Parents’ Reaction to Disney’s Digital Books: Not So Magical

Informal poll: Most hesitant to drop $79 for annual subscription.

Last Updated: October 1, 2009 @ 5:00 AM

“Have a magical day.”

That’s how a publicist for Disney closed its webcast Tuesday announcing the launch of DisneyDigitalBooks.com, an online library of its children’s books which went live yesterday.

As the New York Times reported, Disney will charge parents an annual subscription fee of $79 – or $8.95 per month — to access the site, which has been pre-stocked with 500 titles – like “Cars,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Hannah Montana” — aimed at the 3-to-12-year-old set.

During the Webcast, I asked Russell Hampton, president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, how many subscriptions Disney thinks it will sell in the first year, and how many would constitute a success. He dodged both questions, saying it’s not a short-term project and that the goal “is to reach as many children as we can.”

Make no mistake, though. It’s a business. During the Webcast, Disney Publishing SVP and group publisher Jeanne Mosure noted that the subscriptions are “a great holiday opportunity.” And chief executive Robert Iger has reportedly put the hammer down, warning that projects like these need to be profitable from the get-go.

For some family fun, I sent the Times article about the launch to some middle class parents I know, asked them what they thought and, more importantly, if would they’re buying what’s Disney’s selling.

Mom of 8-year-old girl:

I got through two paragraphs and I can assure you NFW (no f—ing way in mom speak).  Why should I pay $79.95 when we can go to the library for free, rent videos for cheaper, and buy the Leap Pad reading systems for a LOT cheaper?  Plus no one wants to give even more money to the almighty Disney — they get enough of our money.  There are some free Internet sites that do similar things — www.starfall.com.  Granted they don’t have the ‘magic of a Disney’ but if you want that go rent or buy the friggin movie!
 
I can assure you none of my friends would pay either.  I can just hear my school teacher friend ranting about the bond you get reading to your kids and how this is just one more way to have a “machine” teach your kids to read.

Even the monthly fee is too much — there are so many options for kids right now between video games that have reading programs, the Internet, videos and REAL books — I could never justify the cost.

Mom of 9-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl:
 
It sounds somewhat appealing — especially the part about clicking on words the child doesn’t know — but honestly, I’d rather take that $79 a year and spend it on good, old-fashioned, turn-the-page, cuddle-up-with books!
 
Mom of 8-year-old girl:
 
I think kids will love it … but I don’t.  It is a battle to reduce techno time as it is, between TV, IPod and DS … so I absolutely would not pay to have my child read online when I can go to a Library for free and set aside 30 minutes a night mandatory reading time.  I think the old fashioned way is better … just like the family sitting down to dinner together. I am a big Disney fan, but not of this.  Better to lend your child’s imagination to black and white text than to have Disney define that too!
 
Mom of an 8-year-old boy:
 
I think if I had a toddler I would pay for the service — but as the mom of a fourth grade boy, I do not think that boys 8 and older would be into this. Disney doesn’t really have many characters or movies aimed at boys, in my humble opinion. The last Disney movie or characters my son was interested in was "Cars," and he was 5 at the time. I could see girls being interested, given the popularity of "Hannah Montana" and the Disney princesses. But honestly, I can’t see tweens using this.

Mom of 8-year-old girl and five-year-old boy:
 
I think it’s OK for kids to read some of that once in a while if it interests them but it’s not going to replace books like Frog and Toad or Henry and Mudge and other stories that help children learn to love reading. I don’t think that any Disney story — be it "Toy Story" or "Hannah Montana" — is quality children’s literature.