The Big 5-0-0:
Evolution of an E-Zine

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the April 21, 2009 Issue #500 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

AllEars Team Can you believe it? This edition of AllEars® marks our 500th issue. 500! What a number! Such a modest little venture has come so far. When I met Deb Wills nearly 12 years ago (who wants to admit it's been that long?!) I'm sure neither of us suspected where our paths would lead us.

We're at 112,000 subscribers now, and since not all of you have been with us since the start we thought it would be kind of fun to do a retrospective -- you know, take a look back over the years at how we've changed and grown.

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THE FIRST ISSUE
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Before the newsletter was actually called "All Ears", Deb Wills used to send out a sporadic email to readers of her website (the old Walt Disney World Information Guide -- WDWIG) with recent events in the World. The first issue that we have on record was dated September 19, 1999.

This was it, in its entirety:

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Epcot Soft Openings Delayed

Although WDW escaped the brunt of Hurricane Floyd, it did cause the delay of the Millennium Soft Openings in Epcot.

The last night of the current IllumiNations is now scheduled for September 24. The soft opening of the new show begins September 25. The soft opening of the Tapestry of Nations Parade has also been delayed until September 25.

A reminder for those of you who will be "braving" Epcot on October 1st, a group of us are meeting at noon in front of the new Millennium Pavilion. Don't forget to bring your pins for trading! Hope to see you there!

Speaking of Epcot -- there is a new Fish and Chips stand at the UK in WorldShowcase.

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That was it -- sweet and simple, huh?

Within a few issues, we realized that people were interested in more than just a couple brief updates, so we started to include short features. Early articles included a review of the new Tapestry of Nations parade (gone, but not forgotten!), the Millennium Village (ditto), and the new Journey Into Imagination (hmmm, maybe better not remembered).

By August 2000, we decided that Deb's Walt Disney World Information Guide's Ezine was a little too much of a mouthful for readers to remember, let alone say, so we (or should I say my son, just 8 at the time) came up with the idea to call it All Ears -- a title that we felt everyone would connect with. That August 1, 2000, issue, our 41st, featured tidbits on the merging of Port Orleans and Dixie Landings resorts, as well as a special Dinner and Dancing program at Downtown Disney that allowed guests to dine at specific restaurants for either $29 or $39 and included admission to Pleasure Island. It also carried news about the Disney Institute ceasing its public programs and the discontinuation of the Walk Around the World Bricks. Hardly seems possible that those events were nine years ago already.

The new format that we launched in that August 2000 issue has remained largely unchanged over the ensuing years. According to a survey we did last fall, you all think it still works, so who are we to mess with success? As long as it manages to sprinkle a little pixie dust in your inboxes every week we're content.

After that relaunch, we continued to add different featurettes to the issues: Tips of the Week, All Ears Hears (letters from readers)... and by our 100th issue on August 21, 2001, we really felt we had reason to celebrate -- after all, we had grown to 17,500 subscribers!

We found that readers really enjoyed our weekly features, and so along with things we wrote "in house" (that is by the regular All Ears team), we tried to bring in a variety of writers, like our old friends Zamgwar and the Czarina, to have fresh voices and perspectives on the happenings around Walt Disney World. We continued to feature interviews with authors of Disney guidebooks in our ongoing "Meet the Authors" series, and provided in-depth dining reviews, resort reviews, news and more. We shied away from rumors and speculations, choosing instead to report on the official news -- a policy we adhere to, to this day.

We introduced the popular Mousy Mindboggler riddles in September 2001. A number of writers have shared that mysterious moniker over the years, but the continued success of the featurette attests to its high quality, no matter who is behind the Mousy Mindboggler mask.

On February 4, 2003, we began to offer an html version of the newsletter, and early in 2003 we introduced our bi-weekly advertising newsletter, Ears the Deal™, which features specials from our preferred sponsors. The Photo of the Week featurette debuted in July 2003 -- it was overwhelmingly popular then, and remains one of our most praised features.

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ISSUES 200 TO 400
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By July 22, 2003, our 200th issue, we counted Disney archivist Dave Smith among the many notables in the Disney community we had interviewed. In fact, Dave continues to be a good friend to AllEars® and has allowed us to interview him a few times for the newsletter. We were also excited to note that at the time of our 200th issue we had reached more than 45,000 subscribers.

In May 2004, we passed another milestone -- something that meant a lot to us, even if it was rather transparent to our readers. AllEars went from being a simple (TM) trademark claim to (R) a registered trademark! A registered trademark has been officially registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and means that we are the only ones who can use this phrase in this way. We were now officially AllEars®!

Our 300th issue came on June 21, 2005, and we reflected then on what kept us enthused about Walt Disney World, The Most Magical Place on Earth. As I wrote at the time:

"Yes, we admit it. We still believe in Tinker Bell. We believe in Pixie Dust. We feel it every time we set foot in Walt Disney World... Don't you feel it when you're there, too? We bet you do. As you're standing on Main Street USA, with the scent of cotton candy and chocolate chip cookies tickling your nose, or maybe as you're plunging 13 stories from the top of the Tower of Terror? Or maybe the feeling hits you as you're tapping your toe to the rhythms of Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade, or as you're sipping a cappuccino, feeling the spray on your face from Epcot's dancing fountains? We've heard all the complaints about how Disney has changed over the years -- it's not as clean, it's so expensive, the Cast Members don't care as much... And while some of this may be true to a degree, we can't escape the fact that nowhere else gives us that 'just sprinkled with pixie dust' feeling that we get when we're at Walt Disney World."

Our 62,000 readers at the time seemed to agree with us, and guess what? I STILL feel the same way, too!

By the time we reached our 400th issue, on May 22, 2007, we marveled at the fact that we had nearly 85,000 subscribers, and that we had been at this weekly newsletter business for nearly 8 years. Eight years?! How was that possible? Well, it was possible through the efforts of our tremendous team, and that holds true today.

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REACHING 500
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As I look back, I'm amazed at how far we've come in the two short years between that 400th edition and today's 500th. When I stop to think of all the happenings that I personally have covered -- there have been some amazing opportunities in that brief time. Excuse me if I personalize this retrospective for a minute.

In addition to allowing me to share my love of Disney with all of you, this newsletter has afforded me the chance to meet and work with some amazing people, beginning with our Editor-in-Chief, Deb Wills. It has also given me the opportunity to share in some wonderful experiences that, as a writer, have enriched my life.

I was present for Epcot's impressive 25th anniversary in October 2007, and Animal Kingdom's 10th anniversary last year, which featured speeches by Joe Rohde and famed primatologist Jane Goodall. I had the chance to interview REAL space shuttle astronauts on Space Day in September 2007. I've spoken to acclaimed artist Thomas Kinkade about his Disney Dreams Collection, and I've met and have eaten peanut butter sandwiches with the original Tinker Bell, Margaret Kerry. Last year I attended the grand opening of the new Toy Story Mania attraction and had the chance to discuss the ride's construction with its Imagineers and Hollywood Studios park president Rilous Carter. I interviewed ESPN personality Jay Crawford during ESPN The Weekend in March 2008, and earlier this year I was one of the first non-cast members to walk through the new American Idol Experience, then had the chance to meet former contestants from AmericanIdol at the grand opening of the new attraction.

Yes, it's been an amazing journey, not just for the newsletter, but for me personally, and for that I'm truly grateful. It's been a fabulous 500 issues!

As I said at the outset, the AllEars® newsletter now reaches more than 112,00 subscribers, all over the globe, from our neighbors in Mexico and Canada to those on the other side of the world in Asia and Australia. Our readers are not just moms and dads planning family vacations, but singles, couples without children, travel industry professionals, Disney cast members, first-time visitors and seasoned veterans... everyone and anyone who has an interest in the Walt Disney World resort.

As we have done each time we have celebrated a special milestone in AllEars® history, we'd like to take a moment to thank each member of the AllEars® team -- all volunteers, who work so diligently to maintain the high quality of the newsletter whose electrons fill your email boxes each week: thanks to feature writers Jack Spence and Mike Scopa, who also serve as bloggers for our AllEars.Net site; to regular contributors Michelle Scribner-Maclean, Andrea McKenna, Dotti Saroufim, the Mousy Mindboggler and Glo from Miami; to guest columnists Amy Warren Stoll, Joshua Olive, Brian Martsolf, Emily Pickle-Owen; to our Disneyland Correspondent Laura Gilbreath; to our Picture This! photographers Lisa Berton, Barrie Brewer and Scott Thomas; and to our all-around Jack-of-all-trades, Jack Marshall. We also can't forget our other bloggers and contributors Mike Bachand and Steve Barrett, and our behind-the-scenes helpers Linda Eckwerth, Cathy Bock, Fred Block and Erin Blackwell.

We also owe a very special debt to our advertisers. They not only enable us to produce this newsletter every week, but also provide support in other ways, very generously providing us with contest prizes and more, which in turn allow us to share even more Magic with you, our readers.

We hope you've enjoyed reading as much as we've enjoyed publishing each and every one of our 500 issues. We thank you for following us now, and are looking forward to the next 500 (is that too ambitious?) issues with as much enthusiasm as always.

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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:

To mark the occasion of our 500th issue, AllEars® has some fantastic prizes to give away to its readers!

To be eligible:
1) You MUST be a registered subscriber to AllEars® as of April 20, 2009. 2) You must be 18 years of age or older. 3) Only ONE entry per subscriber. Multiple entries will result in disqualification. 4) All entries become the exclusive property of ALL EARS® and will not be acknowledged or returned. 5) Only ONE winner per household. 6) Void where prohibited.

1 GRAND PRIZE: 2 Adult tickets to Sea World
1 FIRST PRIZE: 2 Adult tickets to a Disney Water Park


To be eligible for the random drawing, in which we will give away two separate prizes, send an email to allearscontest@gmail.com no later than 11:59 p.m. this Sunday, April 26, 2009. Winners will be selected at random on Monday, April 27, and will be announced in next week's newsletter, Tuesday, April 28 2009.


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.