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May 31 2013

Leser sind eingeschlossen in E-Book-Ökosystemen

Wenn es Amazon oder Apple wollten, könnten E-Books zwischen Plattformen wie Kindle und iBooks austauschbar sein. Doch die Firmen verhindern das und schaden damit der europäischen Buchkultur. Zu diesen Ergebnissen kommt eine Studie der Europäischen und Internationalen Buchhändlervereinigung. iRights.info sprach mit den Autoren.

blaesi_rothlauf_3

Christoph Bläsi (l.) und Franz Rothlauf: „Der Nutzer sollte darauf achten, möglichst offene Endgeräte zu kaufen, und nicht solche, die für eine bestimmte Plattform geschlossen sind.“ Foto: Matthias Spielkamp

iRights.info: Herr Bläsi, Herr Rothlauf, Sie haben im Auftrag der Europäischen und Internationalen Buchhändlervereinigung (EIBF) in einer Studie untersucht, wie es um die Interoperabilität bei E-Books bestellt ist. Was ist mit Interoperabilität gemeint?

Christoph Bläsi: Vollständige Interoperabilität wäre erreicht, wenn man eine Buchdatei von einer Plattform, also etwa Amazons Kindle, nehmen könnte und mit allen Funktionalitäten in einem anderen System, zum Beispiel Apples iBooks, damit weiterarbeiten könnte. Mit Funktionalitäten ist alles gemeint, was sich um diese Datei herum rankt, zum Beispiel Metadaten, Kommentare, „social reading“-Spuren, Anmerkungen, Heraushebungen.

iRights.info: Und im Moment sind die E-Book-Formate nicht kompatibel?

Christoph Bläsi: Jedenfalls nicht vollständig. Man kann zum Beispiel auf einem iPhone von Apple eine Kindle-App haben, mit der man Amazon-Bücher kaufen und lesen kann. Aber diese Bücher sind dann woanders als die Bücher, die man bei Apple gekauft hat. Man kann sie nicht miteinander in Verbindung bringen, nicht in einer Liste sehen und so weiter.

iRights.info: Welche Formate gibt es derzeit und wie passen sie zusammen?

Christoph Bläsi: Es gibt einen Vorschlag für ein Standardformat, das heißt Epub3. Dann gibt es das Format KF8 von Amazon, und zwei Formate von Apple. Die sind zueinander nicht kompatibel. Eines der Apple-Formate ist mit Epub3 relativ gut kompatibel, und innerhalb der Apple-Welt kann man Epub3-Formate auch lesen. Man kann aber trotzdem nicht sagen, dass Apple ein offenes System ist; die Firma schützt ihre Dinge dann anders.

iRights.info: Warum machen die Hersteller das überhaupt – Formate anbieten, die miteinander nicht kompatibel sind –, statt einfach ein Standardformat zu nutzen?

Christoph Bläsi: Das hat mit dem Geschäftsmodell der Unternehmen zu tun. Denen geht es darum, voneinander abgeschlossene so genannte Ökosysteme für Inhalte aufzubauen. Das sind um ein E-Book oder ein bestimmtes Produkt herum aufgebaute Welten, in denen sich der Nutzer bewegt. Und sie sind aus Sicht des Unternehmens am sinnvollsten so aufgebaut, dass der Nutzer auf dieser Plattform bleibt, dort einkauft, dort Nutzungsspuren hinterlässt. Nicht kompatible Datenformate sind ein effektives Instrument, solche Ökosysteme aufzubauen.

iRights.info: Wäre denn Epub3 in seiner Funktionalität mit den anderen Formaten gleichwertig?

Christoph Bläsi: Das ist ein wichtiger Punkt, denn Apple und Amazon könnten ja behaupten, Interoperabilität ist nicht möglich, weil ihre eigenen Formate Funktionen erlauben, die mit Epub3 nicht möglich sind. Zum Beispiel Ausschnitte zu vergrößern oder eine Vorlesefunktionen. Wir haben herausgefunden, dass das nicht der Fall ist. Das ist ein ganz essentieller Teil unserer Studie. Alles, was man sich für so genannte „enhanced E-Books“, also E-Books mit erweiterten Funktionen, wünschen kann, ist mit Epub3 möglich. Es ist sogar so, dass Epub3 Eigenschaften möglich macht, die sonst mit keinem anderen Format möglich sind. Die Verbände von Verlagen und Buchhändlern hätten hier also die Möglichkeit, Amazon und Apple argumentativ den Rückweg zu versperren.

iRights.info: In Ihrer Studie sind Sie auch zu dem Schluss gekommen, dass der Mangel an Interoperabilität eine Gefahr darstellt für die Vielfalt der Buchkultur in Europa. Wie kommen Sie zu dem Ergebnis?

Christoph Bläsi: Die Menge aller angebotenen Bücher ist bei den verschiedenen Shops in den verschiedenen Welten nicht identisch. Die haben zwar eine große Überschneidung – die Bestseller gibt es überall –, aber wenn ich mich einmal für eine Plattform entschieden habe, und ich will ein Buch kaufen, das nicht gerade ein Bestseller ist, kann es sein, dass es diesen Titel in dem Ökosystem, in dem ich mich bewege, nicht gibt, sondern nur in einem anderen. Da ich die Bücher von dort aber nicht lesen kann, ist mir zwar nicht endgültig der Zugang zu diesem Buch verwehrt, aber mir ist eine extreme Hürde errichtet worden.

iRights.info: Sie haben in der Studie auch festgestellt, dass Interoperabilität aber möglich wäre.

Franz Rothlauf: Ja, auf der Formatebene ist das relativ leicht, denn die Formate lassen sich leicht ineinander umwandeln. Aber eine der Haupterkenntnisse der Studie war, dass dies für echte Interoperabilität nicht ausreicht. Interoperabilität in dem Sinne, dass der Nutzer Wahlfreiheit hat, welche Bücher er mit welchen Lesegeräten lesen möchte, die erreichen Sie nur dann, wenn die vorher beschriebenen Ökosysteme kompatibel sind.

iRights.info: Warum ist das so schwierig?

Franz Rothlauf: Weil es eben oft dem Geschäftsmodell der Unternehmen widerspricht. Die sind daran interessiert, den Nutzer an diese eine Plattform zu binden. Und es gibt noch eine Schwierigkeit: Wenn Sie ein Buch bei Anbieter A gekauft haben, dann kommt das mit bestimmten Rechten und Restriktionen, die durch eine digitale Rechteverwaltung gesichert sind. Zum Beispiel dürfen Sie das Buch nur zwanzig Mal anschauen. Wenn Sie dieses Buch in ein anderes Ökosystem B übertragen, muss der Anbieter dieses Ökosystems dann eigentlich diese Rechte und Restriktionen garantieren, die Ihnen von B auferlegt oder gewährt wurden. Sie müssen also die Rechte, die Sie an dem Buch haben, übertragen können vom einen zum anderen. Das ist zwar technisch möglich, aber ich muss es als Anbieter auch wollen.

iRights.info: Wer könnte Ihrer Ansicht nach auf welche Weise dafür sorgen, dass Interoperabilität Wirklichkeit wird?

Franz Rothlauf: Der Nutzer sollte darauf achten, möglichst offene Endgeräte zu kaufen, und nicht solche, die für eine bestimmte Plattform geschlossen sind. Das gilt vor allem auch für Anschaffungen durch öffentliche Einrichtungen, Regierungen zum Beispiel. Den großen Playern auf dem Markt, also hauptsächlich Amazon und Apple, würden wir nahelegen, dass sie ihre Systeme öffnen.

Und als letztes würden wir auch den kleinen Buchläden empfehlen, die Herausforderung E-Book anzunehmen. Dass sie aktiv auf E-Books zugehen und ihren Kunden das auch ermöglichen. Denn wir beobachten, dass der Buchhändler um die Ecke zwar sehr gerne Bücher mag, aber mit den ganzen technischen Details, die es erfordert, um E-Books auf dem Markt anzubieten, überfordert ist. Wir glauben deshalb, dass das nur im Zusammenschluss mit anderen Händlern oder Verbänden möglich sein wird.

Christoph Bläsi: Das ist natürlich ein klein wenig eine Wunschvorstellung, der wir da anhängen. Denn die Latte hängt schon sehr hoch – was die Ökosysteme jetzt schon an Funktionen bieten, das ist gigantisch. Da geht es nicht nur darum, die Kräfte zu bündeln und gegensätzliche Interessen zu überwinden. Sondern man muss auch einen Weg finden, wie man das finanziert. Denn wenn man über die Technologie spricht, dann geht es um viel Geld. Und derjenige, der dahinter steht, wäre ja kein Unternehmen, sondern ein Zusammenschluss von Unternehmen, bei dem einige der Mitglieder dann selber Interessen haben – eine schwierige Sache.

Dr. Christoph Bläsi ist Professor am Institut für Buchwissenschaft der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Dr. Franz Rothlauf ist Professor für Wirtschaftsinformatik und BWL der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.

March 20 2012

The give and take between e-publishing standards and innovation

Bill McCoy, executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), recently sat down with O'Reilly online managing editor Mac Slocum to talk about the Readium Project and EPUB 3. He also addressed the "EPUB-iness" of formats like KF8 and iBooks, and stressed that extending and building upon the EPUB 3 standard is important for ensuring continued innovation:

"There are two ends to the spectrum when you see people taking a standard and doing things that are similar to or based on that standard but extending it. One is the need for innovation. Even a lean and nimble standards group like the IDPF can't move as rapidly as the pace of innovation at any individual organization or company. So, given the need to innovate, you're going to go beyond the standard ... that is the good side of extending.

"The bad side is when you fork and deviate or when you do things that are unnecessarily different. I think you're seeing a little of both in those efforts [KF8 and iBooks], but I'm hoping to emphasize and encourage the good. We can't let standards prevent innovation ... but we want that innovation to not lock consumers in to one closed silo." (Discussed at 4:18.)

You can view the entire interview with McCoy in the following video:

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February 14 2012

About the Emerging Battles Over Textbooks: Options from Apple to Open Initiatives

Two dramatically opposed announcements put the textbook publishing industry on notice recently that it could be facing rapid disruption. Apple announced its iBooks Author app and invited authors to create textbooks tied both by a proprietary format and by license to its iBooks store. Meanwhile, the state of California (for the second time) announced that it would move toward free textbooks for schools. Similar efforts are underway in other countries.

One of the organizations trying to create textbooks for the California initiative is Open Doors, described as "the umbrella organization for College Open Textbooks, Open Courseware for Open Textbooks, and other exciting programs." After a discussion with a representative of that organization, Jacky Hood, and other commentators, I wrote an article for the Open Doors site. I recommend you read that posting, which I kept short to respect their guidelines, and then return here for some extra ideas that I lacked space for in the posting.

The contrast with One Laptop Per Child

I used One Laptop Per Child as a touchstone for evaluating textbook systems because I thought they got all the goals and ideals right, even though their implementation encountered problems. You couldn't find organizations more opposed in every aspect of goals and behavior than OLPC and Apple (except that they were both founded and led by charismatic visionaries). And it's on the OLPC vision, not the resulting computer systems, which have failed to spread as far and fast as the creators hoped.

My Open Doors posting focuses on the empowerment aspect of computer systems. The OLPC ideal is to let owners of XO laptops change anything they want on it, right down to the operating system. (Microsoft has also developed a special version of Windows for the XO, but the OLPC still promotes GNU/Linux.) The use of free software promotes learning and exploration. Contrast this not only with Apple's proprietary platform but is uniquely restrictive license, which requires authors to use Apple store for distribution.

Numerous other considerations separate the XO from the iPad:

  • Cost is the most obvious difference, but perhaps the least significant. It will not likely remain a major factor, because the XO costs more than the founders originally hoped, and the iPad, while much more expensive, could probably come down in price.

  • The XO was designed to be rugged, whereas the iPad is arguably an inappropriate device to hand to children.

  • The XO was specially designed for children (witness the tiny keyboard) and to be unappealing to adults, so that the adults allow the children to keep them.

  • The XO was designed to be useful in underdeveloped regions with limited capabilities, and therefore has low power requirements and can be recharged with a related solar power device.

I ran the themes in this article past David Rothman, editor-publisher of LibraryCity.org and a long-time advocate for open textbooks and open platforms to host them. While just as strong a supporter of open source as I am, David faults most open source tools for falling short in the area of usability, and was frustrated trying to use the XO because of interface problems, bugs, and weak computing capacity. He'd like to see Apple obsession for interface design adopted by the open source community. And he confirms my claim that a good textbook must have excellent production values. "Sometimes presentation is everything," he says.

But innovation also poses challenges. I wonder how many of the first texts currently offered on Apple's iBooks were thoroughly revisited to take advantage of the platform. Learning to write an iBooks textbook will require a whole new range of skills.

Apple and its enthusiasts stress how easy it is to write a textbook using Apple's iBooks app. But tools are not the gating factor in writing a textbook. A convenient, intuitive user interface is important for endeavors involving small contributions from novices. When somebody sat down impulsively to create a wiki page about Whitney Houston, the convenience of the tools would make a big difference. But textbooks are weighty responsibilities and their authors can tolerate complex (although not unnecessarily complex) tools. Again, the help they need is in creating an effective user interface for their own textbooks.

The limits of open: authorship of textbooks

As I said in my Open Doors posting, textbooks are not just assembled--they are crafted. It's a serious job. A few professors have challenged their students to come up with their own course texts, but they still need authoritative sources from which to take information. Among the content available to instructors and students for free are a broader set of material known as "open courseware." These can include lecture notes, curriculum plans, suggestions for experiments and hands-on projects, and lots of other juicy offerings that are certainly valuable. But rarely does one find textbooks.

According to Hood, Open Doors takes its author search very seriously. They have trouble finding suitable authors, a barrier related to the funding issues I'll describe later. But I agree with Hood that success is impossible without authors whom instructors will trust.

The limits of open: derivative works

Communities may evolve around textbooks, as they've evolved around other materials shared by educators. So fixes and updates to textbooks may end up being crowdsourced, but I think most instructors are going to defer to an authority for the texts they use in class.

Open Doors encourages (although it does not require) authors to release books with a license allowing derivative works, but the instructor gets to choose which book to use. I expect any derivative work to go through a rigorous peer review process before it gets widely adopted. There are too many drawbacks to the risk of feeding errors to students, who are more likely to be confused by them than experienced readers.

The limits of open: funding models

Readers who know me could expect me to be one of the most vocal backers of open textbooks. I've been part of free software communities for over a decade and have written enthusiastically about crowdsourcing in many contexts. But I actually feel a lot of sympathy for the publishers currently putting out $150 textbooks, and I've never joined the popular rants against them.

The $150 you spend (or even $250, should the book go that high) gets you quite a lot. Merely carrying away that quantity of pages--often 800, 1,000, or more--is a substantial return on investment. I've already mentioned the density and broad scope of these books, and the difficulties of ensuring quality. Instructors and students often demand study guides and sample questions, which the publisher usually throws in for free. The many online sites with rich, interactive content now accompanying many textbooks require a tremendous investment too.

So I never complain about the costs of textbooks. A couple hundred dollars per book is a small fraction of the cost of education, which is hiked by a number of things in academia, some justifiable and some not. Let's just say that a college is a lot more than a learning environment, and all those other services--extracurricular activities, counseling, exercise facilities--should be examined for cost controls before textbooks take the cut.

Nevertheless, I like open textbooks and would like to see where they go. Because Open Doors uses quite a traditional development model, it has to get grants to create textbooks. And since there so many academic disciplines, so many college courses, it's hard to get funding to develop all the textbooks California needs.

Textbooks can be printed and sold, but the goal should be to keep prices low so that students are not excluded. Anyway, it's cheaper and more efficient to distribute books electronically, and without charge. Ultimately, I think, the industries and professions who need to replenish their ranks with new talent will band together to produce the textbooks they need.

January 20 2012

Developer Week in Review: Early thoughts on iBooks Author

One down, two to go, Patriots-wise. Thankfully, this week's game is on Sunday, so it doesn't conflict with my son's 17th birthday on Saturday. They grow up so quickly; I can remember him playing with his Comfy Keyboard, now he's writing C code for robots.

A few thoughts on iBooks Author and Apple's textbook move

iBooks AuthorThursday's Apple announcement of Apple's new iBooks Author package isn't developer news per se, but I thought I'd drop in a few initial thoughts before jumping into the meat of the WIR because it will have an impact on the community in several ways.

Most directly, it is another insidious lock-in that Apple is wrapping inside a candy-covered package. Since iBooks produced with the tool can only be viewed in full on iOS devices, textbooks and other material produced with iBooks Author will not be available (at least in the snazzy new interactive form) on Kindles or other ereaders. If Apple wanted to play fair, it should make the new iBooks format an open standard. Of course, this would cut Apple out of its cut of the royalties as well as yielding the all-important control of the user experience that Steve Jobs installed as a core value in the company.

On a different level, this could radically change the textbook and publishing industry. It will make it easier to keep textbooks up to date and start to loosen the least-common-denominator stranglehold that huge school districts have on the textbook creation process. On the other hand, I can see a day when pressure from interest groups results in nine different textbooks being used in the same class, one of which ignores evolution, one of which emphasizes the role of Antarctic-Americans in U.S. history, etc.

It's also another step in the disintermediation of publishing since the cost of getting your book out to the world just dropped to zero (not counting proofreading, indexing, editing, marketing, and all the other nice things a traditional publisher does for a writer). I wonder if Apple is going to enforce the same puritanical standards on iBooks as they do on apps. What are they going to do when someone submits a My Little Pony / Silent Hill crossover fanfic as an iBook?

Another item off my bucket list

I've been to Australia. I've had an animal cover book published. And now I've been called a moron (collectively) by Richard Stallman.

The occasion was the previously mentioned panel on the legacy of Steve Jobs, on which I participated this previous weekend. As could have been expected, Stallman started in describing Jobs as someone who the world would have been better off without. He spent the rest of the hour defending the position that it doesn't matter how unusable the free alternative to a proprietary platform is, only that it's free. When we disagreed, he shouted us down as "morons."

As I've mentioned before, that position makes a few invalid assumptions. One is that people's lives will be better if they use a crappy free software package over well-polished commercial products. In reality, the perils of commercial software that Stallman demonizes so consistently are largely hypothetical, whereas the usability issues of most consumer-facing free software are very real. For the 99.999% of people who aren't software professionals, the important factor is whether the darn thing works, not if they can swap out an internal module.

The other false premise at play here is that companies are Snidely Whiplash wanna-bes that go out of their way to oppress the masses. Stallman, to his credit as a savvy propagandist, has co-opted the slogans of the Occupy Wall Street movement, referring to the 1% frequently. The reality is that when companies try to pull shady stunts, especially in the software industry, they usually get caught and have to face the music. Remember the furor over Apple's allegedly accidental recording of location data on the iPhone? Stallman's dystopian future, where corporations use proprietary platforms as a tool of subjugation, has pretty much failed every time it's actually been tried on the ground. I'm not saying corporations are angels, or even that they have the consumer's best interests in mind, it's just that they aren't run by demonic beings that eat babies and plot the enslavement of humanity.

Achievement unlocked: Erased user's hard drive

Sometimes life as a software engineer may seem like a game, but Microsoft evidently wants to turn it into a real one. The company has announced a new plug-in for Visual Studio that lets you earn achievements for coding practices and other developer-related activities.

Most of them are tongue in cheek, but I'm terrified that we may start seeing these achievements in live production code as developers compete to earn them all. Among the more fear-inspiring:

  • "Write 20 single letter class-level variables in one file. Kudos to you for being cryptic!"
  • "Write a single line of 300 characters long. Who needs carriage returns?"
  • "More than 10 overloads of a method. You could go with this or you could go with that."
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January 06 2012

Publishing News: Can the Nook be a viable business by itself?

Here are a few of the publishing stories from that caught my eye this week.

B&N looks at spinning off its Nook

NookLogo.png Barnes & Noble made a few ripples in the news this week when it announced the sale of its Sterling Publishing arm. But news that it might also spin off its Nook business caused a bigger stir.

Publisher's Weekly took a look at the Nook's numbers, noting that Nook device sales overall were up 70% year over year during a nine-week holiday period, with the Nook Tablet exceeding expectations and the Nook Touch falling short. The PW post also outlined the planned revenue streams of the proposed Nook business:

The new Nook group would be comprised of four revenue streams: devices; digital content, including e-books, subscriptions, apps, textbooks; accessories; and warranties and extended service plans. While e-books and other digital content sales would be made through BN.com, those sales would become part of the Nook business.

MarketWatch said there's not enough data to determine the profitability of B&N's ebook business on its own. Losses are expected to exceed expectations for 2011:

[Barnes & Noble] said it expects digital content sales to total about $450 million for the fiscal year ending in April — which is about 6% of the total revenues estimated for the company for that period. The total Nook business, including hardware, content and accessories, sold about $448 million in the nine-week holiday period, up 43% from the same period last year. But its investments in the business — along with a shortfall in sales of its E-Ink-based SimpleTouch reader — will crimp the bottom line for the year, bringing in a loss that is deeper than Wall Street had been expecting previously.

In an interview for the MarketWatch post, analyst Scott Tilghman said a Nook spin-off could be good for investors: "My sense is that the brick and mortar booksellers and related valuations are such that a spin of a more highly valued (in the eyes of investors) asset could boost overall shareholder returns."

Others, however, are arguing that the move signals B&N is closer to bankruptcy. In any case, the Publisher's Weekly post pointed out that "B&N said it was not a certainty that it would go ahead with the spin off."

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Newspapers look to capitalize on aggregators

Twenty-nine news organizations, including the Associated Press (AP), The Washington Post Co., and The New York Times Co., banded together this week to launch News Right, a news rights clearinghouse that, according to the AP story, will "measure the unpaid online use of their original reporting and seek to convert unauthorized websites, blogs and other news-gathering services into paying customers." The AP explains how it will identify the use of news:

NewsRight encodes original stories with hidden data that includes the writer's name and when it was published. The encoded stories send back reports to the registry that describe where a story is being used and who is reading it. The technology can even locate stories that have been cut and pasted in whole or in part.

Edmund Lee at Businessweek compared the venture to the way the music industry manages — and polices — rights:

The larger aim for NewsRight is to capitalize on interest among digital enterprises that want to legitimately use content, much the way the music industry manages rights through ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] , which helps musicians get paid for their songs played in public.

NewsRight isn't just a policing move, however. Newspaper analyst Ken Doctor pointed out in the AP story that the data gathered will be a selling point for advertisers, too, and could help them "measure the audience they want to reach more effectively."

Apple rumors fire up: Will iBooks support EPUB 3?

Apple_Logo.pngStraight out of the gate is as good a time as any to get the Apple rumors milling in 2012. Apple (probably) won't be announcing an iPhone5 (so, I won't be able to put my 3GS to rest just yet) or the anticipated Apple TV, but "sources close to the situation" report that "Apple is planning an important — but not large-scale — event to be held in New York at the end of this month that will focus on a media-related announcement."

Many are presuming the event will center around Apple's publishing arm, including its iBooks platform. Chris Foresman at ArsTechnica highlighted Apple's recent offering of a free ebook version of "The Yellow Submarine" to show off the platform and said, "based on information from our own sources, we believe the announcement could likely involve support for the EPUB 3 standard." That would be welcome news, indeed.

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May 05 2010

Actually, half of all iPad Books are Fiction

Suggestions to my previous post inspired me to normalize our metadata1 for titles available through the U.S. iBooks app. A comment prompted me to rollup iBooks publishers into publishing conglomerates2:



pathint


Comments from other readers gave me the idea to map the 100+ iBooks categories to the more familiar BISAC categories. Doing so means over half of all iBooks titles are Fiction3:



pathint


The distribution of titles across the BISAC categories varies by publisher. For example 64% of Macmillan's titles are Fiction, while 19% of HarperCollins are in the Religion category:



[Click HERE to enlarge.]


pathint


I also computed the MEAN price per paid title within a (BISAC) category4, for each of the major publishers. Click HERE for details.

(1) Data for this post includes titles available through the U.S. iBooks app from 4/15 through 5/4/2010.
(2) In creating the equivalent chart for my previous post, I didn't include titles from Project Gutenberg.
(3) Share of the major FICTION categories can be found HERE.
(4) Even with the BISAC categorization, Cookbooks is one of the higher-priced categories.

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