Eight years after it was first published, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art has sold significantly more copies this year than any year following its initial release.
In industry where writers expect to lose money on their non-fiction books and to have their titles all but languish after the initial publishing push, this represents am incredible success story – one accomplished without a traditional marketing push, or a plug by Oprah (though it darn well deserves it, if you happen to be reading Ms. Winfrey), or even a re-release from the publisher.
How did Steve do it?
A few reasons come to mind, some more salient than others:
1) The book has proved itself a modern classic for its intended audience of writers and regularly makes appearances in Top 10 lists of books for writers.  There’s nothing like solid content and great user experience to drive customer evangelization.
2) Steve has actively welcomed and encouraged a new audience for his book, one that eventually saw that the book was only superficially about writing or fine art, and was, at heart, a textbook for anyone looking to do valuable, creative, and remarkable work.  Don’t underestimate this, not many authors would have bothered to notice the interest of an unanticipated audience, let alone actively welcomed and courted it.
3) Steve has given away lots of new content written in the same spirit of and along the same lines as the book.  He has embraced the counterintuitive notion that giving away content expands your base of fans willing to pay for content.
4) Steve has actively engaged with his fans and the increased engagement has resulted in increased sales.  This goes beyond just opening his blog to comments and responding to them.  In fact, Steve has actively given interviews, appeared in guest posts, been available on Twitter, and generously corresponded with even the lowliest of bloggers.
OK, so the list hardly surprises, right?  It basically reads like an online marketer’s checklist of “What’s Working Now.”  Who hasn’t been told to “be authentic,” or to “do great work,” or especially to engage in the “gift economy,” after all?
So rather than detailing the oft discussed items within the list, let’s look at the hidden forces and motivations behind the successful implementation of those items.
The Emotional Dynamic Underneath “Authenticity”
The most striking thing about Steve’s success is also the most striking thing about his writing and his “style” in general: his profound ability to relate insight into the human condition in a way that’s practical for those of us slogging through our own work-a-day worlds.  If you’re interested in a “from the foxhole” perspective, shared from a generous intent to share what actually works down in the mud and the blood and the sweat and the tears, you won’t do better than Steve’s stuff.
But a recommendation to copy this particular virtue of Steve’s sounds suspiciously like yet another exhortation to “be authentic” dressed up in fancier language.
So how do you bridge the gap? How do you get at how to imbue your own online marketing efforts with some of the same magic that took a nearly 10-year-old non-fiction book on the psychology of writing and turned it into everyone’s favorite handbook for doing work that matters?
Territory vs. Hierarchy
As it turns out, Steve provides the answer both in his book and in his inaugural Writing Wednesday’s post.  Here’s a quote from that post, talking about what separates successful pros at blogging from the also-rans:
“There are many excellent and extremely professional bloggers and their stuff is a pleasure to read. They are making contributions. They’re part of the solution. But I also see no few writers of blogs who are stuck in their own egos. You can tell it from the first sentence, even the first phrase. It’s in their tone of voice. The text reeks of jealousy, pettiness, competitiveness and bile. It’s like the tone academics take when they’re sticking knives in each other’s backs. It has nothing to do with solutions and everything to do with fear, ego and narcissism. They are writing as amateurs. Their aim, though they will deny it even after being waterboarded 283 times, is to advance (or simply preserve) their own egos.  I know, because I’ve been in that place. When the happy breakthrough comes for those writers, their work will rise an entire level overnight, then keep rising for levels and levels beyond that.” [Emphasis mine]
With this quote in mind, look at the list again.  Now ask yourself how easy any of those things would be if your primary motivation was to climb to a higher place in the pecking order?  How easy?  How about next to impossible.
To act out of ego is to engage a hierarchical framework, and no one can look to maintain their place in the hierarchy while actually, truly giving of themselves to their audience and fans at the same time. You can’t be enamored of your position within the “group” while fearlessly, openly inviting outsiders to join in.  Nor can you reject the urge to second-guess your audience if everything you write, say, and do is aimed at impressing or manipulating them.
In short, the more hierarchical your value system, the more difficult you’ll find “new marketing.”
And yet, we’re practically programmed to think hierarchically in school, at our jobs, and socially.  There are the alpha dogs and the under dogs.  The queen bees and the wanna bees.  Thinking hierarchically is the default position for most of us, and it’s what our lizard brain/_______ /Resistance steers us towards.
So there’s no jettisoning hierarchical thinking without replacing it with some other mindset; self-identity has to come from somewhere.  The other option, as Steven describes it in The War of Art is territory – claiming a territory of practice/service and drawing your identity through that practice rather than your place in the pecking order.  As Steven writes:
We humans have territories too. Ours are psychological. Stevie Wonder’s territory is the paino. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is the gym. When Bill Gates pulls into the parking lot at Microsoft, he’s on his territory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine.
What are the qualities of a territory?
1. A territory provides sustenance.  Runners know what a territory is. So do rock climbers and kayakers and yogis. Artists and entrepreneurs know what a territory is. The swimmer who towels off after swimming her laps feels a hell of a lot better than the tired, cranky person who dove into the pool 30 minutes earlier.
2. A territory sustains us without external input. A territory is a closed feedback loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the territory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of wellbeing.
When experts tell us that exercise (or any other effort-requiring activity) banishes depression, this is what they mean.
3. A territory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a partner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need yourself to soak up your territory’s juice.
4. A territory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn’t give, it gives back.
5. A territory returns exactly what you put in. Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar for dollar.”
Beyond that, a territory is where we can go in humility, to serve our higher calling, not as a bid for attention but as a gift to our tribe, specifically, and to the world in general.
As my mentor and partner, Roy Williams says,
“Any goal that begins with the words, ‘My goal is to have…’ is certain to bring unhappiness. Goals that scratch your life-itch are the ones that begin, ‘I will serve people by….’
…So who are your people and how do you plan to serve them?
Yet even though it would seem your tribe would come first, and your method of service would come afterwords, in relation to the tribe, this doesn’t often work in a modern and (in an anthropological sense) post-tribal world.  You find your territory first, and your people come later, drawn by what your work has produced.
You identify your territory by knowing what you’d do if you were the last person on earth.  What would still be worth doing if there were no one to impress and no way to move up in the pecking order?
And you claim your territory through putting in the work, selflessly, as a professional.  When that happens, you’re no longer afraid to share your best stuff, because you’re always getting better, always coming up with new stuff.  Welcoming new members becomes second nature, as does engaging in open conversation with people regardless of their status in the pecking order.
Territory-based identity, as Steven defines it, makes Web 2.0-style marketing workable.  Without it, you’ll be fighting your own instincts and, ultimately, sabotaging your efforts.
And yet, even though following this path makes life easier, Resistance – Resistance in the form of procrastination, rationalization, and ego – gets in the way, making it feel like the harder option.  Yet the more you focus on claiming your territory and the more you derive your identity in relation to your claimed territory, the better you’ll fair in your battles against resistance.
Sound like something worth pursuing?  Well, realize that this, potentially life altering stuff on Territory vs. Hierarchy is compressed into only a few pages of a 165-page book – and the rest of the books is every bit as good, if not better!
Most of the The War of Art is about overcoming resistance, the necessary first step to doing the honest work needed to claim a territory, making it pretty much THE book for creative entrepreneurs who struggle with procrastination.
If that sounds like a must-read book to you, YOU’RE RIGHT!  Go buy a copy.
Better yet, buy the new, digital copy for your favorite e-reader.  The sooner you start reading this stuff, the faster you can begin moving past resistance, to claim your territory, and achieve the real work you were meant for.

the-war-of-artEight years after it was first published, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art has sold significantly more copies this year than any year following its initial release.

In an industry where writers expect to lose money on their non-fiction books, and further expect their titles to languish, unsold and ignored after the initial publishing push, this books recent surge in sales and popularity represents an incredible success story – one accomplished without a traditional marketing push, or a plug by Oprah (though it darn well deserves it, if you happen to be reading, Ms. Winfrey), or even a re-release from the publisher.

How did Steve do it?

A few reasons come to mind, some more salient than others:

  1. The book has proved itself a modern classic for its intended audience of writers and regularly makes appearances in Top 10 lists of books for writers.  There’s nothing like solid content and great user experience to drive customer evangelization.
  2. Steve has actively welcomed and encouraged a new audience for his book, one that eventually saw that the book was only superficially about writing or fine art, and was, at heart, a textbook for anyone looking to do valuable, creative, and remarkable work.  Don’t underestimate this, not many authors would have bothered to notice the interest of an unanticipated audience, let alone actively welcomed and courted it.
  3. Steve has given away lots of new content written in the same spirit as the book.  He has embraced the counterintuitive notion that giving away content expands your base of fans willing to pay for content.
  4. Steve has actively engaged with his fans and that increased engagement has resulted in increased sales.  This goes beyond just opening his blog to comments and responding to them.  In fact, Steve has actively given interviews, appeared in guest posts, been available on Twitter, and generously corresponded with even the lowliest of bloggers.

OK, so the list hardly surprises, right?  It basically reads like an online marketer’s checklist of “What’s Working Now.”  Who hasn’t been told to “be authentic,” or to “do great work,” or especially to engage in the “gift economy,” after all?

So rather than detailing the oft discussed items within the list, let’s look at the hidden forces and motivations behind the successful implementation of those items.

The Emotional Dynamic Underneath “Authenticity”

pressfield_stevenThe most striking thing about Steve’s success is also the most striking thing about his writing and his “style” in general: his profound ability to relate insight into the human condition in a way that’s practical for those of us slogging through our own work-a-day worlds.  If you’re interested in a “from the foxhole” perspective, shared from a generous intent to pass on what actually works down in the mud and the blood and the sweat and the tears, you won’t do better than Steve’s stuff.

But a recommendation to copy this particular virtue of Steve’s sounds suspiciously like yet another exhortation to “be authentic” dressed up in fancier language.

So how do you bridge the gap? How do you imbue your own online marketing efforts with some of the same magic that took a nearly 10-year-old non-fiction book on the psychology of writing and turned it into everyone’s favorite handbook for doing work that matters?

Territory vs. Hierarchy

As it turns out, Steve provides the answer both in his book and in his inaugural Writing Wednesday’s post.  Here’s a quote from that post, talking about what separates successful pros at blogging from the also-rans:

“There are many excellent and extremely professional bloggers and their stuff is a pleasure to read. They are making contributions. They’re part of the solution. But I also see no few writers of blogs who are stuck in their own egos. You can tell it from the first sentence, even the first phrase. It’s in their tone of voice. The text reeks of jealousy, pettiness, competitiveness and bile. It’s like the tone academics take when they’re sticking knives in each other’s backs. It has nothing to do with solutions and everything to do with fear, ego and narcissism. They are writing as amateurs. Their aim, though they will deny it even after being waterboarded 283 times, is to advance (or simply preserve) their own egos.  I know, because I’ve been in that place. When the happy breakthrough comes for those writers, their work will rise an entire level overnight, then keep rising for levels and levels beyond that.”

With this quote in mind, look at the list again.  Now ask yourself how easy any of those things would be if your primary motivation was to climb to a higher place in the pecking order?  How easy?  How about next to impossible.

2010-10-13_1057Acting out of ego engages a hierarchical mindset, and no one can look to maintain or improve their place in the hierarchy while giving away their best stuff to their audience and fans. You can’t be enamored of your position within the group while fearlessly inviting outsiders to join in. Neither can you comfortably venture outside your group, away from where you hold status, expertise, power, etc.  Nor can you reject the urge to second-guess your audience if everything you write, say, and do is aimed at impressing or manipulating them.

In short, the more hierarchical your value system, the more difficult you’ll find “new marketing.”

And yet, we’re practically programmed to think hierarchically in school, at our jobs, and socially.  There are the alpha dogs and the under dogs.  The queen bees and the wanna-bees.  Thinking hierarchically is the default position for most of us, and it’s what our lizard brain/yetzer hara/Resistance steers us towards.

So there’s no jettisoning hierarchical thinking without replacing it with some other mindset; self-identity has to come from somewhere.  The other option, as Steven describes it in The War of Art, is to replace hierarchy with territory: claiming a territory of practice/service and drawing your identity through that practice rather than your place in the pecking order.  As Steven writes:

“We humans have territories too. Ours are psychological. Stevie Wonder’s territory is the paino. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is the gym. When Bill Gates pulls into the parking lot at Microsoft, he’s on his territory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine.

What are the qualities of a territory?

1. A territory provides sustenance.  Runners know what a territory is. So do rock climbers and kayakers and yogis. Artists and entrepreneurs know what a territory is. The swimmer who towels off after swimming her laps feels a hell of a lot better than the tired, cranky person who dove into the pool 30 minutes earlier.

2. A territory sustains us without external input. A territory is a closed feedback loop. Our role is to put in effort and love; the territory absorbs this and gives it back to us in the form of wellbeing.

When experts tell us that exercise (or any other effort-requiring activity) banishes depression, this is what they mean.

3. A territory can only be claimed alone. You can team with a partner, you can work out with a friend, but you only need yourself to soak up your territory’s juice.

4. A territory can only be claimed by work. When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn’t give, it gives back.

5. A territory returns exactly what you put in. Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar for dollar”

Beyond that, a territory is where we can go in humility, to serve our higher calling, not as a bid for attention but as a gift to our tribe, specifically, and to the world in general.

As my mentor and partner, Roy Williams says,

“Any goal that begins with the words, ‘My goal is to have…’ is certain to bring unhappiness. Goals that scratch your life-itch are the ones that begin, ‘I will serve people by….’

…So who are your people and how do you plan to serve them?”

Yet even though it would seem your tribe would come first, and your method of service would come afterwords, in relation to the tribe, this doesn’t often work in a modern and (in an anthropological sense) post-tribal world.  You find your territory first, and your tribe will be drawn by what your work has produced.

You identify your territory by knowing what you’d do if you were the last person on earth.  What would still be worth doing if there was no one to impress and no way to move up in the pecking order?

And you claim that territory through putting in the work, selflessly, as a professional.  When that happens you’re no longer afraid to share your best stuff, because you’re always getting better, always coming up with new stuff. Welcoming new members becomes second nature, as does engaging in open conversation with people regardless of their status in the pecking order.

Territory-based identity, as Steven defines it, makes Web 2.0-style marketing workable.  Without it, you’ll be fighting your own instincts and, ultimately, sabotaging your efforts.

And yet, even though following this path makes life easier, Resistance – Resistance in the form of procrastination, rationalization, and ego – gets in the way, making it feel like the harder option.  Focusing on claiming your territory through the work helps steel you for those battles against resistance.

Sound like something worth pursuing?  Well, realize that this potentially life altering stuff on Territory vs. Hierarchy is compressed into only a few pages of a 165-page book – and the rest of the books is every bit as good, if not better!

Most of the The War of Art is about overcoming resistance, the necessary first step to doing the honest work needed to claim a territory, making it pretty much THE book for creative entrepreneurs who struggle with procrastination.

If that sounds like a must-read book to you, YOU’RE RIGHT!  Go buy a copy.

Better yet, buy the new, digital copy for your favorite e-reader for 1/5th the price of the paperback.  The sooner you start reading this stuff, the faster you can begin moving past resistance, to claim your territory, and achieve the real work you were meant for.

Comments

  1. Michelle Russell on 10.13.2010

    Oh. MY.

    Jeff, thank you so much for this. The War of Art is one of my most cherished and frequently used bibles…but I love the way you’ve clarified the distinction between authenticity as the ego-based current way to get noticed, vs. an integral part of the service you’re providing to others.

    I think it’s just part of being human that the first type will invariably creep in…and probably in as many subtle guises as Resistance likes to wear. But if we keep this tendency in mind, it should be helpful in holding the ego at bay…acknowledging that it’s there without allowing it to run the show.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking analysis of a wonderful book!

  2. Tom Matte on 10.13.2010

    Jeff,
    Thanks for this knowing post. I love when writers comment on something they know so they dont have to fill in with meaningless fluff. you are clearly a fan or admirer.
    I have been following Steven for a few years now. I actually starting communicating with him when I first purchased The War of Art back in 2008. He has answered every one of my questions with honest open thoughtfulness. I recommend him to so many people who are stuck. I mean stuck in life and not just writing. it would apear that when Steven was working on this book the muses were there in force having a hell of a time with him. I never get a comment back with a negative tone-ever. This book has a revered space on my nightstand. I am looking forward to his next book. I am hoping he takes us back to Greece. We shall see.

  3. Jeff on 10.14.2010

    Michelle,

    Thanks so much for the comment and I quite agree with you: it’s all too natural to think and feel in terms of ego and status. Its not until you’ve had some of that stripped away through painful dings that you look at alternatives. The false vines have to get singed before we seek the true vine, so to speak.

    Tom,

    Steven’s a first-class guy that way, isn’t he? I can’t even begin to imagine his in-box, and yet, as an act of service and generosity to his tribe, Steve is unfailing in his willingness to provide answers, responses, etc. I’m also anxiously waiting for his next book. Guess I’ll have to start in on The Tides of War while I’m waiting. Alcibiades has to be one of the most fascinating characters in all of history.

  4. Andrew Nhem on 10.14.2010

    Jeff,

    Dig the post. As a young professional, I freak out nearly every day trying to figure out what I want to do for the next chunk of my life– what to get better at, what to avoid, etc.

    The argument of territory versus hierarchy is interesting as new work methodologies and the internet change the way the traditional business is set up and run.

    I’ve witnessed the old school get the chopping block, buzz words fly abound about social media, but to no active avail, and overall skepticism of newer media from some of my various small business employers/leaders.

    Maybe as a malleable professional, I need to absorb a territorial approach and specialize– pick a lane so to speak.

    Just thinking out loud here, mainly to tell you that your post has my gears turning in new directions. Now if Amazon would just put the dang book back on the Kindle market…

    Many thanks,
    Andrew
    .-= Andrew Nhem´s last blog ..If You’re Going to Write a Story- Write a Damn Story Then =-.

  5. Steve Shaw on 10.14.2010

    Hey Jeff,

    This one really hits home. Yes, I’ve been trying to be of service to people,
    but all the while knowing I want to move up in the pecking order.

    But coming from a position of just being me, causes me to relax about things,
    and lets me concentrate more on others, than myself.

    I was unaware of this book, I’ll be getting this one.

    Steve
    .-= Steve Shaw´s last blog ..Copywriting Made Easy – The Michael Campbell Way =-.

  6. Steven on 10.16.2010

    Key distinctions here. I never thought about how ego-based tendencies create a rigid hierarchy and alienate others. It makes a lot of sense. I think real authenticity is when you seek to raise the value of not only yourself, but others too – your so-called “tribe” as Seth Godin might put it.
    .-= Steven´s last blog ..Practice Interconnectedness Through Empathy =-.

  7. Copyblogger Weekly Wrap: Week of October 11, 2010 | Internet Marketing Superstar on 10.17.2010

    […] The Psychological Principle Behind Marketing Success In a Networked World: This is kind of dense but worth the read, especially if you enjoy playing around inside of other people’s brains. (Tip: When doing so, stay out of the medulla oblongata unless you have boots and a poncho.) […]

  8. Tom Pearson on 10.18.2010

    This is all really important advice. There is so much flaky advice going around about how to develop a ‘writing voice’, it’s good to see some advice with some substance.

    Knowing what your readers need, and giving it to them, is always the best place to start.
    .-= Tom Pearson´s last blog ..Get The Most From Your Article Marketing- Part II =-.

  9. Mike Reeves-McMillan on 10.18.2010

    The odd thing is, the last part of the book sets up what I consider a false opposition between creating for an audience and being “true to yourself”.

    It’s good to know that Pressfield’s practice has surpassed his theory in the meantime (I thought it probably had).
    .-= Mike Reeves-McMillan´s last blog ..7 Steps to De-Sabotage Yourself Self-Sabotage- Part 1 =-.

  10. Kristen Lamb on 10.19.2010

    All I can say is WOW! This is an amazing blog really makes one think. I preach a lot of the same advice (having a servant’s heart FIRST) but this is a new and fresh way of looking at something that is so much a part of a writer’s life….getting out there and claiming territory and succeeding by serving a need.

    Thank you for such a great blog. I look forward to returning for more content like this. I wish I could comment with something more profound, but my brain kind of needs time to chew on all of this. Again…WOW!

    Kristen Lamb

  11. Jeff on 10.25.2010

    First, Thanks to all who commented. My apologies for not responding sooner.

    Second, just a few thoughts for Mike and Andrew…

    Mike, I don’t think that Steven Pressfield creates the dichotomy that you suggest, or at least not in the way that you suggest. Here’s how I interpreted his comments/chapters on this subject matter: whatever truly inspires you and speaks to your daemon/genius/muse is what you should pursue, without compromise – but you should present that topic to your audience with the professional concern for hooking them from the outset and keeping them delighted. Most people do the opposite – they compromise on the material because they consider what truly inspires them to be un-marketeable, but then they don’t put the effort and craft in to make their so-called “marketable” piece an entertaining success. All in all, I think Steve’s right on target with his advice, and there’s no doubt that he’s speaking from personal experience, as his novels Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire attest.

    Andrew,

    Daniel Pink has a great book out on career choices called, The Adventures of Johny Bunko that deals with what you’re going through right now. Highly recommended. Look it up on Amazon.

    – Jeff

  12. Mike Reeves-McMillan on 10.25.2010

    I may have been misinterpreting, but to me that message came through pretty clearly: Don’t think about an audience, just create for yourself.

    In any case, whether or not that was what he was saying in the book, that isn’t what he’s done, so good for Steven Pressfield.
    .-= Mike Reeves-McMillan´s last blog ..How to be a Rebel Without Applause =-.

  13. Jeff on 10.25.2010

    Hey, Mike, Thanks for the follow-up. I see you’re point, but I’d say that the word isn’t “think” but “second guess” as in, “Don’t (cynically) second guess your audience when deciding WHAT to create, for therein lies the practice of the hack. Trust your muse and create what truly inspires you.” That’s what I got from the book. What I got from reading Writing Wednesdays was the follow on bit: “When presenting the material, make sure you do your part and present the material in such a manner as to hook the reader. No matter how uncommercial you think a subject matter might be, when presented properly, the subject becomes fascinating. This is why a ten-penny nail and an egg carton can become fascinating products. It is in the area of craft that concern for the audience becomes a virtue.”

    I realize that I may be reading my own interpretation into this, but I believe that there is enough contextual evidence (both in the book and the blog) to more than ably support that interpretation.

    – Jeff

  14. Mike Reeves-McMillan on 10.25.2010

    Thanks, it seems pretty clear I’d misinterpreted his point. I should go back and give the book an extra star on Goodreads!
    .-= Mike Reeves-McMillan´s last blog ..Review- Steven Aitchison’s Advanced Early Riser program =-.

  15. Ultimate Copywriters’ Roll Call: 100 Top International Copywriters and Content Bloggers | MarketCopywriter Blog on 10.26.2010

    […] Website optimization and persuasion from Future Now writer and consultant Jeff Sexton. Great post: The Psychological Principle Behind Marketing Success In a Networked World Twitter: […]

  16. Franck on 06.29.2011

    Good article. I’m agree

  17. Lotto Spiele on 04.16.2012

    Great blog post.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

  18. シャネル on 05.06.2013

    精通した買い物客がソフトを間近でご覧になるとよいでしょうホーボー、柔らかい昼間クラッチ、キャンデー着色された古典的なフラップとタッセルトートバッグデザインに対する熱意よりも、他の、シャネルは女性の伝統的なthinkingsを解放することができるように古典的なブランドを作成しません |それは丈夫、実用的でトレンディなバッグを選ぶことになると、細部に注意を払う女性専用.
    当然、あなたが目撃した最も効果的な人であるとして、あなただけの必要がありますあなたの生物学的な父親と一緒に必要な素晴らしい驚きに あなたが着ているもののだから関わらず、袋が良く見えるし、あなたがあまりにもファッショナブルで、自信を持って見ていることを確認します
    シャネル´s last blog post ..シャネル

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