It takes chutzpah to start a travel magazine in a recession. Afar is billed as a pub for "readers who are curious." I'm curious how it will survive, though its philosophy isn't geared to the country-club crowd. Forget a focus on comfy travel and 600-thread-count sheets; the goal is meaningful experiences. "We embrace what makes each culture distinct ... and discover insights about others - and ourselves." I read this in the Founder's Note, set in print so tiny it had to be glimpsed through an electron microscope.

Although I'm uncomfortable with any hint of kumbaya, it's a laudable aim. Afar embraces the gestalt of travel -- people, neighborhoods, cultural discoveries -- not just the next offbeat eatery which, by the time you find out about it, is standing-room only and the food stinks. Departments -- such as "Resident," where a local shows off his neighborhood; "Spin the Globe," a dispatch from a random location; "Stay," accommodations that promote the identity of a place; and "Sounds," music explored through a cultural lens -- target those who revel in the unexpected.

Still, Afar's timing can best be dubbed hopeful.

Luckily for founder Greg Sullivan, the company's CEO, he didn't have Joe Lieberman whining in the background. If FDR had to deal with Sad Sack during The New Deal, we'd have doubled the breadlines. Instead, the magazine's founder has seized the moment, attempting, per "Wicked," to "defy gravity." That is, the perilous state of print.

Then again, Sullivan, a former corporate securities attorney turned investment banker turned entrepreneur, has the cash. He parlayed a car retailing and finance company into a $750 million operation -- then sold his interest before the auto industry drove off a cliff. Maybe he and co-founder Joe Diaz have the cojones to help sustain the travel category. Even if a trip to Berber territory in Morocco (the cover story) isn't on your itinerary, it's eye-opening. According to the writer, the Berbers, ruled by an Arab minority, are under attack.

This serious, long-form piece is preceded by a first-person account of bog snorkeling in Wales - talk about variety. Some people like swimming in muck, others swim with sharks, but can you get more down and dirty than Glenn Beck? Then again, if someone threw him in a bog, MSNBC would be the first to cover it.

Afar seems to take an eclectic, ironic approach to travel -- nothing fazes its writers. One journeys to Caracas, Venezuela, which has the highest homicide rate on Earth. After learning that factoid, would anyone keep it on the itinerary? Still, the magazine is chockfull of interesting information -- from which country consumes the most chocolate (Ireland) to options for sleeping in a tree house. Forget Tarzan and Jane's décor, these eco-lodges are nifty -- and some, like the Ngong House in Nairobi, Kenya, are pricey, starting at $800 per night. The bed in the Boat House "nestles in a canoe salvaged from the Indian Ocean ... Kenyan chefs serve private haute cuisine dinners." So Somerset Maugham! Glimpsing nature with the aid of First World amenities.

In fact, Afar, which is beautifully art-directed, is an education. The premiere issue, which is available at Barnes & Nobles, Borders and U.S. airports, traverses the globe. It sprinkles fun, quick hits of information, like Puno Week in Peru, which celebrates an Inca legend, with the "Time to Rise" feature, in which an amateur American baker apprentices with a Paris boulanger to learn to make a stellar baguette. Martha Stewart would love it.

To augment the magazine's mission, it is launching a social media site in early 2010 to connect readers; meantime, readers can check out its Facebook and Twitter addresses. The company has also created the Afar Foundation, which sponsors cultural education and immersion travel for students who have the desire, but not the bank account.

Clearly, "curious" encompasses all ages and backgrounds. The mag celebrates that diversity -- for serious and armchair travelers alike. Here's hoping Afar stays afloat.


Published by: Afar Media

Frequency: Bimonthly


2 comments about "Afar".
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  1. Jesse White from Icon Media Direct, August 26, 2009 at 1:26 p.m.

    As a print media buyer and planner, and witness to the fragile print publication industry's troubles, it's refreshing to see a new magazine launch in these uncertain times.

    What I find interesting is the title's take on travel and culture, which certainly sets it apart from other titles in the category, and, it's proposed social media site to connect readers across the globe. Fascinating idea!

    I wish this title the best, and will pick up a copy at the bookstore this weekend.

  2. Robert Sawyer, August 26, 2009 at 3:16 p.m.

    If I'm not mistaken Henry Luce launched FORTUNE magazine in 1930, and acquired and redesigned LIFE Magazine in 1936, neither particular propitious years. One may argue, on the evidence of rather uninspired and lazy decisions by Kathie Black at Hearst or Si Newhouse at Conde Nast, that print as a popular medium stands at a precipice, however I believe that a smart magazine, aimed at a particular audience, and that holds to its point of view, will acquire both a loyal subscriber base—who will pay a premium for the magazine experience—as well as advertisers who are not afraid of their own shadows and are basing their decisions on their dying agencies' 20-something media buyers.

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