In this special 100th episode, Gary Pageau talks again with our very first guest, Eric Miller, of MillerFoto. Since the launch of the Dead Pixels Society podcast in March, 2020, the global pandemic reshaped how many businesses operate. Volume photography is no different, and Miller walks us through the decisions he made to reinvent his business operations and marketing practices. These changes included outsourcing production and ramping up video marketing. MillerFoto is a woman-owned school photography and yearbook company based in Metairie, La.
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Produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning
Erin Manning 0:02
Welcome to the Dead Pixels Society Podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau. The Dead Pixels Society Sodcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Advertek Printing, and School Photographers of America.
Gary Pageau 0:19
Hello again, and welcome to the dead pixel society podcast, these special commemorative 100th episode with Eric Miller of MillerFoto down in the New Orleans Louisiana area. Eric was our first guest back in March 27 2020, where we started talking about would this COVID thing really impact our business? And what should volume photographers and entrepreneurs do to get them through what they didn't know is going to be a more than two year long experience. So Hi, Eric, how are you today?
Eric Miller 0:55
Gary, how you doing? I'm doing just great down here. And it's nice and sunny today. Of course, tomorrow, it could be 40 degrees, and the next day could be tornadoes, you never know.
Gary Pageau 1:05
Exactly. So I didn't want this to become the at COVID retrospective because we're both forward looking people. But I went back and I listened to that episode from March 27 21. And it was interesting how there was so much there that people didn't know about what was going to happen. And you were expressing at the time uncertainty about negotiating with your bank, about the mortgages you have on your building and on your office, etc. And, you know, they're so obviously the government stepped in at some point and kind of helped with some of that with a lot of people. But what were some of the positives that came out of COVID for the volume photography industry, because there's been a lot of chatter, it's been around for a while. And again, we don't want to make say this as like anything really positive about a million people passing in United States. But there are a lot of changes that businesses were able to enact in their business that they may have been putting off for various reasons that they were able to enact. Because of the pause that COVID provided, can you talk a little bit about that?
Eric Miller 2:17
Sort of positive? So very first thing, we realized that, so for the first month, March or so, we paid all of our employees, they basically stayed home, like alright, well, you know, you know, like you, we didn't realize how long this was going to last. Eventually, you know, they went away, literally, figuratively, went away. The positive part about that is that it forced us to look at our business model from top to bottom. Right, who is doing what job? How much are they getting paid? What kind of benefits are we paying to them. And when we looked at all the numbers, and we talked to a number of the labs, were like, okay, we can absolutely save money by moving all of our production to a lab. Okay, so prior to COVID, we have our own lab, we have our own printers, software, everything, we were doing everything in house. But that also meant that we had six people on full time staff that were basically doing all this production work
Gary Pageau 3:23
in a seasonal business. So there, there was, it was up and down. And you're watching them all year long.
Eric Miller 3:29
And we're paying them all year long. So we looked at those numbers, we talked to another a number of the labs and software companies. And we picked one. And we decided that this was going to be our best route moving forward. Because for us, you know, we have like every photographer a month or two, where it's kind of slow. And to pay those five or six production people was just a bit of a challenge for us. So the best thing for us that came out of COVID was moving all production, shipping everything out of our building to a lab and downsizing our staff.
Gary Pageau 4:12
So what what size staff did you go from and what did you go to?
Eric Miller 4:17
So for production, we had about six people full time that were doing production. That's that's not cameras. That's not photographers, that's not office people that strictly handling, handling all the forms, making deposits, making the putting the orders into the software, printing the photos, packaging them up, that kind of stuff. Right? We literally got rid of five of five of those full time people. We have one now that helps with production. We don't do very much production anymore. Our lab does 95% of everything we do.
Gary Pageau 4:50
Yeah, I imagine you still have some rush jobs and corrections and things like that that you
Eric Miller 4:54
need to do. Right. That's what that one person in our office does right now. We still Have darkroom software, we still have the printer. So if there's last minute things or something that we need to print off real quick, a lot of times for schools, you got to print some freebie stuff, you know, pictures of the teachers, maybe some group pictures to give to teachers, we just do all that in house real quick. But the money savings is huge.
Gary Pageau 5:19
I think that's going to be a trend actually, because I think a lot of people in all segments of the industry are looking at their capital expenditures, especially in retail, and people like that, where it's like, okay, I want to offer the service. And it's so easy. Now, people are used to the internet. And the labs can do such quick turnaround now is there, I don't mind paying the lab to do that, I'd rather do that than have the overhead of an employee and equipment and software licenses and all that actually,
Eric Miller 5:47
it's much cheaper, much cheaper. First off, I don't have the employee, which everybody knows, you know, is the funnest part of our job managing employees, so we don't have any employees, we don't have that cost. And when you look at how much a full service lab, just pick one doesn't matter what lab it is. There's no way that it's cheaper for you to produce volume in house than it is to let a lab, you know, just handle everything. I don't have any maintenance, I don't have to worry about software, I don't have to worry about e commerce, I don't have to worry about taking payments. Everything's handled outside. Once we take the photo, we're pretty much done with it.
Gary Pageau 6:28
And it's your core competency. That's really what you got in the business for is that remember, you got into the business, because you were disappointed with your son's sports photos. Correct? You're disappointed with the print quality or anything like that you were to you're disappointed with the photos themselves. Yes. And you said I can do better than this?
Eric Miller 6:47
That's correct. I mean, I do. The other thing is that it's made us look at the bottom line much more in detail, where now we're following things that we didn't follow before because I didn't have the data. Well, now I can get the data from from my lab. Okay, and now we have lots of data that we didn't have before, you know, we can see exactly what packages are being sold, we can see how many people? I mean, there's all sorts of things that data gives us that I didn't have before.
Gary Pageau 7:18
Now, was it because you didn't have any way of tracking it internally? Or it wasn't a priority for the people who are in your lab? Or is it just the software that the that the outsource lab has is much more sophisticated?
Eric Miller 7:31
Number one outsourcing of the lab this way more sophisticated. I mean, I can tell exactly how many parents bought what what's the average rate, you know, that kind of stuff. We're internally, you know, when you're a photographer, doing old school, where you getting envelopes, you take any envelopes, you open them up, you taking the cash out, you make a deposit, you may do a tape on your calculator says, Okay, I did gross sales, but you get no more data out of that. And the other advantage to moving to online and another lab is to continuing marketing. This year during Christmas, we did $25,000 in sales. Didn't do anything but send two emails out.
Gary Pageau 8:13
Right. And that was ornaments, magnets, keychains, calendars, all that stuff.
Eric Miller 8:17
It's crazy. How many people buy that stuff? You just got to remind them? Because you got the content? Because we haven't Yes.
Gary Pageau 8:24
What was your process for to choosing the lab? Because you're going into a blank slate? You really you may know who the people are you probably met them at spec or, or whatever event, you've heard the names. What was your process for saying this? Is the lab I want to go to? Was it talking to other labs? Was it kind of putting out an RFP? What was the what was the process there?
Eric Miller 8:48
Good question. So what we did was we actually outsource to a couple of different labs and ecommerce sites at the same time. You know, we took some jobs. So we thought, okay, we'll run them through this process. We'll take some more running through this one. And we just saw how we liked each one of the processes. So the number one thing for me, and my wife and my daughter who run the business is that we selected a lab that does everything. So in other words, I don't have an E commerce sales platform that connects to a lab and then the lab prints and mails it that's pretty typical the way the business the industry works except for one lab, the one that we chose, and they literally handle everything. I take the photo on a tablet. There's no such thing as Photoshop. We have a thing called shoot to sell, where we require our photographers to do everything in the camera before they get ready before they get started. Right. Once the photos are uploaded through the tablet, we're literally done yet There's a problem between the E commerce site in the lab, not my problem, right? I don't have to call anybody. And vice versa. So we selected her, I'm pretty sure they're the only ones that have their own 100% their own software. So all the other labs require a third party software to order stuff, right. It's connected to the lab. So I had to be honest with you, I didn't want any of those headaches where I needed to do something to fix something. So that's why that's why we picked the lab
Gary Pageau 10:34
that we work with who is the lead? You can obviously name them if you wish.
Eric Miller 10:37
Okay. Well, we work with Candid Color System. Okay. Okay. They've been around. Okay, I think, I think celebrating 50 years. Day. Yeah. If you know, the old glamour shots, right? franchise, that's what it is. Right? They make they're always
Gary Pageau 10:56
having flashbacks to big hair.
Eric Miller 10:59
Yeah, all the makeup. Yeah, that was a really interesting model. back then. It was well, and there's still a few around, but still. But but their their process is what we prefer, okay, I take the picture, I walk away, I'm done.
Gary Pageau 11:16
The big change for the industry, though, is if they choose to go with somebody else with a platform, and then different options for less people can do that. But I think the change for the industry has been getting away from paper forms. 100% talk a little bit about the sea change that is for the industry, because I think when people made the change, it was more for COVID reasons because they didn't know if COVID could be transmitted by paper or what so they said, Okay, I just want to get rid of that. So I'm gonna go with this platform or that platform, a lot of people made the jump. And they didn't realize all the other benefits they were getting of having a paperless system.
Eric Miller 11:53
Yeah, yeah. So funny thing is, you know, we were kind of thinking about moving to a lab at some point in time, before COVID, even hit COVID was just, you know, the incubated are kind of, you know, move things along a little faster. The goal for me was to save labor. That's that was the goal. So the benefits of going paper are huge. First off, I don't have to worry about any cash, checks, money orders, any of that kind of stuff. We don't have to worry about deposits. I do not have to worry about mom not liking the picture, because we chose one, that she may like something better, right? Because mom's picking the picture. If she doesn't like it, well, she doesn't have to order it along that same line. So it forced us to improve our photography, right? Because using paper order forms, you know, you could just give mom whatever the photographer took, and you know, they would just accept it. If your photography is not really on point, your sales will suffer. Right? That's, that's a biggie. But if your photography is on point, you will make more money. And I think previously in the paper world, every photographer was worried about how much is a unit? Right? Right.
Gary Pageau 13:09
I haven't heard that phrase in a while because no one talks about units anymore.
Eric Miller 13:12
The photographers that are uninformed, are the ones the first thing out of their mouth when I talk to a photographer who was asking me about, you know, our use of candidate, and like how much he was a unit? I'm like, I don't know, when you buy a car, do you ask how much are the tires? Right? It's a whole package. So you know, when you look at pricing, which is important to us, you know, the whole package has to be at a certain dollar value. And we have to have a certain profit margin on the package. How much of eight by 10? I could care less about, right? Well, while it's important, it's the whole package, how much is the package? How much is the shipping? You know, am I paying for envelopes?
Gary Pageau 13:54
You know, that kind of stuff? Well, in the product mix is going to change, because mix changes, because they may not want an eight by 10. But they may want seven magnets and an ornament.
Eric Miller 14:04
That's right. That's right. And now I don't have to worry about calculating shipping or that kind of stuff, because it's automatically calculated. And the parents are paying for shipping, not where previously if we had to ship something, we'd had a couple of dollars, right? Everybody had like a shipping for like three bucks or something like that. Yeah. Now we're actually making money a little bit, but we're making money on shipping. We're not losing any money. Right. And I have no labor involved in shipping.
Gary Pageau 14:30
Right, which is the other big savings on that. Labor is a biggie. Yeah, labor is a biggie for everybody. Because you probably had a mailing system within Yes, right. Right. So that was a bunch of overhead you had because you had dosage meter and weighing and all that stuff. So that
Eric Miller 14:47
Domina was like it was ridiculous, like $200 a month for the meter and the scale and the license from Pitney Bowes that didn't include any posts. I didn't put any postage on anything yet. And then you And then the pain in the butt with restocking it with more postage. I mean, just the whole process was just ridiculous and expensive.
Gary Pageau 15:08
Well, what goes to what? What is your business? Right? Yeah. What Why are you in the business? Are you in the business to give Pitney Bowes money or to take pictures of kids?
Eric Miller 15:19
Right? So when I talk to people about, you know, what do I do? Let's say I'm at a, you know, one of those meet and greets for the Civic Association, right? You know, I tell them, you know, we're Miller photo, we're a sales organization, and we specialize in school and youth sports photography. And the Look at me go, oh, okay, I know exactly what you do. Great. It to me internally, we've adjusted our thinking that we're a sales organization, right? Because it's all about so you don't make sales, you don't have an organization. So it's all about sales for us, right? We put all the processes, we put all of our training into making the photographer's understand that you can't take this picture and go spend an hour in Photoshop fixing it. Right. So it's all about sales for us. Well, and the other
Gary Pageau 16:09
piece of what you do is promotion. And I kind of want to pivot the conversation to what you've done with video. I saw your presentation, I'm not sure if it was the last back or the spec before where you did a poll session on video and how you use it. And I think, you know, your natural your performer, you know, I mean, giving you props for being able to do that. There's a lot of folks who, who don't have the skill. But what you do, I think, is very important, because it really reduces a lot of the concern people have. And it not only tells people why they should use Miller photo, but it walks them through the process. Can you kind of talk about a couple of the videos out of the ones that I've seen where it's like even talk about how the kids are going to line up and things like that? Why is that important?
Eric Miller 16:57
First off, communication is key and everything. We literally just resigned a new league, they had made some changes. So I said, I'll tell you why. I'll make a couple of videos. So we communicate with the parents exactly what's going on how they're going to receive their photos, what happens on picture day, that kind of stuff. We found that sending them to a principal or office lady at a school, or league director has much more impact than an email. Right?
Gary Pageau 17:31
Is now now are those personalized for specific clients? I mean, how time consuming is that?
Eric Miller 17:35
That's a That's a great question. So I have to I have our generic, you know, this is how it works. You know, we want to be your photographer. And here's why. Here's the advantage of teaming up with Mila photo. Now the other ones we do have that we personalize. But the way we personalize it is I have an introduction, that's about 30 seconds. And then I just merge it with a video that we've already created. And I can send those one on one out to those on average, I send two or three of those a day six, let's say six or eight of them a week. I mean, I could just sit right here in front of my computer, I can do the introduction, I can put the software I can you know, merge them. And then I send out an email.
Gary Pageau 18:21
Is that a great use of your time? Do you? Or do you have people who could do that for you?
Eric Miller 18:27
I'm hoping that in the future, I can hire a marketing person. And that's all they do. And I would just record the introductions, they would handle, you know, doing the production and sending them out, you know?
Gary Pageau 18:40
Because that is time consuming. What are you using to edit your videos?
Eric Miller 18:44
We use a software called Camtasia. Okay. relatively simple. You know, I have Adobe Premiere. Yeah, man. You know, that's, that's a lot of work.
Gary Pageau 18:57
It is. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Yeah. Um, I kinda want to do things. It's very difficult.
Eric Miller 19:03
Yeah, I want to I want to move the camera from this video from this position to this position. How do I do that? And I'm like, you know, in Camtasia, you put it one place and move the other place and say, okay, 13 seconds between this position and this one, and it kind of does everything for you. Now, it's not premiere, I wouldn't use it if I was producing TV shows, right? That's very simple.
Gary Pageau 19:25
But I think part of the appeal of what you're doing is that it's not a commercial. It's just you communicating. So it doesn't really need to have those production values.
Eric Miller 19:35
That's correct. I'm all about video because I believe if we communicate correctly to any of our customers, whoever they are, that will get the business. That's just so I do invest a lot of time in creating my videos and my training. As you can see, we're talking about training right now in house and I All part of that training will be videos, are you
Gary Pageau 20:02
able to track using your email software like whether the clicking on the video and probably not how much they're how long they're watching it, but how close
Eric Miller 20:12
to a track that you are incorrect. Not only can I track it, but I get an email as soon as they open it, I can look at the stats to see how long they watched it, or to what point they watched it. And the good thing that that told me was like, you know, 10 minute videos, they're a waste of time, right to cut those videos down to a minute and a half, two minutes. It just needs to be an introduction, that kind of stuff. But I do get stats on every single video that I send out. We use a software called CCO video. Okay? Yes, you do get all the stats, everything. So I can see every time somebody opens that video, I can see what time they opened it. It's pretty amazing. Sometimes I'll send something to a customer. And within a couple of seconds, I must have just caught them I there was sitting in front of their email, and they opened it up. I have my email program set up so that when they see an incoming email that says Okay, send an email right out to Gary saying, Hey, I saw I see that you open up the video and watched it. You know, do you have any questions? This is all automated and
Gary Pageau 21:19
wow. So that's one lesson you learned is? Don't make long ones. What's another suggestion you would have for someone who is looking to incorporate video into their customer outreach and marketing?
Eric Miller 21:31
Yeah, keep it specific. Don't try to jam a whole bunch of thing in there at one time. single topic. Yeah, yeah, just single topic. You know, why? Why our picture days are more organized. Because we do this, this this this this? Contact Eric Miller for more information, you know, how fast will your parents receive photos? Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, I try to stick, I try to stick to two minutes. Okay, time to go over sometimes a little shorter, but I try to stick to two minutes. And I only send them on certain days, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning, are prime time to send emails and send the videos.
Gary Pageau 22:17
Right. That's now is that is that? Does co video suggest times for you? Does it? Does it tell you you know this is the best time? Or is that something you've just learned?
Eric Miller 22:29
That's just something I've learned over the years, you know, you know, just doing research on, you know, how long videos should be when is the best time to send them? You know, what kind of topics should we include, you know, just internet searches, just doing research over the years. With co video, we can schedule the video. So like right now, I could sit here right now. And I could schedule 20 or 30 of the videos to go out at a certain time. Which you know, which is good because I can sit at home sometimes after I've already created all the videos, and I can just schedule while I'm sitting in front of the TV.
Gary Pageau 23:02
When doing these videos. I when I talk to people about incorporating video into their marketing, especially specifically retailers and folks like that. They they always say, Well, I don't know what to say, what is the process for becoming more comfortable in front of the camera? And being more natural? Because I think once you do that the content will come out, you'll figure out what to say?
Eric Miller 23:27
Yeah. Oh, well, first off, what's in it for them? In other words, you know, the fact that I use Canon cameras, nobody cares. I don't even talk about what kind of camera I have. I don't talk about anything. You know, specific like that. I talk about what helps what helps you. Okay, your picture days are always on organized. The photographer always is an hour late. They always run into lunchtime. Those are three really good topics that the principal or the secretary at a school will go. Oh, yeah. Photographers always run in late, you know, they always run into lunchtime. So I look for those kinds of topics. How can I help you, the customer, right, have a better experience. That's what I try to do. How can I help you have a better experience? The way we do it behind the scenes doesn't mean anything to them,
Gary Pageau 24:20
right? They just want them there's what the outcome and the magic they don't need to see how the sausage is made to
Eric Miller 24:25
two great words, the outcome. And if I'm gonna write those down outcome into magic, I'm gonna call Jonah.
Gary Pageau 24:32
Please do please do. Yeah, they don't
Eric Miller 24:34
need to know how the sausage is made.
Gary Pageau 24:37
Yeah, but I think that's where kind of people step out of or make an error in video is they tend to want to talk about themselves.
Eric Miller 24:47
Talk about themselves. Don't talk about yourself. Nobody cares, right? And I never I never say Hi, I'm Eric Mila. Bah bah bah. We've been a photographer for 40 years and by by bond, you know, I can get right to the subject. Hi, I'm Eric, with telephoto. We want to show you how we can improve your sports league picture days today. Okay, well, now they're going to pay attention. Right now, you know, I've hit a topic I've hit, I've hit a nerve, where the sports league director can go, Yeah, you know what? Picture Day is always kind of crazy and chaos. So I always introduced the video, and how I'm going to help the customer. Right? That makes sense to you?
Gary Pageau 25:26
Yeah, absolutely. So you've developed a resource for businesses to use video and they're busy. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Eric Miller 25:33
Yeah, so what I'm doing is, is I've created some PDFs, and videos, obviously, that show other photographers how to set up a video, you know what, they already have the camera. Right? Every camera nowadays, every DSLR has video in it, I tell them what kind of microphone to get, I tell them you know, where they can get, you know, the kind of lights, they probably have a green screen background, they can just use a green screen if they want, or, you know, a natural background. And then, then I tell them points, like we just discussed, you know, these are the topics that you should be talking about. Again, nobody cares what kind of camera lights you're using, don't even bring it up. We don't we don't even discuss it. And then I'll discuss a few things like we talked about earlier about, you know, keep the videos, subject specific, keep them very short. And post them on YouTube. If you're going to use music, use royalty free music, because they will take your video down by 100%. And there's plenty of free royalty free music on YouTube. You just type in royalty free music, and you can download it right there from YouTube.
Gary Pageau 26:48
And then there's sites dedicated to providing stock music, stock photography, etc. Whether it's free or very affordable, it's all out there to sound and look professional. I have
Eric Miller 27:02
a couple of videos where I can show them, you know how to create the video, it's really not that difficult, right? You know, you don't need an expensive teleprompter, like the TV stations use, I literally have a laptop with the screen right underneath the lens of the camera. And I use it. And I just, you know, create a PowerPoint presentation with the text real big about 48 point. So I can just kind of keep along and it keeps me on subject while creating video. So most photographers already have everything other than continuous lights, couple of 100 bucks, you've got by some lights. Right? So every photographer that I know pretty much has everything except lights, and a microphone.
Gary Pageau 27:45
And the microphone I think is key because that's where I think people when they start tend to skimp or just don't even think about it. But the on camera mics on a DSLR are not good enough.
Eric Miller 27:58
No. And you're too far away from the microphone. Yeah, you need to get the microphone as close as you can. And really, you know, even I have some I have a cheap microphone that I use when I'm out in the field. And it cost me like 50 bucks. Right? The plugs right in the camera. I got a little extension cable. I just put a lapel mic on me and I just talk and you go to town. People will stop watching a video because of the audio. Right sooner than anything else.
Gary Pageau 28:28
Right. That's exactly right. So where do people find out more information about the binder?
Eric Miller 28:34
Well, I'm going to be at SPAC. Okay, me and Jeff Gump will be at the conference. I'll have the information with me there. I'm not finished yet. So I don't have it posted kind of anywhere
Gary Pageau 28:44
yet, though. Or to see you it's back and more information.
Eric Miller 28:48
Yes. We're looking forward. Just back. We got a five hour class that's back this year. Wow.
Gary Pageau 28:53
Yeah, I've had Jeff, interim since our first episode. I have had Jeff on the show, too. So he's another great resource. So one of the things you get out of SPAC is optimism. I always am impressed. I've gone down to I think four or five specs. And it's always impressive how optimistic the industry is, especially now, where I think people are really embracing the change then the opportunity that's ahead of them.
Eric Miller 29:27
I agree. 100% my wife and my daughter and I, I mean even though we work together, we do have meetings and we do talk specifically about you know, business and stuff like that. And all three of us are excited. I mean, we're looking at we think we're gonna have the best year of our company yet in 2023. We that we feel very strongly about that. And we do we talk about business once A week, it's very important to keep a close eye on the business on your numbers, right? You have to know your numbers. We look at them every single week. We're very optimistic.
Gary Pageau 30:11
Yeah, I was getting that feeling that there are people who are seeing that, with a lot of changes that are happening in the industry, a lot of schools are looking for changes, a lot of opportunity out there to improve workflow, improve profits, and the bottom line and yet still improve the service, which is the most important thing.
Eric Miller 30:32
Yes, I like being able to network with other people that are 100 times my size, because, you know, I want to grow my business. So I want to, I want to network and talk to people that have already experienced that growth, and already have that experience in dealing with 1000 schools are, you know, that kind of stuff. So that's why I like go on to spec and all the other conferences, more to network with experienced people than anything else,
Gary Pageau 31:01
and and to share your enormous treasure trove of knowledge.
Eric Miller 31:05
I do have a little bit, you know, I do you know, when it comes to creating videos and marketing pieces, that that's where I excel.
Gary Pageau 31:14
And it's great that you share that. That's one of the great things about this industry is people are willing to share amongst themselves. So thank you, Eric, where can people go if they want to reach out to you to either partner or learn more? where's a good place to reach you?
Eric Miller 31:29
Yeah, they can just send me an email directly to my office, Eric at MillerFoto, and it's millerfoto.com.
Gary Pageau 31:39
Great, Eric. Well, listen, hopefully, I'll be seeing you soon at some of these industry conferences, and we'll have a chance to do some disco dancing, I hope.
Eric Miller 31:48
Hey, all right. I'm down for that. Have a good day. All right. Very good. Thank you, Gary.
Erin Manning 31:56
Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixels Society Podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www.thedeadpixelssociety.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai