I am curious what your readers will say, since I have vague problems with Patreon... and I say this as someone whose tip/donation buttons generate a sizable amount of her yearly income.

I'm actually curious as to what your vague problems with it are--I think you've probably looked into it more than I have, and you definitely have more experience with a tip-jar income!

Having done zero research on this, my understanding of the original patronage system was that the artist (or scientist, philosopher, etc.) would be solely supported by one person, who then gave that creator a greater or lesser degree of freedom in what they worked on. Da Vinci apparently spent a lot of time making candy sculptures for Italian banquets, for example*, which seems somewhat at odds with his better-known pursuits.

This kind of clashes with Patreon, where you have a large number of people chipping in to support an artist, and thus they can't all say what the artist is to work on (or else you'd be spending fifteen minutes on each of several hundred projects which would therefore never get finished). In this kind of environment, it's up to the artist to decide what they're going to provide, if anything, and then the supporters decide how much money (if any) they're willing to contribute.

Sounds like in your case the most likely scenario would be "Hey, you wanna pay me to be Ursula Vernon, Professional Strange Person, knock yourself out." No expected return (maybe a discount on future prints or something), just people paying you to be you. Which is a pretty awesome gig if you can get it!

* Or so the Cartoon History of the Universe, Volume 3 informs me.


I'd be up for paying Ursula to just be Ursula. The part I like about patronage is that it gives the artist more freedom if it's done right. I never know what to expect from Ursula, except that it's going to be unusual and...well, Ursula-like. Giving her some money would be a gift for her to use as she wishes, no strings attached. If fans giving her such gifts allows her to turn down less interesting commercial work in favor of some new experiment, or tuck something away for retirement, or just buys her a cup of coffee now and again, I'd be down with that. I feel like she enriches my life and I'd like to do something in return. :)

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I'm glad you like the D&D stories!

But yeah, I think having even one thing a month would rapidly turn bad on me. I have a terrible relationship with time, as in I occasionally look up and crap, it's next month, and I don't see it going well at all. (I haven't done a single image in the last three months that's backgroundable, for example...)

Hell, I haven't even been keeping up with my attempt at a photo a week, and that was EASY.

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I think Patreon in general is awesome for people it works for. If that's not a tautology. I don't think it'll work well for you, for all the reasons listed. I mean, if I had five bucks a months to spare, I would totally send you five bucks a month to make the world an odder place just by being you. And if one month you put lots and lots of extra-awesome stuff where I could see it, that would be amazing and maybe I'd send you a little more. But if you did nothing but argue and the SFWA and complain about Thrush-Bob, I would still consider that you had made the world an odder place just by being you, and be satisfied. But I recognize that I am unusual in this.

There are other people for whom I would do similar. Elise Mattheson, f'rex. Alexandra Erin, who DOES have a Patreon for her writing, but seriously I'd do it just for her being her all over Tumblr and real life. Fred Clark. Like that.

I saw bits of the conversation earlier, and was reminded of Charlie Stross's post on why he doesn't have a tip jar. It's sort of similar but different; in his case as primarily a fiction author, the thing that really makes his money is having books published, and so the most effective way to support him is to buy his books (especially from "real bookstores" rather than Amazon) so that bookstores will continue pre-ordering them.

Someone in the comments there pointed to this page that Cory Doctorow set up for Little Brother, which is a volunteer-run thingy to connect people who want to give support to Cory by buying a book with people in libraries or schools that would like a donated book. I wonder if something similar with Dragonbreath would be a useful thing -- though setting it up seems like rather a bit of work, and would probably want a small number of dedicated fans to run it rather than having you do it!

This assumes though that everyone wants Charlie Stross's books (or on the other end of the spectrum, that they have them all already). A tip jar gives your audience the freedom to say, 'hey, I'd buy you a cup of coffee if I could but I don't really want More Stuff. Just keep making stuff for everyone else who has stuff.'

As someone with way too much stuff/things to read/limited wallspace/limited time and attention, I often use tip jars as a way of saying 'thank you' to artists of every kind who enrich my blogrolls/rsses/twitterfeeds/etc without having to enter either of us into an obligatory relationship that would require an exchange of something less ephemeral than that thanks. 'Here. Go buy a cup of tea. Rock on.' And that's it. No more checking up on it required by me. I feel happy because I've done something nice. They're happy because someone did something nice for them (no strings attached!).

I think making that sort of transaction possible helps contribute to the world being a little less stuff/me-focused. Generosity is a good thing to encourage. :)

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I think crowdingfunding the old patronage model is an awesome idea (the Medici might have been assholes, but we got great art out of it.) But just like patronage didn't work for everyone, Patreon/etc. won't work for everyone.

I think Patreon is a great model for many people, but really shines especially folks who have been historically dependent on advertising income to fund their projects, since the projects themselves are not easily saleable. (Subbabble.com is a similar thing, and several of my favorite youtubers are now using it to help them be able to continue consistently making work since ad revenue on youtube isn't quite sufficient, especially under the new model) and I've seen some webcomics really work well for this model, too. I don't really want a t-shirt or a sticker, but I wanna give them money, you know? (This is also why my adblocker has a long, long list of "don't block ads on this site.")

If you are already doing a lot of paid work, then... it does kind of become another job, only with extremely ill-defined specifications and expectations. Which would freak me the fuck out.

Yes! That last line! Exactly!

I'm supporting true-magic.com with a teeny bit; I would support more people with automagic depoits if I felt sanguine about my cash-flow, but I am a paranoid creature.

My take is that it is likely to work well in the sense that true-magic's doing it, anyway -- they've laid out what they're offering, and what they're asking, and what they're able to do with that. And as a webcomic, they can pretty much run with a model that's roughly: "when you support me with $X a page, I can do more pages (but you can cap the total $X value even if I turn into a pagemonster and crank out 50 pages in a week), you get more story, supporters also get advance look at pages, and yay!"

When you're someone who's making lots of different things, it probably gets fuzzier and a tip jar would probably be a better thing if you want to go that route -- "Here! I made a thing. It already exists. If you really like this thing and have some spare change, drop some money in the tip jar and we will have a Pavlovian experiment to see if I make more cool things faster when the money rattles."

The jaguar up there (*waves to haikujaguar*) probably could have a Paetron thing for her serials if she wanted; "Look, here is the latest serial. I will post updates on a regular basis, and if you don't want to go through tossing money in the jar each time, you can just automagically tip whenever I update. If I don't update for some reason, no automagic tip. No backstage level of tipping, sorry; what you see is what you get." Or, if she wished, she could maybe give any given serial's supporters, of a given level, an e-ARC or something when the serial ends; not sure if Paetron keeps a running level of support or what.

On the other hand, her tip jar works pretty well and doesn't require people to sign up to Yet Another Site and estimate their total month's ability to automagic tip, and there's no expectation of any final-bennies or backstage bennies.

So, um, as said above: Paetron probably works really well for the people it works for! I think it's trying to tap into the idea that you may not have 100 fans who'll buy $100 a year, but you may have 100 fans who'll kick in 1 to 4 bucks a month, which could be pretty handy for grocery money, or rent.

Some other thoughts, relating to psychology, not expectations

Replying to myself... I think one flaw in moving from a successful tip-jar model -- even if you're doing something it handles well, like a serial or webcomic -- to Paetron might be that tippers will donate more per installment than if they have one box per update and can do the math right there. Someone who can casually drop $5 an installment most of the time might be taken aback by that "wait, that's $15 a week! I can't be sure I can do that" sticker-shock. These people need to be able to evaluate whether they're feeling flush each time they donate -- or they might cap at $5 a week and forget to bump that up when they see a serial update.

If you have an unsuccessful tip-jar set up -- i.e., your fans are more likely to say, "I can afford $3 a week, but if I poll myself each time I see the update, I will feel stupid dropping $1 in the tip jar and so I never put anything in the tip jar ever" -- then swapping to the Paetron model could be useful.

I think the best way for the site to work as intended, for a content creator such as yourself, would be to for instance offer it but ONLY as a $1 donation sort of thing, don't offer any other tiers. If you have 100, 500, 1000 readers who are willing to pledge $1 a month towards you because it makes them feel good, supporting what you already share for free (which is a LOT) then it's a way to help support you (and not twisting anyone's arm to do so!!) and also make people happy supporting something they enjoy.

That nixes the 'owing people something' thing that come with higher pledges/tiers/rewards, etc.

What you do offer; art, writing, entertainment are a lot :) I think a platform like Patreon is REALLY open ended - you can use it in quite a variety of ways. It would be unfair to peg it as one thing or another - so much depends on how a campaign is set up and what is offered. It can be a subscription or back-stage pass (say for someone doing livestreams and subscriber WIPs for public content) - or it can just be a tip jar, etc.

Personal ramble about it: I started one myself for a project I love working on (and have done so for 15 years now) but find myself not having nearly as much time to devote to it as I would like. I get a lot of emails from people saying they appreciate the information I provide and that it is useful to them and I would love to share more - but at this point my time gets so limited stretched between different things I just can't justify it most of the time. If the campaign can be successful, I can spend more time making more of that art and writing more animal symbolism write-ups and talking to people about symbology/mythology/natural history - I struggled with the same sort of questions you have presented - this is my work, is it ok to ask people for funding/support for something I'm already doing?

In the end I read a lot, positive and negative about the whole thing, but came to the conclusion that anything which encourages people to support the arts and gets more artists making art and is a nod to the ages old patron system for the arts - it gets my thumbs up. No one HAS to use it, no one HAS to pledge or donate - but I feel the major power of this particular crowdsourcing vs. say kickstarter or a more rewards-based fundraising is that it's got the power of a whole bunch of recurring $1 pledges to make a difference in an creator's life :) It's just, to me, a very fancy way of running a tip jar in a prettier platform!

Now THAT'S an interesting thought....the recurring $1 tip jar...I don't think I'd feel terribly bad about that. If somebody showed up and said "I want my money back!" I could just paypal them ten bucks and I'd feel like we were square.

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I think Patreon really works best with folks who have a set release schedule of Things that they do. It'd probably be great for folks like the Foglios that update like clockwork for years at a time on a project. It'd probably not be great for folks like Aaron Diaz or Tracy Butler where they go quiet for long stretches of time.

Also it doesn't work very well for people who front load their Patreon with a bunch of things immediately available for higher tiers but have no reason to entice people to maintain that level of patronage. Because you can set yourself to Patreon for a higher tier for a month, then change to a dollar after... well, already people are finding out that that humans do what humans do when given a situation like that in which they can game the system.

EDIT: Another thought comes to mind. Do you think Patreon would have been useful to you when you were first doing Digger?

Edited at 2014-03-11 07:01 pm (UTC)

As far as I can tell from supporting a few people on Patreon, you don't have to do a monthly tip model -- you can do a per number of items thing. So, people can pledge $1 or $5 or however much per, say, 10 items that you put out (you get to define what an item is). That might give you some more flexibility. Perhaps a blog post is .5 of an item, and a sketch is 1 and a painting is 5 and Cryptic Stitching is 10 (I'm just putting random numbers out there). That way, you're not actually tied to a time frame and can keep doing what you're doing, while getting some bonus for it.

Patreon support can be framed as generally as "make the world a slightly odder place" as you say, but it can also be framed explicitly around specific work. For example, the critic Mattie Brice (http://www.patreon.com/mattiebrice) has her Patreon pledging structured "per article," with a supporter-defined monthly limit.

So it can be kind of project-oriented in the way that Kickstarter is. What I really admire about the model though is that it's designed to sustain *practices* instead of individual *products*. For some folks this could look like a fixed donation for unspecified production -- I do support some artists who do a lot of different things and don't define a fixed correspondence between my donation & their output. Liz Ryerson (http://www.patreon.com/ellaguro) is one example; her output is a mix of music, games, video, visual art, and writing. For others it's more explicit -- again, Mattie knows that the product of her writing practice is consistently "articles," so she can quantify the relationship between my donation & her work. I like that Patreon supports both kinds of practices, they're both things I want more ways to support!

I had similar concerns to yours on the "owing stuff" and the pressures involved of the potential of having an "on fire" month and one where my content production is low low low. My goal in life is to rely less on commissions and more on the things that made me want to draw in the first place, my dreams, my visions, my artwork. That is why I set up MY Patreon to be on a pay per-content basis for me to produce artwork from my own stash of ideas to offset the cost I'd be losing from otherwise just taking an extra commission each month. It's not without it's potential drawback there, in that I specify that people only pay me upon the completion of a completed piece of art from my personal stash of ideas I want to tackle, and in exchange, they get progress, prints of said piece, and other goodies that don't eat into the cost too much that would undo the whole point of the campaign, but still let people feel like they're getting something. It's all outlined in black and white, what they'd be getting, how often, and all of the insecurities aside, these people are pledging to me on their own free will.

They see what they'll get for their funding, they KNOW this is not a commission (even though they get discounts on commissions by helping me make time for myself), the perks are listed and they can decide which ones they want (if any) and how much they want to commit to get what they want, and they can always cap their monthly patronage (for those aforementioned "on fire" months, people don't want a SURPRISE $60 patronage because they pledged $10 assuming I'd do 2 pieces/month and I did 6). They can stop at any time, and pick right back up at any time.

As artists we're always faced with the feeling of self doubt. What if they don't like it? What if I'm not good enough? What if I'm a huge disappointment? But something I've had to really struggle to realize is that, these are my OWN head-problems. No one is putting that burden on me but myself. People will pay for what they want, and if they want to toss $5 towards their favorite artist so they can take an artistic break for a couple hours each month, that is their business, and our job to be grateful and not doubt their motives.

It's a huge hurdle to overcome, I know. But yeah, the "pay per content" model vs. the "Pay per month" model is much easier for me to feel less guilty about, because if I don't produce, I don't get paid, and no one is out any money unless I'm purposely setting aside time to do the things I want that everyone wants to see me produce. Nobody loses, everybody wins.

I don't know if patreon would be a good choice for you either. However it might work fine as additional support for your podcasts. I am currently supporting Tom Merritt's Daily Tech News podcast at the requested $0.05 per episode level, aka $1 per month for which I receive a warm feeling for being counted in the 3k or so patrons. Otherwise I have the same experience as someone who listens for free.

I would be happy to do the same for KUEC, at either a dollar a month or $0.25 per episode. About 20 patrons doing that should let you and Kevin enjoy a Theo bar at the end of each episode.

I would totally support KUEC with that kind of model.

My POV: I view Patreon as a way to give an artist money on a recurring basis because I appreciate their work, and want to contribute in the tiny way that I can. I don't _expect_ anything from them, and for the most part wouldn't be likely to take advantage of any perks offered (e.g. wallpapers - maybe; work-in-progress sketches - seriously unlikely; ad-free access to website - whatever; etc.).

Point of note: Patreon may or may not be for you, but you don't have to produce monthly, you can just have patrons send a payment when you produce some set something.

So, like, if you decide to take pledges for, say, anytime you produce a painting for fun, or something; if you do a painting every few months or a couple times a year, then your fans get to "tip" you a few bucks. </p>

And you can limit or exclude individual rewards if you don't want to feel obligated. Or offer some no-work reward: for example, patrons get to see said paintings a week before you post them for the general public. Something like that.

The first widely talked about pay-the-clever-person scheme around was Flattr, in which you put a monthly amount of money in, and it got shared equally by all the people you had Flattr'd (and it sort of works even for sites that aren't members, since their Flattrs are held in escrow and can be claimed at a later date - I have three or four to claim, I think).

It is like a tip jar, which is what a lot of writers and artists and other creators have in the form of a PayPal button. And that's where I personally have a philosophical problem. I don't begrudge other people their tip jars, but I wouldn't have one myself, as it hands the control to other people. It's not a case of me selling something or providing a service for money, but me performing a service or producing something out of gratitude, in exchange for their charity.

To me, the dynamic there is way off.

Patreon has a better model, IMO, especially since it leaves you in control - if you feel you haven't delivered value in a given month, you can note that and not receive any payments (and your patrons will not be charged). The problem here is the perks, since in most cases, creators with an established audience already provide their things for free (albeit often ad-supported) to all and sundry. Why should anyone pay for what they could get for free?

Well, Patreon says that people will pay for perks - previews of WIPs, access to the creator via forums/chat/email, early releases of updates, and things like that. While my audience is much smaller than yours (a couple of thousand followers for my Twitter stories), I have the same objections as you when it comes to perks - I lack the capacity to produce things like that, especially with any regularity. And like you I would feel awful to exclude fans without spare cash.

But, and here's the thing Patreon doesn't dare trust, there are people who would be happy to give you money without expecting anything extra in return. Because you make their world better, by being in it, and they think you deserve an extra pretzel or coffee every now and then.

And that's fine, I think. Then there's no outright obligation to do anything else than you already do.

Why should anyone pay for what they could get for free?

Because they recognise that the thing they're getting for free has someone's time and effort behind it, and want to recognise and reward that hard work.

I'm an optimist in that I don't think everyone in the world is a selfish ass who's looking to get the most stuff for the least expense. Sure, there's plenty of people like that, but there are also plenty of people who, when they see that there is a person behind that thing they enjoy, will be happy to throw a dollar or two in their direction to thank them or encourage them to keep doing it. Or, if enough of those dollars pile up, free them from the tyranny of the Day Job to do more of that thing they do.

This is especially true when the creative person in question is good at interacting with their audience and thus building a relationship with them. Like, say, our gracious hostess.

But, and here's the thing Patreon doesn't dare trust, there are people who would be happy to give you money without expecting anything extra in return. Because you make their world better, by being in it, and they think you deserve an extra pretzel or coffee every now and then.

This is entirely possible under Patreon's current model. Set up a pledge tier that's basically "Keep Up The Good Work"; make it clear that patrons at this level get nothing more than the warm glow of knowing they've helped support something they like. People will still make pledges at that level, because if you're a content creator on the internet the balance is weighted in your favour - you've already given your audience stuff, and that stuff has value.

Some people will take advantage and continue enjoying your stuff for free. Others will be happy to repay you for the enjoyment that your stuff has brought them so that you'll be encouraged to keep making it for them to enjoy.

Edited at 2014-03-11 08:27 pm (UTC)

I read a pretty good breakdown of How To Patreon here: Conan, What Is Best For Patreon?

Short version: “Crush your overhead. Be driven to create regardless. Have many iterations before you.” So if you're already in a position to Do The Thing, if you're going to Do The Thing whether it makes money or not, and if you're going to be Doing The Thing for an indeterminate time to come, then Patreon will probably work for you.

Also, Patreon can be set as payment on delivery - patrons can offer to throw money at you for each update, but if you don't update then they're not charged. Also they can cap their pledges, so they can still support the arts without worrying if you're going to turn into a crazy juggernaut of productivity at some point.

From my own point of view (I draw a webcomic with a regular update schedule) Patreon seems like a really good way to get paid for what I'm already doing. The comic stays free, patrons will get perks that won't destroy my face (current plan is "access to sketches and preliminary work", "you get to see comic updates before everyone else" and "access to a monthly Google Hangout or Ustream broadcast"), and maybe this can become something like a living for me.

I think the Patreon model works really well for a creator who is making a regular-specific-thing (youtube videos, for example, or a weekly comic, or a podcast) and doesn't already have a platform set up to easily connect to fans with newsletters and behind the scenes info. It looks essentially like "donation" systems for webcomics have looked for years. But I do like that it changes the way we talk about funding those things - being a patron or purchasing a subscription is a lot less like begging for cash on a street corner than the term 'donation' always seemed to imply to me. And its nice to see somewhere at least treating the things people are used to getting for free on the internet as a creation with recognizable inherent value.

So for example, if you, say, only did the the lovely "Hidden Almanac" podcasts and didn't have a large web presence elsewhere, you might set up a Patreon account and say "so this takes time and equipment and if you enjoy them you might help me keep making them, as that would be terribly kind of you and it would mean that if the beagle eats the microphone I won't have to stop". And it would feel like someone subscribing to a thing they like and can afford to subscribe too, as well as offer a vehicle you might not already have for offer occasional special supporter content or behind the scenes making of information.

...when you obsess over mulch!

Seriously though, if I want to spend money on a creative person, I'll do it because I like what they create, be it books, or art or tomatoes. If I don't like what they create, I won't do it. Of course, there's my third option -- I-like-what-they-create-but currently-don't-have-the-money-to-throw-at-them- but-will-tell-them-instead-that-I-like-them-and-what-they-do-so-they'll-be-too -flattered-to-note-they-aren't-getting-any-cash.


There is also the fourth option of I-like-what-they-create-but-don't-have-the-money-to-throw-at-them-so-I-will-tell-other-people-about-them-and-maybe-some-of-those-people-will-like-them-and-have-money-to-throw. Word-of-mouth recommendations are valuable currency in the roaring sea of content that is the internet.

Thank you for writing this out. I've been curious and terrified at the idea and you've laid out my points of concern very nicely. I'm especially worried about the vague owing of people and the idea that there's a secret door I have to let people into. People try to find that anyway, which is rather ruffling and has me continuously on the verge of being an internet hermit as-is.

But you already gave us Act I of Cryptic Stitching; I know it's not complete, but I've definitely had enough fun that I want to throw money at you for it. Not so you'll owe us more content, but as thanks for the thing that just kept me happily occupied all week.

I have nothing relevant to say except that I would TOTALLY chuck $5 once in a while in a tip jar if there was one on the garden blog, mostly because it reminds me "Oh, hey, I should do that thing" on approximately the right schedule. :D

I'm only vaguely familiar with Patreon but the idea I had was that a patron only ended up paying IF the creator produced something during that month.

For instance, if a web comic is published 4 times per month then the creator gets whatever a patron pledged x4 - if they miss posting they don't get paid. I understand there's also a level cap so if a patron has pledged a couple bucks per piece of finished art and the artist goes nuts and does a ton of art in a month the patron isn't stuck with a massive bill.

In your case, and like you said, I'm not sure what you'd be charging for. You'd almost have to have patronage for each thing, or select things.

Again, I've not actually read into the details of Patreon - I've only had it described to me and observed how others (like Erica Moen) use it.

It looks like most patreon campaigns use this model. They can also be set up like a subscription when it is a flat amount per month.

I was really pleased when you did the Digger kickstarter, because it gave me a chance to contribute to the total UrsulaV oeuvre. Yes, I was supporting, and getting, the wonderful Digger Omnibus. But I was also, as I had wanted to do, supporting the total UrsulaV Make the World Wierder project. Most of the other things you do for money didn't work for me. Due to 17th century architecture and a wife who does the interior design, I don't up have space for art. My only young nephew and niece live in Beijing. But Digger was something I really wanted.

So I would like to give you a modest amount regularly, for nothing. Well, I would like you to keep breathing, it it isn't too much trouble. I enjoy your blogs, KUEC, the Almanac. But if any of those ceased to be fun for you, I wouldn't want you to keep on doing it because you had promised it to your patrons. I would far rather you dropped whatever it was that had run out of novelty, and six months later started something else that seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you do open a patronage account I would seriously suggest that you don't make it for anything. That, as you say, would be just fashioning another rod for your back, another burden for your conscience. And you can do without that. If you are making stuff for money, do it as you currently do: make it, then sell it.

And suppose, after a while, patrons who were originally enthusiastic start quietly to disappear. So what? Many will have their reasons, which are nothing to do with you. The financial tides ebb and flow for all of us. If the sum total falls, that will tell you something. But, almost certainly, nothing you would not knows ourself. Should it happen that your creative juices dry up, which I do not expect for many years, you will know before any of us (probably a decade or so before it actually happens). And meanwhile, you will have money that you wouldn't have had otherwise.

So treat it as a tip jar, a buskers instrument case open on the sidewalk. It is should not be for anything, it is just saying thanks. And cash is the sincerest form of flattery.

Wot Oi Finks, anyway.

I feel much the same, I could really use the money but then I'll owe stuff and what if I can't deliver?
If I ask for $1 per finished image and not finish anything in a month, I'd be sort of okay with it as long as they don't have to pay anything. But what if I finish something and ask for a dollar and people don't feel like it's finished? What if someone wants illustrations and all I do is photography for months? Should I have separate Patreons for illustrations, photography, sculpting, fine art? Would someone who likes my fine art be horribly offended at a pony pin-up?

And I loathe to upload exclusive content, I feel like it never stays exclusive for long :/
So what then? I could send out prints, or raffle sketches? I'd have to find a delicate balance between not paying for shipping out of my own pocket all the time and making a loss if only 3 people sponsor me..

I might just resort to a 2-tier patreon if it's possible, a $1 a month tip jar and a sort of subscription to prints, like a portfolio once a year with artwork from that year.


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