Media Perspective: ShortList surprises everyone and offers a real ad alternative

ShortList, the new free weekly men's magazine, hit the streets last Thursday. And it wasn't as crap as some feared it would be. In fact, it wasn't crap at all.

The title is hand-distributed by a team of vendors (or "agents" as ShortList likes to call them - perhaps in a bid to involve them in the fantasy of its first front cover, which urges readers to learn how to "Find Your Inner Bond"). Everybody will have probably seen the clip on YouTube of the title's founder, Mike Soutar, looking a bit silly in a blue ShortList raincoat as he urges "agents" to smile and make eye contact with their audience. Thankfully, his magazine, edited by the former Nuts man Phil Hilton, is not as wooden.

Pitched as a more upmarket, older alternative to the existing men's weeklies (and the downmarket men's monthlies), ShortList's take on the week is hardly that of The Economist or even The Week, but it's substantially more sophisticated and text-heavy than its weekly entertainment magazine rivals. The title includes a lot of lists, which may be pretty easy to compile, but supplements this with the usual men's staples of sport, entertainment, health and fitness. The fleshpot count is low compared with titles on newsstands, but then, given that the title is free, ShortList doesn't need a naked cover-girl to shift copies.

It also creates an alternative environment for advertisers. The early signs are that agencies are buying into the product. Mark Gallagher, the executive director of Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "It looks really good, the paper quality could be improved a little, but there's nothing in there that looks out of place or out of kilter with the advertising."

The first issue attracted eight advertisers (including O2, Adidas and Michelob) and the ShortList commercial team has apparently agreed volume commitments with five buying points (Carat, Group M, Media Planning Group, Universal McCann and ZenithOptimedia) that should give it a good start in bringing in the revenue.

Another point in ShortList's favour is a smart website (www.shortlist.com), which even at this early stage offers new content and ideas as well as the opportunity to read a digital version of the print title. This has clearly been thought through and could bring in additional revenues.

Taking its lead from Sport, which has been an undoubted success in its first year, ShortList has a good start on which to build. A few doubts surround it: some agencies feel its £8,000-a-page ad rate is a little steep and there is some suspicion that the distribution outside London (around 150,000 of the 500,000 total) may be insufficient to generate real momentum. But while ShortList is not Esquire or even GQ, for a 20-minute read on the Tube, it does the job.