Multiversity Gets Digital, Talks Recent Changes to Digital Landscape [Feature]

Digital comics have seen significant growth since their development, but really, it has seemed like we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to digital. Cue this past week, as Marvel blew out digital at SXSW after announcing their Marvel Unlimited app while ComiXology changed the DIY comic landscape by creating Submit, a platform that could revolutionize Joe. Q Creator’s ability to bring their ideas to life.

Recently, I polled much of Multiversity’s staff to see what they think of digital, what they thought of the recent changes, and what they’d like to see next. Given the diverse tastes and thoughts on Multiversity’s staff, I was hoping to acquire some unique and varied perspective on where digital is at now. The results were just that, and you can see them below, along with the questions I asked each of them. I do want to note: we may be journalists in regards to comics, but we’re consumers first. This comes from that perspective, mostly.

In the comments, please share your thoughts on digital, and let us know what you think about the big moves in the industry when it comes to digital.

Do you read comics digitally? If so, is it all digital, or is it a mix with print?

David Harper: I primarily read print, as I’m big on the physicality of comics and the LCS (local comic shop) experience, but I do read some books digitally. Monkeybrain Comics I read through ComiXology because that is where they’ve been available so far, and good comics are good comics, regardless of where they are located.

Brandon Burpee: I do read digital comics. I read a mix of digital as well as print with print being the dominate of the two. Most of what I read digitally are things that you can only get via digital first like Li’l Gotham and Marvel’s Infinite Comics offerings.

Brian Salvatore: I read about half of my comics digitally, but would prefer to read them all in print if possible.

Vince Ostrowski: I enjoy reading comics digitally and think it’s a great way to get comics at your fingertips when you’re on the go, even if they don’t replace print. You can probably tell from my first line that I go with a mix of print and digital.

Walt Richardson: I do, but only in rare circumstances. If I am paying, I want a .pdf or a .cbr. I don’t care if I can technically make one by spelunking through my temporary files — if I’m paying, I shouldn’t be doing that kind of work. Paying $2.99 for the right to stream a single comic is a terrible business model, and we as fans of the medium should be ashamed for letting it become the predominant way digital comics work. If that’s the way you run your storefront, that is your choice — I will just only be using it for free samples and download codes that come with print comics.

Zach Wilkerson: I’m almost completely digital now, with the exception of print comics that come with digital redemption codes, like Marvel’s $3.99 books and DC’s combo packs.

David Henderson: I do read comics digitally. I mostly read in print when I can but I do read digitally from publishers like Monkeybrain (“High Crimes” is the bomb) and the like.

Matt Meylikhov Yeah, of course. Since Monkeybrain started I sort of crossed that line I was really nervous about crossing, in which I buy digital copies of a comic instead of a print one. Since there was no other option and there were books I was really interested in reading, PHABULA or HIGH CRIMES or BANDETTE, etc, I started regularly reading Comixology comics – not to mention whatever I could grab for free. Plus, I committed to the CEREBUS DIGITAL Kickstarter, so I had a whole bunch of digital comics from that (although only one available on Comixology).

And it’s definitely a mix of digital and print. I could never give up print. In fact, if there was a way to buy a print comic and be able to “upgrade” or something for an additional price to have the print one sent to you (you know, like Marvel and DC do with their digital download codes), I would be all over that in a heartbeat.

What appeals to you about digital comics? Conversely, what appeals to you more about print?

David Harper: Honestly, who wouldn’t want to replace 30 longboxes with one iPad? As much as I love comics and print more so than digital, now that I’m engaged and becoming more adult than ever, the idea of being able to convert my entire collection into a digital one appeals to be more than ever. Plus, the ability to access them without having to dig through a closet loaded with longboxes seems like a dream come true.

Brandon Burpee: What appeals to me about digital is the progressive possibilities for the comic medium through the use of technology like Marvel’s Infinite Comics. I also appreciate that the digital format provides an opportunity for books to get a chance that they might not have gotten in print. Books like Batman Beyond have essentially been given a chance that has breathed new life into the property.

Print on the other hand is far more appealing because I own it and can physically touch it. I think this is something that will be less important to my son’s generation but for me I like the feel and the smell of the comics. It’s all part of the experience that I have come to love over the course of twenty plus years of reading comics.

Brian Salvatore: Digital comics makes browsing and trying new things quite easy. However, there is something about reading a hard copy of a comic that is irreplaceable in the digital realm. Call me old fashioned, but holding a comic in my hands is still a joy to me. I also like having greater access to my comics in print, where I can pull one off the shelf or out of a longbox for reference. To me, that’s preferable than scanning through ComiXology.

Vince Ostrowski: I don’t want to say the old cliche that I prefer something I can feel in my hands, because I actually enjoy the experience of reading on a tablet more than paper. Lighting becomes a non-issue on a tablet, along with worrying about bending anything or having a collection piling up in your basement. The fact that I can store thousands of issues something the size of my head is amazing.

But there’s this dreadful collector in me. One that’s not interested in money, but one that likes to look at his collection that he’s pared down to include his most cherished runs and bask in it. I don’t get the same experience from looking at my digital “library.” I’m not ready to let go. And of course, in the rare instance that some issue you buy is actually worth something more down the road, it’s always nice to have that around.

Walt Richardson: Portability and longevity. Sometimes is really is that simple. It’s the same reason I have a Kindle: I love collecting fancy, hardcover, books, but why fill two backpacks with six bulky, sometimes fragile books when I can fit a thousand in my pocket? The same goes for comics. While I’m not obsessive about the condition of my floppies — right now I have two stacks of un-bagged, un-boarded issues each over a foot high looming over me as I type — I don’t want to subject them to unecessary wear and tear beyond the act of reading them. Of course, I will never abandon print. As I just said, I’m a collector. It takes up space, and it wastes paper, but I want to own something physical. Is that childish of me? Maybe. Oh well!

Zach Wilkerson: The best thing about digital comics is the convenience factor. I can wake up on Wednesday and download all my books to my iPad. I can then read them absolutely anywhere I go. Also, I don’t have worry about long boxes taking over my house. Of course, sometimes it’s fun to read the books on physical paper. Some print books, like Saga, have extra features not present in the digital issues. Still, the benefits and convenience of digital often outweighs any of the perks of print.

David Henderson: Ease of access is probably what appeals most to me about digital. I’m a real nut about keeping print comics bagged and boarded and in good condition so being able to have issues I want to read on my laptop or phone is great. On the other hand, digital comics don’t have the same community feel that comes with going to your local store for your pull list.

Matt Meylikhov Well, honestly, nothing particularly appeals to me about digital over print. Print over digital, yes; I love being able to physically hold things in my hands. That’s the way I grew up reading comics, that’s the way I’ll die reading comics! But, there are some people doing interesting things with digital – the whole guided view thing is pretty fun (re: Marvel’s Infinite Comics, etc) – that you can’t accomplish in print. It’s gimmicky, but it’s definitely neat.

What feature are you most looking for from digital that isn’t here yet?

David Harper: I really, really wish you would get an actual file with your digital purchases. Not that ComiXology is going anywhere, but if it did (or it crashes like it did yesterday), I would certainly wish I had the ability to access them elsewhere.

Brandon Burpee: The one feature that I think will really change the game when it comes to digital comics will be the ability to take the comics you purchase and use them in any reader you choose instead of buying it and then being required to use it in an app like Comixology where you have purchased it. It would be nice to have the ability to bring the comics you buy over to a reader that you may prefer. I mean what if Comixology goes tits up? You lose all of your books and all of the money you spent goes into the ether with nothing to show for it. That’s really not something I’m entirely keen on and really is a massive factor that keeps me from diving into digital comics more.

Brian Salvatore: A proper search function. It would be wonderful to be able to search my digital collection of _____ for a keyword or an artist’s name.

Vince Ostrowski: Completeness is pretty much the only thing that I’m looking for from digital that isn’t there yet. I’m reading Amazing Spider-Man from issue #1 to #700, but I can’t get those all on Comixology, can I? I don’t care if there’s stuff that isn’t deemed “essential” or worth reading. I want it on there, because I want to know that I can dig into the obscure someday, if I want to. But I’m not looking for any more bells or whistles with my digital comics experience. I don’t need sounds or animation or narration or extra features.

Walt Richardson: It isn’t so much that it isn’t here, because there have been a couple of comics apps that have done this, but I want to be able to strip away the layers of a comic when I read it. Here’s the completed page. Swipe down. Here is is without colors. Swipe down. Here it is without inks. Swipe down. There’s the script for that page. Like I said, a few indie projects have done this with digital-first comics, but if major comics publishers started integrating this into some of their comics, I would be willing to pay an extra dollar for certain issues — so long as you had the ability to “add” it after buying it normally.

Zach Wilkerson: It’s a small thing, but the ability to sort and file your digital comics would be a huge win. Comixology’s current sorting options (by series or story arc) get the job done, but I’d love to see the ability to make comic “playlists” the same way I can with my music in iTunes.

Since digital cuts out the most social aspect of print comics, the local comic store, it would be nice to see the implementation of some sort of dedicated social media function. For example; a comment section at the end of an issue accessible only to those who have purchased the book, or series specific message boards available in-app.

The most important feature that digital comics currently lack is access to the actually comic files. The cloud is great, but I would love the ability to back up my comics on my hard drive.

David Henderson: I’d like to see some kind of cloud storage. Especially with mobile apps. Having to download the comic when near a good wifi connection to read and then deleting it after for memory space can be a hassle.

Matt Meylikhov I’m not really sure. Some sort of reciprocal upgrade from digital to print a la getting a download copy in a physical edition would be nice, but I don’t think that’s a thing that will realistically ever actually happen. One thing that could be nice in a digital copy is something similar to Marvel’s AR, where you can click on a panel and see how it breaks down to pencils and inks, or perhaps get a video from the creator saying, “Hey, thanks for reading, here are my thoughts on this thing you’re reading.” I know there is SOME digital something out there that does it, I remember Colleen Coover talking about it, but alas, what that app is eludes me. If it even was an app. But, yeah, just turning the digital comic into something truly interactive – what about a digital choose your own adventure comic? That’d be fun.

you feel about the pricing on digital, especially for new comics that have the same price as their print counterparts?

David Harper: Honestly, to me it’s not a big deal. I know a LITTLE about it and know that Apple takes a nice chunk of profits from each sale, so just like with print, there are inherent overhead costs you have to deal with. In my mind, it seems like they should be cheaper, but in my mind I also should be able to run at superspeed and have taco salads actually be healthy, so what do I know?

Brandon Burpee: The pricing on digital comics needs a massive fix. If I am going to buy a digital copy of something that I can only use in the reader in which I purchase it and can’t maintain them outside of that program I want it set up like Marvel Unlimited or Spotify. I don’t mind not being able to maintain them if I have unlimited access for a set price. Now if I can’t do this I want to not spend the cover price of a print comic for a digital comic that when it comes down to it I truly don’t own. It’s a false ownership and paying full price for that is like a smack in the face.

On top of all that my other problem with the current pricing is that digital is a great way to bring in new and younger readers but at a $3.99 price point I can’t imagine these coveted audiences going for the price. They have the option of the new Angry Birds or some other sort of app or one issue of a comic? See what I’m saying? The value just isn’t there.

Brian Salvatore: It is insane – the cost of production is severely limited for digital comics, and yet we’re still paying as if they are print. If the price point came down regularly, I would consider reading even more books digitally.

Vince Ostrowski: Ah, the age old question of pricing. The “problem” that comic fans snark and complain about more than any other? I’ve decided that I’m paying the cover price to read the story. “Owning” the issue is a very small percentage of what I imagine I’m paying for. I like to have real comics around, because I like to have a collection – not because I think they’re necessarily worth more money.

Again, you’ll have your Sexes, and your Chews, and your “Thief of Thieves” that come out of the gates and get to be worth significantly more than you paid for them. But those are pretty rare. And if you’re speculating on worth, then just go ahead and buy them in print, for crying out loud.

I’m rambling. The point is that if it’s a story I want to read, I’m buying it for that price. Digital vs. print doesn’t have any greater inherent value to me. Others certainly see that differently.

Walt Richardson: Pricing is tough. Many number crunchers have proven that, at this point, the only way to reduce the price of digital comics would be to leave the actual creators with nothing to show for it. It does boggle my mind, though, that you sometimes have to pay the same price for a digital copy of a comic whose physical counterpart comes with a free download code. Perhaps once (if) other digital comic storefronts start appearing and undercut the borderline monopoly we have now, lower hosting costs will mean lower prices without harming the creators. Until then, I stand by what I said earlier: I will not pay cover price for something if I do not get my own digital copy.

Zach Wilkerson: The biggest detractor regarding digital comics is price. We have been trained across all other mediums, books, movies, music, that digital versions are “worth” less than physical copies. Why isn’t this the case in the backwards world of comics? How can I in good conscience buy a $3.99 Marvel book digitally, when I can pay the same price for the print book and get a digital copy to boot? Obviously the intention is to protect the retailers, which is admirable. However, if lower priced kindle books haven’t destroyed Barnes and Noble yet*, I don’t expect $1.99 digital comics to be the death knell of the local comic store. If publishers want digital to truly succeed, they need to implement a pricing structure that is consistent with other markets.

*Yes, I know bookstores are doing poorly, but I believe that has more to do with online retailers. Amazon will destroy bookstores and the LCS before digital does.

David Henderson: I don’t tend to buy comics digitally if buy them in print for that reason, actually. I don’t have the money for it. Marvel’s method of giving a free download code with $3.99 issues is a good workaround, but I don’t know if I would just straight up buy a digital $3.99 comic. The $0.99 pricing of digital first series is more in my budget.

Matt Meylikhov Pricing is weird, I’ll admit. Personally, I don’t see any reason to pay the same amount of money for a digital and physical edition. $2.99 for a brand new comic in Comixology? I’m sorry, I’d rather just get the real thing. And I know, that isn’t ALWAYS an option for people – and that stinks, rightly and truly – but I happen to be lucky enough to have local comic shops where that option is there. I will just buy the print. So, $0.99, $1.99? That seems fair-ish to me, because that’s the same as an app in the iTunes store most times anyway.

This is, of course, only judging it based on the “regular standards” of a single issue print comic.

ComiXology just launched Submit, their new indie comics system that could revolutionize how indie creators get their comics out there. If you’re someone who is interested in creating your own comics, could this be a direction you look at? Anything in particular you like or don’t like about it?

David Harper: Personally, I’m not interested in writing/drawing my own comics, but I love the idea. I love anything that can help people get their stories out there. Sure, it will lead to a metric ton of crappy books, but it will also lead to some amazing stuff. There’s so much potential there. I love it.

Brandon Burpee: I’m not entirely versed in the ins and outs of Submit but on the surface it seems like a great idea. It really could change the way comic creators reach audiences as this opens them up to a potentially large audience right out of the gates. I’m interested to see what would happen if a Bendis or a Hickman decided they wanted to try this. It would be an epic event and Comixology would probably crash but it could be a fun endeavor.

As far as my own work, I think I would like to try it but again I am not entirely sure of all the ins and outs and would need to do a little more research into it first.

Brian Salvatore: I am not, particularly, interested in releasing my own comics, and so this is not something that necessarily appeals to me from that angle. However, I think that a meritocracy is always the best system to produce quality work, so anyone’s book being able to be on ComiXology, in theory, could be great for the industry. It will also probably mean some pretty terrible comics, but that can be fun, too!

Vince Ostrowski: I think it’s a great opportunity to get stuff out there. I’m sure someone will find the downsides or the loopholes, but I’m definitely interested in it as someone who has ideas kicking around in his head.

Walt Richardson: In case I’ve somehow been too subtle about it: I don’t like Comixology. I am sure this will give some creators an avenue to get their work out there that they otherwise might not have had, and I wish them the best of luck. Personally, I would try a variety of other options before settling on that, but that’s me.

Zach Wilkerson: I haven’t looked into the details of Submit, but on the surface it seems like a brilliant new way for indie creators to get their work out there. This could conceivably forever change the way comics are produced and distributed.

David Henderson: I’m all for it. I’m in the process of launching a webcomic, called Esmeria, and I talked to my partner on that today about possibly hosting collections of it through comiXology Submit. It seems to me like a great way of getting smaller comics more revenue and awareness. The only thing I’m worried about is how vague the “approval process” seems to be.

Matt Meylikhov Well, it certainly is. I’ve thought about this sort of thing before. For readers who don’t know, I write two comics – CONTROL and DETECTIVE SPACE CAT, both coming out for free regularly – and one thing I always think about is how to get it out there more, to a wider audience. To that end, we’ve made regular PDFs and CBZs that you can download for free on the various sites in case that’s what you want, but obviously you have to know the site’s URL to get in on that in the first place. If I put DSC on Comixology, for example, I think that’d be a great way of getting it out to a whole new audience in a way they might prefer, and that’s something I’m definitely interested in.

Of course, it’d still be all for free, because just take it. Maybe a print collection you buy later, but as long as that’s an online comic, it’ll stay the same price you pay for your internet connection and no more.

So, yes, I definitely like Submit, and I’d definitely be interested in signing up for it at some point.

Marvel just revealed their Marvel Unlimited app, which gives you the ability to effectively have a Spotify (minus new books) like experience on iOS devices. At a price point of $10 a month, does that appeal to you? If not, why not?

David Harper: Even if there aren’t new books, the idea that I could go through an extensive collection (that may be missing more than a few books) like the one on Marvel Unlimited for just $10 a month is definitely an appealing price point. I think it’s the imperfect execution of a wonderful idea, although to those who want new comics in the mix, you’ll be waiting a long time: I doubt that ever happens.

Brandon Burpee: This will appeal to me more when/if it ever brings new comics into the mix. Even if they are a couple weeks behind this could really change the game in a meaningful way. Otherwise I think I’ll have to pass. I’ve tried Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited before and I was not impressed as random issues in arcs were missing and the system itself could be glitchy at times. So until it becomes more than it is I am going to pass. It is a move in the right direction without a doubt though.

Brian Salvatore: If this had new books as a component, oh hells yes. Even without, it is an appealing app, as it is totally worth $10 to have the opportunity to read books you’ve always heard about, or read runs you missed, without having the risk of buying something you don’t like. Spotify, for me, has been a great tool for evaluating both new records I was interested in, and also going back to bands I missed the first time around, and seeing what all the fuss was about. To be able to do that with things like Simonson’s Thor or David’s X-Factor (both of which I read parts of, but never their complete runs) seems like it is clearly worth $10 a month.

However, I would hope that the creators behind the works were being compensated fairly. I have no idea how/if Marvel Unlimited pays its creators well.

Vince Ostrowski: Marvel’s new app is very intriguing. I think $10 a month is a great price point. I think $60 for the year is nearly a no-brainer. I say nearly because you want to be sure you’ll have the time to really use it and because there are some odd completeness issues. I’m not saying odd as in, oh that issue of Amazing Spider-Man where he fights the Red Ghost and His Super-Apes isn’t available. I mean that there are very tight runs, even miniseries, that have an odd issue or a few just flat out missing from the run here and there. It’s really strange. There’s thousands and thousands of comic books available, so it’s hard to argue the price or the intentions of the app, but there’s definitely some filling in to do. Unless I’m missing something, you can read “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” #1-7, & #9. What? Why?

Walt Richardson: Finally, something I’m excited about! Ten dollars a month would be a steal for access to nearly everything Stan & Jack did alone; for that and thousands of other comics, it’s a no-brainer. Even more exciting, though, is what it holds for the future. If this turns out to be a big money-maker for Marvel, do you think other comic publishers are going to just think “Eh, why bother?” Of course not. I wouldn’t be surprised if in less than a year a few of the “third party” publishers began offering their comics through a shared service in the same vein — or if DC tried to play nice with these smaller companies in order to lure dollars away from Marvel.

Zach Wilkerson: The fact that I only use the free version of Spotify should let you know how I feel about Marvel Unlimited. It’s a cool concept, but the mountain of unread trades sitting on my bookshelf just informed me it isn’t a good idea to put down $10 a month for what is essentially a very large back issue bin.

David Henderson: As an Android user, I haven’t had a chance to check this out, but the concept seems like a good one. I’d put myself down as cautiously optimistic on this one until I get my hands on the Android app.

Matt Meylikhov Well, it’s been around for a while, right? Marvel has been doing digital comics longer than this site has existed, just not new and up-to-date comics. It’s only the app thing that’s ostensibly new, and the only reason I mention that Marvel already had a digital subscription service before the app is because: no, of course it doesn’t appeal to me. If it had, I would’ve already signed up for it. The thing about MU is, it’s not up-to-date, and it won’t be up-to-date for a while. In fact, all things considered, it may never be an app where comics that came out that week will be available, because that’d be a great way to lose money, right? $10 a month is 2 and a half $3.99 comics, so if Marvel is releasing three or four #1s a month, that’s a “try before you buy” scenario you can do legally – and if you don’t like it, Marvel loses money. So, $10 a month to read digitally a bunch of comics I probably already have? Eh.

Conceptually, mind you, the Spotify of comics thing is brilliant, totally. I think that the day we get to that point will be a great day. It may never realistically happen, though, because the way Spotify pays musicians (it’s, like, pennies a stream, or something?) will never match up in how Marvel or any other publisher would get money to creators, or themselves.

It’s a step in the right direction, though. I can dig it as a thing that has happened, but as an avid comic collector it’s nothing I need or particularly want. If you’re a neophyte, though…

Today at SXSW, Marvel announced a range of additional initiatives along with the app for Marvel Unlimited. They include, but are not limited to, Project Gamma (an audio experience compliment to your reading experience), Marvel Firsts (700 #1’s for FREE – temporarily – on the Marvel Unlimited app), and a weekly Infinite Comics series starting with a Wolverine in Japan story from writers Jason Aaron and Jason Latour and artist Paco Diaz. Give me some thoughts on all this. This isn’t even a question, just tell me what you think!

David Harper: 700 free #1’s? Hell yes, even if it does expire on Tuesday. Infinite Comics weekly? Wonderful. Could not love that more, especially with Aaron and Latour on Wolverine. Project Gamma? You know, I’m not so sure about this, but I would be more than willing to give it a shot. Ron Perazza, the patron saint of digital comics, is beyond excited about it, which makes it more than worth a shot for me.

Brandon Burpee: The best part of these announcements is that Marvel is clearly trying to do new and innovative things with the comic’s medium. Will they all work? No, probably not. I am more impressed with the throw it at the wall and see what sticks mentality. The weekly digital comic is the thing I am most looking forward to. I really enjoy Infinite Comics and I think it is the one format done digitally at this time that is a must buy for me. Other digital comics you can wait for as most get put into print in the end like Smallville, Li’l Gotham and Legends of the Dark Knight but you can’t have the same experience of the Infinite Comics in print. It just isn’t possible. Infinite Comics is the future of digital comics as a viable way to cut out the threat of pirating. At least until they figure how to get around it.

Brian Salvatore: These are a mixed bag of new projects. Aaron/Latour/Diaz weekly Wolverine? Thumbs up! Marvel Firsts? Thumbs up! Project Gamma? Super dumb!

Something like Project Gamma seems like a good idea, in theory, but I can’t see the idea working well in practice.

Vince Ostrowski: Personally, I can’t envision a world where I’d want to have my comics playing music or making noises. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, I’m not the least bit interested in bells and whistles on my comics. But the 700 free #1 issues? I think that’s a fantastic way of piquing interest. The key is that it’s happening at such a high volume. Even the biggest comic fans probably haven’t read nearly all 700 issues and interested parties can’t argue with free. I question whether they’ll be available long enough for it to make as big an impact as it could have, but the Comixology site totally crashed right away, so clearly there was tons of interest.

The weekly Marvel digital series is something I am 100% behind. I love the idea. It’s no secret how much I loved “52” and, though to a lesser degree, how much I enjoyed following “Brightest Day.” This longform “miniseries” will give you something to look forward to every week and with talent like Jason Aaron in the writing spot, it’s all in really good hands. The pricing will obviously be a key factor in how the general fandom receives it, but I know I’m already on board for the Wolverine segment.

About The AuthorDavid HarperDavid Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).

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User's Comments
  • Vince Ostrowski

    Fascinating to read all the answers and to see where some of us clearly differ.

    • David Harper

      I know. That was the strangest part. I think Walt and Zach are from different planets.

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