We’re Killing Automotive Media

Photography By: Drake Nolte

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People often criticize the blog boom of late 2008, through 2010, but in hindsight it is something the automotive media desperately needed. That boom flipped the print industry on its head as online producers began releasing free content of equal, or often better, quality than their print counterparts in less than half the time.

To keep their market share and endure the new survival of the fittest landscape magazines had to adapt, innovate, take risks, and go that extra mile to procure original engaging content. The days of relying on box stock event coverage, solitary cover features and thinly veiled advertorial reviews were no more.

Those same online content producers that left print editors with their heads in their hands served as inspiration for people like myself to try and carve our own way into the automotive media world. The tools and audience were available, we just had to roll up our sleeves and give it our best shot.

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As the online space continued to evolved and easier, quicker, publishing platforms like tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram garnered a larger audience a second boom arrived that was arguably bigger than the first.

Prior to these ‘micro blogging’ platforms, creating an online space took effort, not a tremendous amount, but effort all the same. Those initial first steps helped separate those with drive from those without. When that barrier was reduced to a few phone taps the floodgates opened and the market became quickly over saturated. Unfortunately unlike the previous boom, this one had a negative effect on the quality of content produced.

Many of these new micro bloggers realized that while creating an online space was now easy, keeping it filled with original content was not. So to avoid large lapses of inactivity, often caused by their own lack of creativity, they re-posted the work of others. Noticing this content was doing better than their own they continued to ‘borrow’ from the more talented instead of honing their craft.

Almost inexplicably this became the go-to model for people to follow. In short Timmy Vape noticed Stevey Swag amassed 10,000 likes in a month without ever picking up a camera and followed suit, hoping to do the same.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a well curated aggregate website/social media space made up of a combination of original and shared content –like say one that say compiles the best build threads the Internet has to offer, one that combs the internet for interesting projects up for sale, or one composed of unique vehicles from Japan and abroad— but sadly today these sites are becoming fewer and fewer. Instead of pages providing technical info, opinions, insights and related content when original content is unavailable we are left with regurgitation pages that can hardly be bothered to credit the photographer whose work they’ve taken advantage of.

These talentless hacks assume they can simply add “tag the owner and photographer” to their profile in order to clear themselves from any wrongdoing. Joey Lee from The Chronicles talked about this practice in 2014 and yet it still runs rampant.

Image via: stickydiloe.com
Read Automtovie Media Is Dead at The Chronicles – stickydiljoe.com

Worse still some established online outlets saw this method as a cheaper way to engage their audiences (why hire a photographer when borrowed content does just as well) and began devolving into similar models. As around the web sections grew in popularity and some dotcoms were abandoned all together, ‘features’ went from multi-page print spreads, to 800 word blog posts, to fifteen word sentences and a slew of hashtags in a few short years.

Industry marketers also took note and leveraged these pages as cheap way to get their product seen by a large audience (even if they factored in a fake follower number of around 25%) and provided page owners with product to promote, use, and give away. Sometimes even cutting them a check for not so subtle advertisement posts.

New photographers hoping for a fast lane to exposure, contributed to these outlets directly only to quickly learn that there was very little, if any, return in doing so. In our lust for uninterrupted streams of content and instant gratification, we accepted these baseless pages and their underhanded tactics as the new normal, creating a race to the bottom in the process.

We have birthed a culture where the creators who are out there going to the events, putting in work, and generating content are second fiddle to those sharing it. By holding the content stealers in higher regard than the creators, and often criticizing the content creators publicly when they ask for credit, we are effectively pushing our most talented right out of the industry.

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Some of you reading this might be wondering what the harm in following @your_favorite_auto_niche_here_daily is, and the sad reality is that every day we support these pages by liking their posts, tagging people in their comments, and giving them content we are putting another nail in the coffin of automotive media.

If photographers and videographers alike have a hard time asking people to properly attribute them for their work, can you imagine the uphill battle they will face if they ever want to get paid? Meanwhile ever notice what happens when you help those pages meet their milestones? They open up a store and invite you to buy poorly made, marked up, merchandise that often contains even more stolen intellectual property.

As a community we desperately need to support the talented driven by passion and not those out to make a quick dollar.

Now, as I bring this somewhat long-winded and far-reaching diatribe to a close, let me admit that I’m not perfect. In my seven year history I have, on occasion, re-posted content without accurate credit and sadly pandered to the same pages I’ve condemned. Instead of using this post as a way to throw those occasions right back in my face, take it as a commitment on my behalf to do better and catalyst for you do to do the same.

Only together can we fix this thing called automotive media before it’s far too late.

29 COMMENTS

  1. I’m with you on this subject. With so many people in the game without respecting it I can see a collapse happening again. Bottom line, passion will survive and help people evolve. Those who can’t change will get left. Adapt!

  2. This both an alarming and inspiring piece at the same time. It’s been on my mind for a while, but I couldn’t find the right words to elaborate what I found so troubling, you’ve done a great job here to bring this to people’s attention. People will call out others running fake parts, but the same people celebrate the fake media. As has already been said, those with the proper passion will find a way to make it work and we’ll still be around long after the pretenders have moved on to something else. We just have to strive to be better everyday and show the value of good media.

    • Paddy! Wow, great to see you here your editorials are a HUGE inspiration for me. If you don’t mind I might shoot you an email from my personal account to not come off as gushing 🙂

  3. Great article. I was talking to a fried about this yesterday. One thing you forgot to include: “Stupid Clickbait title” to click through to website full of stolen work, terrible writing and 45 pop-up ads to monetize the whole transaction… The dumbification of America….

  4. it’s not only auto photography it’s every aspect from entertainment to travel as long as outlets and news refuse to pay for their own photographers and keep leeching content nothing will change I used to get good money +expenses to go out on assignments now I’m lucky if one photo gets licensed

  5. amusingly this page is full of tags, links and adverts.
    Perhaps you would be more convincing in your appeal if you hadn’t included these things.
    Seems your just trying to change others so there is more room in the market for you to prosper from these “terrible” marketing strategies that you like to call media.

    • Thanks for the feedback everyone and positive reception!

      @Dave sorry you see it that way. That is not my goal in the least, the links in the article are relevant to the topic, none of them paid me. The ads you see help enable me to make it to events and keep the site hosted. I am in no means trying to make the market smaller. I WANT more people to make original content I WANT more actually competition and inspiration.

      @porkstick I actually do a bit of print work fairly consistently. It’s nice to have paper record.

  6. PAPER. Print on paper, do the work, get better….all while meeting people. Support the industry or print.

    Our grandkids won’t look at blogs, or old webpages. They won’t find them while digging through our attics. The webpages don’t smell like an old magazine. They don’t have chewed up edges or silverfish.

    I do it so my son can show his son and his grandkids who I am/was. I do it to see it on American paper–and support American industry. I grow trees and belong to the SFI to help my neighbors, my local mills, my publisher and the stores that sell them. Virtual scales it all down….and is stolen in the flash of a ‘share’.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. I’m really tired and sick seeing people just re-posting other people’s pictures and ask to tag the owner and photographer. Imagine if anyone TRIED to put ??? on your citations in your essays while you’re in Academia, you’ll be instantly granted a FAIL and potential suspension / expulsion. So why then are we doing it here? This is an amazing article that must be shared, but unfortunately I don’t think the culprits will ACTUALLY read this and be inspired to stop.

  8. That wasn’t aimed at you DaveT, but all of us. Travis Scanlan is a great example–he freelances like a champ. I love his work work, in both paper AND digital. I’m lucky enough to have a staff position, but it’s not just luck. It’s hard work. Paper is the way. Without having a market, growing trees on my timber stand is pointless. America was built on newspapers and magazines, not iPads or phones made in China. ….it’s bad enough that our cameras come from there.

  9. Some of these “journalistas” in their great haste to pollute the ether with their ill conceived musings are barely even aware of what they are actually looking at. I suppose their thought is… “better to get it on air than to get it correctly”. Personally, if I don’t recognize the name on the post, I don’t take it seriously…It’s not just automotive press that’s going down the tubes…look at what’s happening to “politics”…if a candidate like Trump can get even close to the Presidency; it’s evidence that people do not understand the difference between “data” and “information” !

  10. Great insightful story. Unfortunately true. This plagues all information nowadays, not just car stuff. It’s the death of journalism in general and the ushering in of the lack of information age.

  11. Shift with the times and innovate. Automotive media is very slow and boring. You can make money doing it. This article seems kinda crybaby-ish. I’m all for the creators out there and originalists. Do what you love. But traditional media is dead, time to move on and figure out better ways to do it. Other guys are and they are making money doing it, so why aren’t you? Being a photographer and writing a 800 word article on some car you shot in a carshow doesn’t cut it anymore. Look at motortrend and how they are shifting from print to video. If you’re putting in all the work for something and not getting payed for it then why do you do it? Cause you’re passionate about it? Heh, hope you have other forms of income. If you make a quality product the views/likes/upvotes will follow. Figure out how to monetize it or fail.

  12. Couldn’t agree more, The main reason why I’ve been doing less automotive photography recently, my passion is up for abuse. I’ve always said “if you’ve not been paid by the time you press upload, then you’re not going to get paid” this Is perfectly written and worries me about what the future will bring with quantity vastly out weighing quality. They can take all our pictures, but they can’t take our creativity.

  13. This is exactly how I have been feeling for a long time, its just hard to really say it out loud without it being lost on the internet. Ive had to step away from shooting cars and putting so much effort into stuff over the years because sometimes no one really cares about what you are doing and how much effort and time you invest into photography and whats involved in the up-keeping of a website… Stuff gets shared cropped and re used for others to gain followers to sell their “sticker or T-shirt for a generic copy and paste instagram page aesthetic tumblr page and no one seems to care”… I know I am a victim of reposting stuff on a few occasions where I cant find the owner but I know it will keep my blogs page in peoples news feed, Ive also been known to repost old Japanese scans and other stuff but Ive always felt a need to dabble in farming the web and mixing it with original content to possibly inspire other people in Ireland or similar… I try to post original content as much as I can, even reposting older stuff and any images of stuff around Ireland which I either cant get to or is long gone, and it usually gives a good response so its something Ive had to adapt to doing, the page just gets suffocated and you are almost forgotten about if nothing goes up on the site constantly…

    It also leaves a bad taste in your mouth sometimes when you go out of your way to do a shoot and no one cares, and you post an image taken on a potato of a car and it is praised and loved forever more, but thats the nature of the game, sometimes its just about the car and not the technical aspects of a good shoot…. when Ive had issues in life with having any sort of drive to get stuff out there, especially over the last two years when I took a step back from doing anything with my website because I sort of had enough of being suffocated and focusing so much attention on running a blog but getting nothing in return, it got pretty disheartening … I felt like all my effort was being poured into this project and it wasn’t benefitting me in the long run, especially when many friends were getting their shit together dedicating that effort to other areas…

    Im not the greatest photographer, or the greatest journalist our there by any means, Ive just always had a serious passion for shooting cars meeting people and throwing an opinion or an idea into the world whatever way I could get it out there and people seemed to enjoy it, and this kept me doing it… I felt the website I created had a place and a purpose for to showcase Ireland… Ive always been a fan of sites like this and it was one of the first sites back in 09 that gave me an idea on where to go with my own work, especially when the magazines I was getting work with died off…

    its been a fast few years and maybe I could have done things a little differently to cash in on things, the way this is all going, the environment is changing so quickly, I have a gut feeling its only going to get worse, with the rise of snapchat and whatever comes next, the next batch of people will have the attention span of a goldfish and everything will be mobile based… When I sit down to write something about a car or whatever, I know 6/10 people will skim it and move on. The blogs have more or less did off and I feel the days of articles and longer content are next… I just hope this wont be the case, its better to stay positive… I do miss the days of opening a magazine and seeing your work and its a shame thats almost a thing of the past.

    Being passionate and really just enjoying the social aspect of being in the car scene and the satisfaction of taking a nice well composed photo to showcase to the world accompanied by some interesting text is what has kept me here and will hopefully keep me here for the next few years…. thanks for writing this though, its nice to know others are feeling the same way, I usually don’t ever reply to much on the net but I felt compelled to add a reply and it ended up going on a bit..

    – Neil

  14. So I am one of those talantless people who repost photos on Instagram. My account is about motorcycles and I got about 10,000 followers within 6 months. All real followers that follow me because of the consistency and content.

    I spent weeks on Instagram researching motorcycle shops and photographers whose worked I liked. I followed all of them and initially before “re-gramming” their photo I asked for permission and EVERY SINGLE TIME they seemed excited about it.

    So I do spend time curating the best content but not creating it. I am not a photographer I am a marketer and this is why I do what I do best. I bring people quality content on schedule. People are too lazy to research which photographers post their favorite images. I facilitate this process, this is why I have 10k followers while a good photographer can’t get 300 followers in 3 years.

    Anyway, I also do NOT monetize this account (yet) and I always make sure to not only tag the owner of the photo but I use a call to action, example: Follow @photographer_name who took this shot for more awesome pics!

    I will eventually monetize the account and create some tshirts to sell, chances are I will hire one of the photographers I’ve been re-gramming from. This is what it is and this is 2016. Print magazines had to adapt tp the new online world, now artists who post their work online need to adapt to whatever is coming their way.

    • @Alex, as I mentioned I don’t think that every curation site is bad. I think that most are. Since you talk about crediting photographers and eventually moving towards working with some I think this is a good middle ground for the new landscape that is coming our way. I’d love to see more driven marketers working with photographers to make quality curated content websites not just these carbon copy regurgitation sites.

      @Neil we are essentially on the same wavelength, especially with this “its been a fast few years and maybe I could have done things a little differently to cash in on things, the way this is all going, the environment is changing so quickly, I have a gut feeling its only going to get worse, with the rise of snapchat and whatever comes next, the next batch of people will have the attention span of a goldfish”

      @Phil “If you’re putting in all the work for something and not getting payed for it then why do you do it? Cause you’re passionate about it? Heh, hope you have other forms of income.” Passion is totally why I do this site. I do have other forms of income, some auto related but most non. In short I have a day job and never really planned for this to replace that. However monetary compensation isn’t the only aim of this post. The bigger problem is people are more inclined to capitalize on other’s content rather than create their own.

      @Alvin lol you’re right they would be immediately flunked out

      Again thank you everyone who has commented thus far. Especially those from the opposite viewpoint!

      (Side note time to enable threaded commenting)

      • None of this is about money. If it is, you’re fooling yourself. This is our passion-so suffer for it. I get that it’s a public forum, but I think we all want credit (or criticism), that’s all. Don’t crop or share us away. Yeah progress, yeah connected world, blah blah blah- but we do it for a reason. I do it so my kiddo will have it in print on his bookshelf when I’m cold in the ground. I consider it art, but others consider it trash.

  15. This article is outstanding but does not touch on an important aspect and I believe there is a silver lining here.

    Following needs to be considered: While there is this 1% of people that give this serious thought and care about the actual photography and the content creator, 99% of individuals following these IG accounts are sheep. Mindlessly looking for a quick fix – a couple of pictures of cool rides where they couldn’t care less about the photography involved.

    These are the people the content creators cater to, these 99% are the consumers. The consumer might be able to recognize quality, but it may not always be the highest priority simply.
    That’s how this niche could develop for these micro-bloggers, quantity over quality.

    The silver lining is that I believe true quality and commitment will prevail over time and will always be noticed by relevant parties, not the very least due to today’s social media practices and re-blogging.

    Truth is, the 1% does not follow these pages nor they do not need to be convinced of how bad they are.
    However, for the 99%, it will take a lot more to convince. If it is even possible, which I highly doubt.

    Still, it is substantially better to have an article like this to speak about the issue than to never mention it at all.

    Well done Dave!

  16. I think you guys give the average trader too much credit. I’m a lifelong car guy but I have no clue about photographer credit etc.. I follow pages I like.
    This industry speak is completely foreign to me. If it were as blatant as Rota I would be more diligent about which pages I follow. It isn’t so I’m not. Maybe consumer education is appropriate….
    The industry needs to figure out the solution. The general public has no responsibility here. Much like the music industry.
    I wish you guys good luck. Dave knows I support him 100%.

  17. It’s a great article Drake. As Paddy mentioned, many of us had this idea in our head, but didn’t have words to describe it.

    I also get confused or demotivated when I see copy-pasted blogs/grams with thousands of followers, or your own picture without any mention with hundreds of likes. At least what admins could do is to tag my page and give some support.

    And since so many “photographers” are ready to work for free, Likes on Facebook happen to be the only currency you can get from an event.

  18. You guys laughed at print and gloated in your revolution. Now you want what it had, income, security, respect, structure…. Classic.

    • @Brett I agree, at the end of the day we can’t look to the person consuming the content as a solution. I’m not sure what the solution is, full disclosure.
      @Guy yes there is certainly a bit of the harsh reality that we ushered in some of our own doom in terms of compensation and credit but I don’t think any of us intended for it to encourage LESS people to get out there and actually create anything.

      I’ve gained so much by actually going out and covering events and meeting people that someone who simply re-posts content will never get to experience. That in itself is worrisome.

  19. Damn glad to read your thoughts, and your analysis of the print killed by blog, killed by instagram is well done. A clear look and grasp of the big picture. Advertorial… Ha! Yeah, magazines did well for a long time on free products to improve the shop rod while writing articles on the newest carb, cam, trans etc etc. No one since has gotten that schwag thrown their way. Oh, some have scored rain x, floor mats, etc whatever, but the magazines really raked it in.

    Magazines sure have died and went away in the past decade though, and I am sure it’s due to the birth of the websites, cell phone cams, etc. Though only a teenager (the internet is what, 19 years old?) it’s toppling of the old regime is mighty.

    The new talent that has grown and created good new stuff like Bring A Trailer, Petrolicious, etc has far eclipsed the previous medium for specific services or great content. HAMB, Hooniverse, Jalopnik, Bangshift and others sure swooped in and took a lead.

    Also, blogs and websites bloomed and withered with lives in single digit years. Some real good sites have come and gone, Winding Road, Carros Antigos, and others… about 4 a year by my standards, and the odd thing is that they had cool content, but never a crazy fast way of getting syndication like this Tumblr – Instagram – Facebook thing.

    10 thousand followers? Holy shit! I’ve been blogging for nearly 10 years, and was inspired by sites that I stumbled across while surfing the web, and seeing that ANYONE could be a self publishing machine, and put anything they wanted on their own site. So, without advertising it, I did to. People stumbled across it, and I made friends, acquaintances, and free press passes to SEMA! Haven’t made a dime yet, because, well, I wasn’t focused on that, didn’t realize the BAT idea before they did, or advertising like Jalopnik, and still haven’t gotten anyone soliciting me to advertise on JACG that I can respect.

    Edelbrock, K&N, Holley, Hurst, etc. Just schmucks in lousy car insurance companies, desperate for traffic. Blogs were a great way to link up, then they were passed by when Tumblr and Facebook made connections faster, easier, and more insanely numerous than anyone can cope with.

    10 thousand followers? That is great, but tell me 200 names from that pile of readers? Nope, it can’t be done. Blogging still gives me readership traffic, but I can tell you the 50 or a 100 people that comment frequently and that I reply to, on a daily or weekly basis. I’d rather stick with that than point to the app on the side of the site that shows 220k readers and not know a single one. Of course, if JACG were paying bills, or getting ad rates based on traffic, I’d likely change my mind for the sake of income. But, I don’t have the luxury of selling out.

    There are far too many who somehow have nailed the sales and marketing, in addition to great content, and are out there getting paid for me to consider my site in their league. I know better than to think I can monetize JACG. It’s no where near the content quality needed to make more money than minimum bill paying requirements that it would take to get to events and cover them like I do now because I’ve got a job unrelated to online aspirations.

    I hope to leverage my online accomplishments, traffic, and content to prove I’ve got the chops to get a job with a big corporation that will pay me handsomely, have medical benefits, and cover the expenses to get around to the kick ass events I want to cover first hand (Goodwood, can you hear me? I’m talking to YOU!) In the death of small magazines, and Zines (remember the 90s when the brave tried self publishing?) some really good stuff was created like Rodders Journal and they inspired Street Rodder Premium, and Motor Trend Classic… and the Hot Rod crew has been voraciously trying to stay alive somehow, while killing off Custom Classic Trucks, 5.0 Mustangs, Popular Hot Rodding etc etc (trust me, they killed off the weak runts around the office) and tried things like Overkill, Hot Rod Deluxe, and television was desperate to try and get ANYTHING to compete with Top Gear, then gave in and made a USA weak lousy version, just like any other British show that is cool getting an American version. Sorry, I digress.

    Wrapping this ridiculously long note up, the best are going to survive, and those that consider themselves good, but fall by the wayside, are going to either give up, or rethink and reinvent themselves and try again to make their goals happen.

    Some incredible talent was unknown before the internet, maybe they came of age at the right time, or maybe, digital cameras, same day online publishing, online video sites like You Tube and Vimeo, etc have made it easy for the talented to get a fast foothold instead of waiting for old bastards to die off and create an open position at Car and Driver, Motor Trend, or Road and Track. Lets face it, the old guard of magazine titles were where they got lazy and stopped being hungry. Some real talent was in there among a lot of mediocre lucky bastards on the gravy train, but there was no room for growth and addition of incredible new young talent like Stefan Marjorham, Bruce Holder, Larry Chen, and John Jackson. Some guys had to take a huge financial risk and go for broke with their own magazines, (Luke Ray with) Fuel, Sunday Slackers, (Coby Gerwertz with) Church and let me sing the praises of the hungry, the young lions, the new force pushing aside the cruddy old mags your dad read. Hef was a hungry young lion once, and made a effing incredible breakthrough in magazines with Playboy. He effing broke the lines, crossed the effing man, and walked past. Set up clubs, had a swag jet, and a Hollywood mansion for his private harem and incredible parties. (I bow in his general direction as I’m not worthy) and still was including the literary giants in his magazine, to read once you’d absorbed the eye candy. His kind of revolution will never come again.

    Everyone seems to want to focus on a narrow market now. Hef was showing you the artists, stereo gear, and the cars. And damn it, you bought that magazine. Thank you Hef! (Raise a glass to Hef the next time you’re in a bar!) Because he paved the way, and proved you could make your own magazine, create what you wanted to see and sell the hell out of it. Ain’t many people want to risk it all, fight the man in court for free speech, and sell keys to the Playboy Clubs, but, we all know we can print our own magazine, showcase the finest artists, sculptors, custom car makers, designers, and photographers, and write whatever we feel like it, and not have any damn editor, censor, or management tell us otherwise.

    We will live or die on the internet if we’ve created a wave that swells and breaks just so, where others want to
    surf (Petrolicious, you lovely bastards) or we’ll wash out and quickly disappear. Some will make it, and have glory, just like the rebels in the 60s; Von Dutch, Barris, Roth, and others will maybe get a retrospective because they died of cancer or car crashes (Jae Bueno, Paul Walker) while we kept marching singing their praises. But like you pointed out marketers will try to imitate, or rip off, the successful, and new things will come up that we can’t even imagine, and new young lions will have been inspired by those of us in the here and now, when we are old and gone (Von Dutch hats and clothing). While I’m still posting, I’ll still be hitting events, taking photos, and posting new content and coverage. Maybe I’ll be able to afford to get further from home and cover new events, or maybe I’ll surf the web, and just show jaw dropping awesome stuff I’ve found, and share with my readers the coolest and most creative things other people are doing. I don’t know what will be, except, I’ll be enjoying it anyway I can, and sharing it on just a car guy. Because whether I’ve taken the photos, or someone else has, I’m not creating anything, I’m just sharing what I’ve found cool, with wheels

    • Jesse, I hope you don’t mind that I split your post up a bit to be able to read it but let me say man you get it 100% Larry, Bruce, John all are huge inspirations and JACG to me is great internet. I can see the passion you put into it and you like such a wide variety of cars that you even make me scratch my head sometimes wondering how one man can like SO many things.

      Your SEMA coverage is what brought me to your site but your ability to understand what it is to truly be a car guy is what keeps me there. Lets keep fighting the good fight and ticking off our bucket list goals and hope people read along the way, its all we can do!

  20. Amen! Bonneville speedweek, the Ford museums, Goodwood and Pebble Beach are my bucket list. Oh, and finding some company to hire me to keep doing JACG for them, so I can quit working a real job, and they can monetize the traffic or whatever smart business people do while car crazy people just lose our minds over barn find stories, learn of WW2 planes getting restored, admire the newest art from the photographers and welders, and see what new cool stuff the custom shops like Pure Vision come up with. This is one amazing hobby, and has an enormous variety of things to catch the attention of people that are interested in things with wheels

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