Monday, March 09, 2009

I'm No Fool, No Sirree!

Note: See March 10 update on this post, below.

Only rarely does EPCOT Central comment on non-EPCOT-related Disney news, but in this case, the detour feels warranted.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 10), The Walt Disney Company will hold its annual shareholder's meeting not in Anaheim, not in Orlando, not in New York, but in beautiful, downtown ... Oakland. At least it's not quite as bizarre a location as Philadelphia or Milwaukee, where the company has run to in years past to avoid confrontations with angry stockholders. This year's meeting is in close proximity to Pixar Animation Studios, though given that Disney's market cap has shrunk by more than $30 billion in recent months, it is worth wondering if Disney maybe should have stayed a little farther afield to avoid shareholder ire.

But more to the point, one of the worst kept secrets among Disney enthusiasts is the planned announcement on Tuesday of "D23," a new magazine-slash-fan-club that seeks to engage older, longtime Disney lovers.

So, eight years into the 21st century, Disney has finally acknowledged that we exist. And now the company wants more of our money.

It wasn't all that long ago that Disney operated a free fan club and fan magazine -- The Magic Kingdom Club and its Disney News. There were better, more polished magazines out there, but I can't be alone when I say that I can pull an issue of Disney News from the 1980s off of the shelf and pore through every article once again. (It's also fun to see the old theme-park admission prices.) In the 1990s, Disney dismantled MKC and Disney News, and instead offered a pay-for-play version of the "discount club." But that wasn't good enough, and ultimately that concept was done away with in favor of an "affinity" credit card -- buy enough Disney stuff, and you could get a free Disney theme park ticket ... assuming you were willing to spend the literally tens of thousands of dollars needed for that perk.

Disney also used to operate a modestly scaled collector's event called the Disneyana Convention. Typically held at Walt Disney World, the Disneyana event offered all sorts of great opportunities to meet and interact with Disney actors, writers, directors, voices, animators and other celebrities. The price was steep, but Disneyana was clearly intended for those who were serious about their love of Disney.

But now that's gone, too.

For the most part, Disney has turned its back on serious Disney enthusiasts. Insisting that Disney is a company that makes childrens' dreams come true (just look at the cover of this year's Annual Report), it has become a company for children, not for the child in all of us. One by one, many of the special touches that Disney theme parks offered to more "mature" fans have fallen away -- one need only look at the Golden Horseshoe Review at Disneyland, or the barely operational Carousel of Progress, or Horizons at EPCOT, to name but a few. In their place have cropped up new, "synergistic" opportunities to relentlessly and shamelessly plug new Disney movies and TV shows.

Now comes D23.

Rarely, if ever, has a marketing ploy felt so crass, so manipulative, so aimed directly at the wallet.

For $16, you can buy a glossy magazine that retells stories most Disney fans have heard many times over.

For even more money, you can join a membership club that nets a couple of nifty lapel pins.

And for even more money, that membership will get you a few bucks off of a multi-day Disney convention to be held in Anaheim in September.

No doubt, there will be many fans who won't view this through cynical, wary eyes. But D23 isn't really about honoring Disney fans -- it's about getting more money from cash-strapped fans in the midst of an economic downturn the likes of which haven't been seen since "The Three Little Pigs" first came to theaters.

D23 claims to preserve Walt Disney's legacy while the company continues to trash it.

There are many fans who complain that EPCOT Center failed to honor Walt Disney's greatest dream because it turned the idea of a full-fledged city into a theme park. EPCOT Central would like to suggest this:

The Walt Disney Company fails to honor the man who created it every time it turns its tin ear to the wind, pretends to listen to the voices of its "fans," and then offers another cash-grab marketing ploy in response. (Have you ever been to one of those "collector's" events at the theme parks, the ones that charge big bucks for the, erm, privilege of buying a high-priced item?)

Rather than preserving the Disney Legacy for a few fans wealthy enough to fork over the several hundred bucks it'll cost them for the full "benefits" of D23 membership, why not instead revitalize Disneyland to more closely reflect Walt Disney's ideals? Instead of creating a fan club for "serious" Disney fans, why not study the business philosophies and vision of the man who founded The Walt Disney Company and turn to his extraordinary success for inspiration?

For some reason, The Walt Disney Company is about to put a lot of effort into D23, a program that by its very nature excludes fans who can't afford membership, or those who don't (in these very difficult economic times) have $16 to spend on a magazine. Disney used to be about providing entertainment for everyone -- not slicing it up in ways that excluded others.

For those who regard D23 as a boon, here's hoping it is indeed a success -- and that there are enough passionate fans left, after being ignored for the better part of the past decade, to warrant a three-day Disney convention, one whose sheer size reportedly is intended to rival Comic-Con's. For those of us who aren't gonna be suckered by this shameless attempt to wring more money out of our wallets, after watching The Walt Disney Company neglect Walt's legacy for years, here's a little tune to consider:

I'm no fool,
No sirree,
I'm not gonna join
That D23!
3/10/09 Update:
There has been noticeably little mainstream news coverage of the D23 "announcement," but USA Today's pop-culture blog did pick up on the news ... and not in a way that was laudatory toward Disney. The headline: 'Disney reaches out to the nerds.'
Apparently Disney fans don't even warrant the more affectionate "geeks" anymore. The article also points out that "unfortunately" the membership price is steep. Here's the full article, which is not exactly how you want something like this launched in the media.


Anonymous said...

It has become clear, The Walt Disney Company must be liquefied and forgotten, with no remains of it's existence.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for being so bluntly honest. Some fans are so loyal to the company, they won't just say 'this is a load of BS'.

That's why I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Sarah!

The Emperor has no clothes.


Digital Jedi said...

Anonymous said...
>>>It has become clear, The Walt Disney Company must be liquefied and forgotten, with no remains of it's existence.<<<

You posted that in the other blog entry. Isn't that the Walt Disney Company's motto already?

Ivonne R. said...

Intially I was excited about D23, but has more details have come out, including some of the prices that have been revealed, I'm not so optimistic. Your post mirrors some of my own thoughts about all of this. Also, I was at least looking forward to there being a convention in Orlando, but now it seems that only Anaheim is getting that.

I'm going to pass on this and keep my hard earned money.

Josh said...

Maybe I'm naive, but I feel that, maybe, Disney is realizing that others are capitalizing on these fans Disney itself has marginalized, and they're trying to win them back.

Could they do it with a magazine as good as Celebrations? Maybe. But don't they, as the owners of the source material, have to do it one better? I picked up the first issue of the magazine yesterday - yes, it's a chunk of change - but I found the oversized layout to be beautiful, and the magazine itself of the highest quality. No, there wasn't a whole lot of new information in it, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, it being their first issue.

I'm certainly interested in seeing where this goes. Do I miss the old Disney magazine? No doubt. But I'm willing to try this one as well.

1-yr of this magazine would cost you $64 a year, buying it off the shelf. D23 membership costs $75, and includes a 1-yr subscription, so I don't think it's that outrageous a cost, considering you get other things with it.

Just my 2 cents - keep up the great work on the blog!

Anonymous said...

Except, Josh, that when some 12.5 million people are out of a job, when people across the country are struggling to pay bills, $75 is not a small amount of money.

Particularly when Disney used to offer this kind of stuff for free.

It feels like a shameless ploy to get some more money out of us. You think EPCOT Central, Mouseplanet, Miceage, JimHillMedia, Disney Report, and the many other "community" sites on the web are doing what they do because they make money at it? They're doing it because they love it. If Disney could tap into THAT kind of creativity, to do something because it's the RIGHT thing to do, and worry later about how to make money at it, that would be something.

But Disney DID try this with Disney Magazine a number of years back -- it was an EXCELLENT magazine, I kept every issue. And they let go of that. This makes no sense, and while I won't be paying $75 to be a member, I most DEFINITELY will not be spending hundreds more to attend a Disney "expo" that comes just a couple of months after Comic-Con. (I wonder if this means Disney won't be attending Comic-Con?)

Anonymous said...

I have to say the price for the D23 membership doesn't give you much more than an overpriced magazine. If they added some other bonuses like bigger discounts for Disney tickets, or some sort other benefits, it would be more attractive to all of those who love Disney and have big collections of Disney items, like the lapel pins, which by the way have been a big deal in my family for years past.

Let's hope the Disney team opens their eyes before is too late to save the legacy.

Tuckenie said...

After reading the magazine I actually consider the price to be fair. It's much closer to a coffee table book then a mere magazine and the quality of everything is excellent.

I'm probably not going to join as the parts of the website I'm interested in are free and the merchandise doesn't interest me. There seems to be a considerable effort being made to ensure you don't HAVE to join if you don't want to or can't afford it.

I think this is a case of cynics and optimists both being right. It seems to me like the people behind this probably have the right intentions but in order to get the support of certain parts of the company all the expenses had to be covered up front with immediate profit instead of income being developed as it grew.

Anyway, join or don't join. You don't have to for most of the benefits and nobody forces you to buy any of the merchandise.

So calm down and enjoy the attention for once.

Spokker said...

Yawn. Just re-read the E-Ticket Magazine over and over again and it'll be a far better experience than that shill D23 magazine.

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