Today, the Disney Company unveiled its new official fan “community,” which they call D23 (and have been mysteriously promoting with a viral “Are you 23?” campaign for past few months.) I was able to participate in a conference call this afternoon with Steve Clark, the head of D23; Dave Smith, head of the Disney Archives; and Marty Sklar, Imagineer and Disney Legend – along with other members of the media and high-profile Disney fansites and internet communities.
At its most basic, D23 is a pricey fan club, though it appears you will get what you pay for. Annual membership is $74.99, which includes 4 issues of the quarterly “D23” high-end publication, which will not include advertising (save the fact that the entire thing is promotional, to an extent); reduced admission to the D23 Expo, to be held for the first 4 years or so in Anaheim, CA (this year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 10-13); a special gift (which Steve Clark mentioned he’d be proud to display in his own home, after noting that it wasn’t just a pin); and opportunities which are too vague and/or preliminary for the officials to announce just yet. When asked about the price point, Clark pointed out that they are making every effort to keep the website full of insider information and wonderful content that can be accessed by anyone on the internet for free – and the initial launch of the site is, in fact, impressive.
Clark did indicate that some of the members-only opportunities could include advance screenings of Disney or Pixar films, exclusive evening events in the theme parks, and possibly advance opportunities to experience new attractions in the parks, as annual passholders have been able to do in the past. In fact, Clark often referred to D23 as a sort of corporate umbrella that encompasses and ties together all the fan-style business units currently employed throughout the Disney corporation, such as Annual Passholders, DVC members, Disney Movie Rewards members, and Walt Disney Collectors Society members.
A lot of the conversation during the conference call was directed toward the intent of the new club. While Clark called it the first Disney-authorized fan community (somehow, I guess the early Mickey Mouse Clubs don’t count, as they were run by the theaters with tacit company approval), it also seems that the club will serve as yet another conduit via which collectors can get their share of “exclusive” merchandise, which they call the “Disney Archives Collection.” The D23 team will be working with the existing creators of Disney merchandise (such as Disney Shopping, the theme park merchandise division, and Walt Disney Collectors Society) to create unique pieces available only to D23 members.
Early concern that the corporation might be trying to compete with Disney fan communities (both offline, such as the NFFC, and the numerous online forums) was generally dismissed by Clark, who feels that the Disney Company has a broad enough fan base and collection of properties for there to be “room for everybody.” There doesn’t seem to be an indication that the D23 website is trying to draw together individuals in any way other than offering logo wear and hosting events, at this point. And Dave Smith was quick to point out that the Disney Archives has every intent to continue their long-standing collaboration with the NFFC, which is an independent fan organization based around an annual convention.
Which brings us to the D23 Expo, which Clark compared vaguely with ComicCon or Star Wars Celebration, both of which are massive fan gatherings. While the D23 staff kept their cards close to the vest, some things mentioned that may occur are numerous celebrity appearances, artist signings, fan tables and booths to buy/sell/trade Disneyana, previews of upcoming attractions and movies, and everything you’d expect from a massive corporate fan event. The first few events will occur at the Anaheim Convention Center, and there should be hotel deals available for attendees. The event will be open to the public at a cost of around $35/day, though D23 members will get reduced price admission.
Overall, the effort feels overdue, though it still smacks of yet another means of presenting corporate PR. From a Disneyana collector’s point of view, joining the club is a must-do; but casual fans will have to decide on their own what this means for them personally. On a number of occasions, Clark pointed out the importance and uniqueness of the corporate legitimacy of the event, as it pulls together input and cooperation from Disney’s myriad “business units” (the theme parks, the merchandise, the films, Pixar, Imagineering, etc.) But as a launch, I was hit in the face with the myriad purchasing opportunities.
It’s not an easy thing for a corporate entity to launch a fan club in celebration of themselves without handing out rose-colored glasses along with the membership card. But perhaps, as Disney has shaped so much of popular culture over the past 80 years, the time is ripe for an insider perspective, even if it’s a Disney-sanctioned perspective. One thing Clark and Sklar repeatedly stressed was that they wanted to throw open the doors to the Disney Archives, to show the fans the real treasures from the company that have been long-since buried (and perhaps to sell them a Mary-Poppins-Prop-Replica-snowglobe, while they’re at it.) And that doesn’t sound like a terrible formula at all.
In closing, Marty Sklar stressed that this was “not about finding ways to sell more merchandise,” and he pointed out that the venture is a real opportunity for fans to come together with the Disney corporate entity, and each other, in the process. Time will tell.