I'm a huge fan of all things Disney (NYSE:DIS), but I find myself shaking my head at the family entertainment giant's launch of D23 yesterday.

Billed as the "first official community of Disney fans," D23 will offer members a quarterly publication, a Disney collectable gift, and discounts on special events, including the D23 Expo coming to Anaheim this September. One of the perks -- access to the D23 site, which features daily news and merchandise offers -- is available to non-members.

The catch, of course, is that the annual membership is priced at an economically insensitive $74.99. Unless that includes massive Disney Store and in-park deals, even die-hard, pin-trading Disney junkies are likely to balk at shelling out such a big a chunk of change for a "suitable for framing" certificate, a membership card, a tchotchke, and a glossy newsletter.

A bibbity bobbity blooper
Disney fans are so passionate about the company that they've already created free, lively online outlets such as Disboards, Mouse Planet, and AllEars.net. Even on Facebook, nearly 1.7 million fans congregate on the Disney fan page.

D23 should have probably been launched as an ambitious -- and free -- social networking site for Disneyphiles. That would have been a marketer's dream audience. Since it seems D23 members will be hit with a lot of opportunities to buy Disney merchandise, why not aim at as large an audience as possible? Instead, in this hard-knocks economy, Disney is asking folks to pay to receive glorified marketing material. Fat chance.

When CEO Bob Iger proposed a DVD rental club with an online streaming component earlier this month, the plan seemed plausible enough, given the premium competition in video services. But what's the competition for the $75 that Disney wants from D23 members?

  • Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) charges $79 for Prime, giving members a year's worth of free two-day shipping on all Amazon-stocked merchandise.
  • Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox Live offers a free Silver subscription, but diehard gamers pay $50 for a year of Gold, offering a year's worth of interactive gaming and streaming media goodies.
  • Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) charges $8.99 a month -- or $107.88 a year -- for its cheapest DVD rental program, which offers unlimited online streaming.
  • Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) offers a family-filtered XM satellite radio subscription for just $11.99 a month, or $143.88 a year.
  • Six Flags (NYSE:SIX) will set you back just $59.99 for an annual pass, good at all of the chain's amusement parks.

Disney won't concede any of this, naturally. It would likely argue that its diehard fans will have no problem paying up for exclusive membership.

I think otherwise. By this time next year, I'd be shocked if the club is around in its present form. It'll be either dramatically enhanced to give Disney fanatics more bang for their Goofy bucks, or it will morph into either a much cheaper -- if not free -- program.

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