The Mailbox, the Magazine, and Me
by Amy Warren Stoll, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the June 7, 2005, Issue #298 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I've always considered my mailbox to be a friend. I realize with the advent of email and all the instant information now available to me, that I often shamefully refer to it as "snail mail." But it still serves an important role. It waits patiently at my front door to receive glad tidings from my friends, is the vessel for my (much deserved) gifts from family who live far way, dutifully collects my checks when direct deposit just won't do, and for years has allowed Ed McMahon to notify me of my imminent wealth. My mailbox has certainly served me well. During a recent trip to my mailbox, for instance, I found it obediently holding a Disney Catalog, my reservation confirmation for an upcoming WDW trip, a refund check, and even an offer for more life insurance on my eccentric and aging dad. Could there be a more satisfying, if not diabolical combination? But alas, today, my dependable mailbox held one item I could have gone without for a very long time. It was my last issue of the seemingly ever-present Disney Magazine.
Gasp. Sputter. World… coming… to… an… end.
I know I should have been more prepared. After all, it was announced in early April that the magazine would cease publication after the summer issue. The news spread like wildfire through the online magazines and Disney fan sites, and a storm of emails and comments from angry, saddened, and bewildered subscribers began. As I reviewed the comments and emails posted on various sites, it became obvious that I was far from alone in my attachment to the magazine. Many admitted to reading each issue cover to cover again and again (guilty as charged), to making a mental note at the beginning of each February, May, August and November that their Disney fix would be arriving any day (guilty again), and to having kept every issue they had ever received (so guilty I should stop now to call my lawyer).
As I searched the Internet for more scoop about the demise of my quarterly influx of glossy, polished, picture-laden official Disney information, I encountered various theories for the downfall. One theory that seemed to bring out a lot of discussion was that the Internet had killed the Disney Magazine. The more I read, the more guilty I began to feel. (Has my lawyer gotten here yet?) Had I, a self-proclaimed Disney nut, played an unwitting role in the undoing of this beloved friend? Had my insatiable appetite for the most up-to-date and late-breaking news about the parks led me to depend almost entirely on the Internet for my information? Had that dependence helped sound the death knell for the magazine?
In the wake of the burgeoning evidence to support such a theory, I felt the need to convince myself that I had not forsaken this longtime source of Disney morsels and gems for the instant gratification of the web. I reflected on what had led to my attachment in the first place. I had made my first trip to WDW in late September 1996. I had to hold back tears as I boarded a shuttle back to the airport at the end of my stay. I was hooked, and from that point forward craved any and all Disney tidbits I could get my hands on. I wasn't yet Internet-savvy, so the material I could find was limited, to say the least. Imagine my delight when, barely a month after my tearful departure from Walt Disney World, I received an entire magazine full of pictures, previews and feature articles about everything Disney. I was as giddy as Zsa Zsa Gabor in a diamond store.
So why had this magazine continued to enchant me even after I had access to the vast amount of information, advice, and planning tools available to me on the Internet? Simple. It served a different purpose. I no longer used it so much as a reference for my next trip. Instead, over the years, it became a way to keep the Magic alive between trips. A piece of Disney I could carry with me to read in the car, on the bus, or during a slow moment at work. Its articles frequently covered topics that weren't usually found on the typical Disney fan site. There was a great sense of history as many articles reminisced about the early days, took us behind the scenes of some key moments, enlightened us about some lesser known events, and gave us insight into some of the artists and imagineers whose work we'd enjoyed for years. Make no mistake, though, it still played its part in my continual planning of each trip. I looked forward to experiencing the new attractions it previewed, or treating my taste buds at each restaurant it spotlighted. And nothing could beat the first time I recognized one of the Cast Members who had been featured in the magazine.
In a strange twist, it was the Disney Magazine itself that led me to the Internet for planning tips and advice. In the Winter 2002 issue there was an article titled "Where Do I Start?" in which the top picks for guidebooks and Disney-related web sites were highlighted. Listed in the picks was a website called All Ears Net(R), located then at wdwig.com (now our very own allears.net). I imagine I don't have to tell you how that one web address revolutionized my trip planning and even the trips themselves. I can probably assume, by the simple fact that you're reading this, that you've been introduced to the considerable amount of information available for the savvy surfer.
So are we "savvy surfers" to blame for the death of the Disney Magazine? Maybe, but I'm pleading the fifth. To our credit (or redemption), we rallied a valiant effort to dissuade the "powers that be" from dismantling this cherished periodical. As the news made its way through the Disney Internet community, the passionate emails and messages were posted all over the web. In each of them there was the overwhelming sense that Disney was making a mistake. That there is still an audience for this "old-fashioned" means of communication. That the Internet can't replace the niche that this magazine had once cut out for itself. Many challenged Disney to improve the magazine instead of ending its long run, citing that in its earlier days it had been more of an "inside" source than it became in its later years. It was suggested that it had become a victim of misdirected marketing and the mistaken notion that the readers no longer wanted substantive articles. I never got to read the magazine from those early days. Personally, I enjoyed the magazine even in its reportedly "dumbed-down" version of later years. But if the "early days" were graced with a product that was even better, then I am jealous of those who got to enjoy it, and maybe a little mad at Disney for lowering the bar of previous excellence.
Another argument that was heard over and over was from subscribers who had already pre-paid for 2, 3, 4, even 10 years of the magazine. There was understandable concern over how they would be compensated. The original news was that each subscription would be converted to the Family Fun magazine. Was this another miscalculation by Disney regarding the magazine's audience? Did they really believe that every reader was part of a family with young children? Had they forgotten about the adults who have no children, or whose children are grown, who enjoy Disney trips just for themselves? My favorite quote regarding that question came from a post on a message board:
"I'm sure it's a great mag (Family Fun) for people with children, but I'm not sure our cats are going to enjoy cooking and crafts!!!" LisaG
Thankfully, when the final issue arrived, it included instructions for transferring the subscription to Family Fun, Disney Adventures, OR calling to request a pro-rated refund. However, LisaG's subscription was a perk of her Disneyland annual passport, so her only choice is to convert it. I hear she's already looking for little cat-sized oven mitts and is stocking up on pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and papier mache.
Up until today's trip to the mailbox, I was holding out hope that a reprieve was in the works. But it was not to be. I'm still puzzled, though, by the timing of all this. It seems so strange that, just as the theme parks were gearing up for a media blitz to celebrate Disneyland's 50th birthday, the company would discard such a perfect vehicle for self-promotion and merchandising. Surely there were pages and pages of special commemorative dolls, figurines and snowglobes just waiting to be shared with eager Disney fans.
As I flipped through the pages, I saw the familiar combination of nostalgic nods to the past, news for the present, and tantalizing looks at things to come. How sad that the last issue, devoted almost entirely to celebrating a happy milestone of 50 years, is itself a reminder that in those years there have been some sad losses. I include the loss of the Disney Magazine among them.
But despite that loss, my Disney trips will go on. With the help of the Internet, not only can I find answers to my trip planning questions, but I can also use my experiences to help others with theirs. I've even done an Internet search to find more of the Disney history that I had enjoyed in the magazine. And falling under the category of "the bright side," perhaps I should be grateful that the Disney Magazine has ended its run. Since I have no choice but to save every issue, eventually I would have run out of space. Just think how many more Disney trips I can take now that I don't have to build on an extra room! Although, paying for it really shouldn't have been a problem. After all, Ed McMahon has already told me I'm a winner!
Amy Warren Stoll was one of the 50 Happiest Passholders on Earth who attended the recent grand opening of the new Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. Read her report of that event at: http://allears.net/news/50thpress4.htm
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.