarely encountered a less consultative company. There are many examples of this … they simply don’t want to have to deal with authors or their suggestions, concerns, etc.

    In this instance, part of the problem is that Amazon has not and is not prepared to provide details about exactly how or how ell the current system works (or doesn’t work). They also don’t provide authors with details about why their own books were returned. They should. For example if it was formatting surely the author shuld be alerted and able to remedy the problem.

    1. I was looking at the larger case.

      If the petitioners pulled this off then their next claim would be that the serial cheaters switched to downloading before asking for a return. The so-called cheaters would not read until after stripping DRM or the return was processed. At that point the petitioners would demand even more restrictions on returns, possibly leading up to demands for all returns to be blocked.

      And as far as I am concerned the only returns that matter are made after the ebook has been partially read. That’s when you know for sure whether the book is shit (writing, formatting, editing, whatever).

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