There are hundreds of fan sites dedicated to covering Disney and the Disney Universe that are run and operated by Disney fans. In 2009, Disney themselves jumped into the online fan space with D23, the official Disney fan club. Since then, there have been two major conventions held at the Anaheim Convention center, several one day presentations in both Florida and California, and countless events around the country. All of this in an attempt to solidify Disney’s official presence online, to better control the Disney message, and reach out to the company’s biggest fans.
The launch of D23 came at an uncertain time. The economy was shaky. Fans the world over were tightening their purse strings. Despite all of that, the new venture was launched, but with a relatively hefty price tag. In 2009 there was only one level of membership, set at $74.99 per person. It offered the following (in their words):
- Disney ”twenty-three” Quarterly Publication: A one-year subscription (four issues) to D23′s exclusive collectible magazine, filled with stunning photography, dazzling illustrations and the ultimate Disney insider perspective. It’s your all-access pass to discovering the magic of Disney’s past, present and future!
- Membership Card and Certificate: Your membership card and personalized, suitable-for-framing charter member certificate feature many of Disney’s most beloved characters drawn by Disney Master Artist David Pacheco.
- Surprise Collectible Gift: A collectible just for D23 members. You’ll receive a gift you’ll cherish from the new Walt Disney Archives Collection.
- Exclusive Special Events and Merchandise: D23 offers its members unique special-event opportunities throughout the year, as well as access to exclusive, limited-edition merchandise and collectibles.
- D23 Expo: It’s the ultimate Disney fan experience, taking place in Anaheim, California from September 10-13, 2009. This can’t-miss event will feature guest speakers, celebrity appearances, breathtaking exhibitions, sneak peeks, film screenings, one-of-a-kind merchandise, and so much more! Admission will be discounted for D23 members.
- Subscription to bi-weekly D23 FanFare e-newsletter with breaking news and special offers. (You may opt out of receiving FanFare after your first e-newsletter arrives.)
Many avid fans, including most of us here on staff at MiceChat, hopped on board to see what Disney would do with their official online fan club. The initial response was mixed. Some loved the mostly Los Angeles based events and opportunities to tour the Walt Disney Studios and Archives. However, many scoffed at the fact that the exquisitely produced D23 magazine, which was a major feature of membership, was readily available to non-members at their local bookstores. Others complained that the discounts offered, including $7 off tickets to the D23Expo, did not justify the cost of membership. Those outside of Los Angeles and Orlando complained that there were no local events that they could attend.
Consequently, many found no real value in renewing. Even though D23 did attempt to address some fan concerns regarding the program, and made many changes including adding events nationwide, it just did not seem to be enough to change perceptions.
Fast forward to today, June 17th, 2013. D23 has essentially relaunched itself this morning. It has become leaner, more nimble, and a far more savvy operation with a whole new website and a three-tiered membership structure.
While there will still be the Gold Membership at $74.99 (which still includes all of the benefits) and the Silver Memberships at $34.99 (which includes everything but the magazine), Disney is now offering a base level, FREE membership to the official Disney Fan Club. Yes, you read that correctly. You can now become a D23 member for FREE.
But what does a free membership give you?
D23′s website is going behind a registration wall. If you want to read the exclusive content, you’ll need to be a member. As a registered member of D23, you will have access to all of the official news, information and D23 produced content on the D23 website. Free members will have access to that content, plus they will be allowed some of the same discounts that the higher level members get, too (about 25% of them).
MiceChat was invited up to D23 headquarters in Burbank to get a sneak peek at what the new site would look like, what it would offer, and, in effect, what the new free memberships are all about. We were truly impressed by the openness of the D23 team and their commitment to making changes that their fans have been asking for. You can’t get much better than free, and at that level, there is really no risk to joining.
Our Favorite Disney Geek, Jeffrey Epstein, addressed the assembled media and welcomed all to the hour-long demonstration. ”Fans around the world wanted access to the community even if they weren’t able to purchase a membership.” Jeffrey explained. ”This is something that we have been wanting to do for a long time.” While limited, the free membership will offer access to select events, include the fanfare newsletter and even give a few discounts. Jeffrey closed by saying, ” A lot of man hours went into this and we are very excited to share this with you.” He then turned the meeting over to developer Billy Stanek, who shared the features of the newly redesigned D23 website and what all of the new free memberships would have access to.
WELCOME TO THE NEW D23 WEB SITE
Entering the new site, we see that it is more open and much cleaner. Billy mentioned, “While we wanted to make the site similar to the original, we didn’t want it to be jarring. We wanted to build something that could evolve.”
Notice the little golden mickey keys next to the articles? Those are bits of content that are viewable by members only. But even visitors can look at a few things here and there.
Once logged in, members have an unprecedented amount of information at their disposal.
“One of the things that we are most excited about is making everything from the Disney archives available,” said Staneck. At launch, there will be a brand new section called Disney A-Z, which is a virtual encyclopedia of everything Disney or Disney related.
At launch, the Disney A-Z archive will have over 7,000 entries written by Dave Smith himself. All of the entries will be interlinked, for easy cross referencing, and most will have visual media to reference as well. Becky Cline, Walt Disney Archives Director, mentioned to us that while the archives, for the most part, are now fully organized, they have yet to go through the organized boxes with a fine-tooth comb. Essentially, there is still plenty to find and to be added to this fascinating feature of the new site.
There will also be a special listing and archive of all Disney Characters. How many times have you wanted to know the name of a character in a Disney movie you loved as a child, or have wondered about some obscure character from film you saw long ago? Well, D23 has thought of that. This promises to be the most complete listing of Disney characters ever. And, where possible, linked to other information about those characters and the films they were in.
“While we were at it,” Billy quipped, “we decided to redesign all of the other related websites too.” They have redesigned the sites for the D23 Expo and for the Disney Legends as well. We’ll all be able to view all these new sites beginning today.
Similar to the Expo site redesign, the new archives pages are flanked with a plum color and filled with some pretty interesting stuff.
Here we see the new landing page for the Disney Legends site. As with the others, rotating content dominates the top of the page and below are the listing of stories.
In the early days, it seemed like D23 was more concerned with trying to be a Disney fan site than they were with being a primary resource for fans. At $75, the price for entry excluded many of their younger fans who just couldn’t afford the fee. Events were great, but you had to be a member, and a local to either California or Florida, to attend. D23 was well intentioned, but had created barriers that prevented lots of folks from participating, and didn’t create a way for everyone to be an official “Disney fan.”
Everything changes as of today. Anyone can now register for D23 for free. Exclusive new content and research materials have gone behind registration walls, but you can access them with your free membership. If you’d like to attend events, you can upgrade to the Silver membership. The magazine will no longer be available in bookstores. If you’d like a copy, you’ll need to upgrade your membership to the Gold level, as it’s now a D23 exclusive.
Most importantly, the D23 team is intently listening. Within the confines of budget and business priorities, they are doing everything they can to reshape D23 into something that every Disney fan can participate in at some level. The new web site is simple and lovely. New content and information are fantastic. Videos and resources will be very popular. And the events coming this year are exactly the sort of thing you’ll drool at the opportunity to participate in. But it’s really the wonderful people behind D23 itself who will ultimately make this gamble pay off. We get a great vibe from the D23 crew. We want them to succeed. And we hope you’ll give the new, free D23 a chance.
However, there’s no time for the D23 team to pause and reflect on their ambitious relaunch. All of them are busy getting ready for their next huge thing, the D23 Expo in August. It’s an undertaking that boggles the mind with it’s massive scale and complexity. They’ve been ambitious this year on making their web site, services and signature event all more accessible to Disney fans. We wish them our best, as these are really the things which enrich the Disney fan community as a whole and bring us all together.
If you aren’t already a D23 member, you can sign up for free today: http://D23.com
Will you be signing up for the new free or one of the paid memberships?