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If you haven’t been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard by now about D23 – Disney’s new “fan club” of sorts for hard-core enthusiasts. The concept was rolled out yesterday as part of Bob Iger’s announcements at Disney’s annual shareholder conference, although in fan circles it had already become Disney’s second worst kept secret (ironically the worst kept secret, DVC, is claimed by marketing to be their best kept secret). The club – and its accompanying magazine – had been hinted at by a modest viral advertising campaign which began with cryptic posters spotted at the Disney Studios in Burbank.

Are you 23? posterHef must be looking for a new girlfriend…

After a few weeks of speculation – some of which is hilarious in hindsight – word began to trickle out that this would be a new club for fans, and would involve a quarterly magazine for members. Early copies of the magazine were leaked online, and the facts about D23 began to accumulate. As yesterday’s shareholder meeting began, Disney issued a press release heralding the features of the club. Later in the day, online Disney writers were invited to a conference call (well, I wasn’t invited ahem ahem!) to discuss the purpose of the new initiative. The D23 website went live, and the fans began to react.

D23 - Disney twenty-three magazineClassy.

Before we discuss that, let’s look at what D23 has to offer. For a $75 annual membership fee, fans will receive quarterly issues of Disney twenty-three, an apparently high-quality, ad-free magazine targeted towards mature fans and covering all aspects of the Disney company and its history. The “twenty-three” in the title of the magazine and club refers to the 1923 founding of the Disney Brothers Studio, which followed Walt and Roy’s arrival in California. It’s a nice historical reference, and a rare admission by the company that there was indeed life Before Mickey. The magazine is also available for sale at Barnes & Noble locations and the Disney Stores, with a cover price of $15, and many of its contents have already been revealed online.

D23 members will also receive a membership certificate and card, a gift from something they’re calling the “Walt Disney Archives Collection”, access to “exclusive” merchandise and a discount on admission to special events. The first of these events, called the D23 Expo, is scheduled to take place at the Anaheim Convention Center in September. These official conventions are expected to occur regularly, and Disney claims that they’re intended to compliment existing fan events (NFFC, etc.) instead of replacing them. It was reported that in the conference call Disney Archivist Dave Smith expressed his concern that the official Disneyana conventions from years ago had become all about the merchandise, and that wasn’t the goal of the new event.

Fan reaction to the new venture has been mixed, and I can understand why. Many sites that I respect greatly have responded with great skepticism to D23 and given Disney’s track record in recent decades I think that’s reasonable. It’s no secret that adult/mature fans feel they have been given the short shrift by Disney as of late, and I think there’s some sense that we are regarded with some contempt by the powers-that-be. Fan outreach in recent years has consisted mostly of high-dollar merchandise events on the west coast, where fans pay large sums to have the privilege of waiting in line to pay larger sums on limited-edition trinkets. Now we’re in the midst of an economic crisis, and Disney shows up asking us to pony up $75 a year, with part of the benefit being access to new, more expensive merchandise and a discount on admission to an event that’s open to the public anyway. We’ve been burned so many times, I think it’s reasonable that many have recoiled.

D23 - Disney twenty-three websiteFancy.

I find that I’m reacting in a different way. While all of the above might possibly be true, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt at first. Looking at the D23 website, it’s clear that some work has gone into this and there’s some excellent reading already on the site. Vintage comic strips daily, the reprinting of historical Disney press releases, new feature articles – there’s a lot of value and if they don’t get bored with the idea I think we’ll find lots of interesting tidbits as time goes on.

I’ve been agitating for the return of Disney Magazine since it went out of print several years ago, so who am I to complain when its spiritual successor arrives, even if it is a bit pricey? Sure it’d be nice to go back to the days when membership in the Magic Kingdom Club was free, and Disney News would arrive in our mail quarterly, but you can’t have everything. And, despite the fact that they’re valuable historical documents, if you take a look at those old issues of Disney News you’ll find that they weren’t exactly in-depth journalism. twenty-three looks to be far superior in content and production values, and as long as they avoid the danger of the over-scrubbed, corporate-friendly puff piece I’ll stay interested.

Thankfully, it seems that the folks at D23 are aware of this – at least, judging from the contents of the first issue. Disney fandom has come a long way since I received Disney News as a kid – they won’t be able to break news anymore as we all find out everything on WDWMagic months before it’s green-lit anyway. There’s more Disney history and scholarship on the web every day, so their pieces will have to be in-depth, honest, and make use of the unique resources available to their staff. There’s a lot more competition for them than back in the day, and it won’t do to reprint press releases and silly lifestyle pieces about the Mom’s Panel or whatnot. That being said, the first issue looks excellent and free from these pitfalls, and judging from reports of the conference call Disney really has their heads in the game on this one.

Oh yeah – one more good thing. That special free gift for members? They assured the folks yesterday that it won’t be a pin. Hallelujah.

Walt and Oswald statueVery cool. $225 worth of cool? Well…

My only real complaint is that the merchandise they have available on the site now is absurdly, grotesquely overpriced. In this day and age it takes real cajones to sell a writing pen for more than $800. In fact, the D23 store looks like its target audience is former financial executives who’ve embezzled large amounts of bailout money from their failed banks. Don’t get me wrong – there’s some really cool stuff. How sweet is it that they offer something from Song of the South?

Song of the South artwork

But dig that price tag – $1,500! I’m not exactly a radical but I would think in these troubled times that most shoppers would go into anaphylactic shock if they saw that. I realize we’re trying to keep things “exclusive” here, but asking hundreds of dollars for small pieces and thousands of dollars for reproduction cells – not found in the Hyperion Studios basement, mind you, but painted last week! – is a bit overboard. I also tend to think that the $75 membership fee is just a smidge high, but not egregious considering that it’s only $10 more than the price of four issues of twenty-three.

So my take on all this is cautious optimism. If they’re honest about their goals, and they re-iterate that this is not intended as a mere merchandising opportunity, then I’ll bite. Having a nice, new Disney magazine is something I’ve begged for for quite a while now, and it’s good to see that they’re taking a classy, content-rich approach to the publication. If they continue to avoid the pitfalls discussed above, and make use of the Archives to show us things we’ve never seen before, then we’ll all be very, very happy. And even if you choose not to pony up the $75, there’s the swanky new website with lots of great content. Progress City approves.

The Disney press release follows:

DISNEY ANNOUNCES “D23: THE OFFICIAL COMMUNITY FOR DISNEY FANS”
Disney’s First Official Fan Organization Launches with New Quarterly Publication, Web Site, Fan Events and Collectibles Line
First Quarterly Publication Features Exclusive Interviews with Tim Burton, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, as well as behind-the-scenes visit to Pixar Animation Studios

Oakland and Burbank, CALIFORNIA (March 10, 2009)/PRNewswire/— Disney today announced the launch of D23 (www.Disney.com/D23), the first official community for Disney fans in the Company’s 85-year history. Through D23, fans will go backstage and behind closed doors to get the inside scoop from every part of Disney, while experiencing the nostalgia, adventure and fantasy of Disney as never before.

“We have a fantastic legacy that started in 1923 and is based on timeless stories, beloved characters and unforgettable experiences, but it’s our fans that keep the spirit of Disney alive year after year, generation after generation,” said Disney President and CEO Bob Iger at the Company’s annual shareholder’s meeting. “D23 is our way of saying ‘thank you’ and celebrating our fans, who bring the magic of Disney to life every day in every corner of the world.”

As a part of this new Disney fan experience, today also marks the launch of D23′s new quarterly publication, Disney twenty-three; the all-new D23 Web site at Disney.com/D23; and a new collectibles line, The Walt Disney Archives Collection, which was created specifically with D23 members in mind. D23 also will host special events for its members throughout the year, highlighted by the organization’s signature event, the D23 Expo, which will be held in Anaheim this September 10-13.

A one-year D23 membership ($74.99) includes:

* Disney twenty-three quarterly publication: A one-year subscription (four issues) to D23′s new collectible magazine filled with stunning photography, dazzling illustrations and the ultimate Disney insider perspective. This advertising-free keepsake is the all-access pass to discovering the magic of Disney’s past, present and future.
* Membership Certificate and Card: The D23 membership card and suitable-for-framing member certificate — both specially created for D23′s Charter Year — feature many of Disney’s most beloved characters.
* Surprise Collectible Gift and Member Merchandise: Each member who joins D23 will receive an exclusive collectible gift from the new Walt Disney Archives Collection. This merchandise line was created specifically with D23 members in mind, and each piece is authorized by the Walt Disney Archives. D23 members will have exclusive or early access to a wide assortment of Walt Disney Archives Collection pieces.
* D23 Expo and Member Special Events: The D23 Expo — to be held at the Anaheim Convention Center from September 10-13, 2009 — will be “The Ultimate Disney Fan Experience,” featuring incredible speakers, celebrity appearances, breathtaking exhibitions, interactive experiences, sneak peeks, film screenings, one-of-a-kind merchandise, and much more. All Disney fans are welcome, but D23 members will receive a discount on Expo admissions and early access to the show daily. D23 also offers unique members-only special event opportunities throughout the year.
* Disney.com/D23: All fans can stay connected to Disney every day through D23′s new Web site, featuring up-to-the-minute Disney news, feature stories, event info and more, but only D23 members will receive regular email updates on special event and merchandise opportunities exclusive to them.

Disney twenty-three quarterly publication

Disney today launches its new quarterly publication Disney twenty-three, a hybrid entertainment and lifestyle magazine that is the all-access pass to discovering the magic of Disney’s past, present and future. Its name pays homage to 1923, the year The Walt Disney Company was founded.

The premiere issue of Disney twenty-three includes exclusive features such as:

* Interviews with Tim Burton, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens
* Inside look at the new Disney/Pixar animated film Up, featuring interviews with Director Pete Docter and Producer Jonas Rivera, concept and production art, and a look at the new animated short Partly Cloudy.
* A rare look inside Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California. Meet the Pixar team and learn the secrets behind the success of their films.
* The doors open for two of the most exclusive, magical suites in the world: the Cinderella Castle Suite at Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Dream Suite overlooking New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America at the Disneyland Resort.

Disney twenty-three’s regular featured departments include:

* A Walk with Walt: A look back at the trials and triumphs of the man who made dreams come true and whose imagination started it all.
* D Society: From gala movie premieres and grand openings to candid Disney moments and memories, D Society takes readers backstage and onto the red carpet.
* PHOTOfiles: The legendary Walt Disney Archives Photo Library houses millions of Disney’s most cherished photographic memories, and the Archives team shares its Top 100, five in every issue. Let the countdown begin!
* Where in D?: Try to identify where in the world of Disney each issue’s mystery photo was taken.
* The Funny Pages: For the first time in decades, enjoy the vintage newspaper comic strips that helped make many of Disney’s most popular characters famous.
* Making Magic: Crafts for children of all ages, inspired by Disney’s favorite stories and experiences.
* Recipes from Disney’s most popular restaurants and eateries, past and present.

Disney twenty-three subscriptions are available only by becoming a member of D23: The Official Community for Disney Fans. Individual issues of Disney twenty-three retail for $15.95 and are available exclusively at all U.S. Barnes & Noble booksellers, all domestic Disney Stores, Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World, and Disneyshopping.com.

DISNEY.COM/D23

The D23 site on Disney.com will serve as the premier online destination for Disney fans, highlighted by breaking Disney news, exclusive feature stories, blogs, historical retrospectives, a collectibles boutique, special event information, and other content. The D23 online experience includes News & Features, Walt Disney Archives, Disney twenty-three, Expo & Events, and Boutique23. Highlights include:

NEWS & FEATURES

* Late-breaking news, press releases, and photos of interest to fans from every part of Disney.
* “Twilight Bark” — inspired by the Disney animated feature 101 Dalmatians — offers up the latest tidbits and news “bites” from all around the world of Disney.
* Feature articles and interviews on current Disney topics from theme parks and animation to television and motion pictures, as well as historical retrospectives.
* Official Disney Bloggers — Get regular updates on films in production at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, current Walt Disney Imagineering projects, and the Walt Disney Archives.

WALT DISNEY ARCHIVES

* “This Day in Disney” — A daily walk down memory lane.
* “What’s Old Is News” — Go back in time and enjoy rare, vintage and classic articles, stories, interviews, press materials and other highlights from deep within the Disney Archives.
* “Ask Dave” — Disney Legend and Chief Archivist Dave Smith answers your questions about Disney history.
* “Archives Library” — helpful Disney reference tools including biographies, filmographies, award chronologies, Disney A to Z updates, historical profiles and other archival information.

DISNEY TWENTY-THREE

* The online home of Disney twenty-three, D23′s quarterly publication.
* Expanded stories, interviews and imagery.
* “D Society: Online Edition” — regularly updated photo gallery.
* “The Funny Page: Daily Edition” — a delightful daily dose of vintage Disney comics that haven’t been seen outside the Disney Archives in decades.
* “Making Magic” — An archive of the unique crafts featured in Disney twenty-three.
* “Disney Dish” — Always be able to find your favorite recipes from Disney twenty-three.

EXPO & EVENTS

* “D23 Expo” — The official Web site for everything you need to know about “The Ultimate Disney Fan Experience” September 10-13, at the Anaheim Convention Center, including programming, show hours, celebrity appearances, keynote speakers, ticket information, vacation packages, and more.
* “D23 Member Special Events” — Throughout the year, D23 hosts special events created just for its members. Members can find out which ones they want to attend and how to register.

BOUTIQUE 23

* D23 merchandise and collectibles, including D23 member-only offerings from the Walt Disney Archives Collection
* Hosted by Disneyshopping.com

D23 membership

D23 membership is not required to visit Disney.com/D23, but some merchandise and special event opportunities are exclusive to D23 members.

Fans can join D23 at www.Disney.com/D23, all Disney Store locations within the United States, select shops at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort, and www.DisneyShopping.com/D23.
About D23

The name “D23″ pays homage to the wonder and excitement that began in 1923 when Walt Disney opened his fledgling studio in Hollywood. Through the years, Disney has captured the imagination of millions around the world, and, as requested by Disney fans everywhere, D23 gives them a greater, richer connection to the entire world of Disney by placing them in the middle of the magic.

UPDATE: An excellent commentary on the D23 merchandise selection and overpricing issue by Alain Littaye. Alain has first-hand experience with the fact that Disney merchandising staff, for the most part, has no idea what fans really want. He makes the excellent point that items like the upcoming World’s Fair CD set and the impeccable and enviable art of Kevin Kidney (admission: I wish I were him) and Jody Daily are the types of items that would appeal to Disney’s target D23 audience much more than $800 pens. While I’m optimistic about the D23 endeavor, this is an area that I hope they rethink somewhat.

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