Shortlist co-founder's 'gentle' men's brand Assembly chases gap in market

Shortlist co-founder launches newsletter and podcast for men 'who like nice stuff but aren't obsessed with cufflinks'

Shortlist co-founder Phil Hilton Assembly

Co-founder of defunct men’s magazine Shortlist Phil Hilton is launching a paid newsletter which he believes could revive the market for men’s media.

Author and former Shortlist columnist Danny Wallace (pictured, left) drafted in former Shortlist Group editorial director Phil Hilton (right) to launch digital media brand Assembly in an attempt to tap into what they see as a gap in the market for “men like us”.

Hilton said the “modern man trying his best” who wants “gentle, warm, writing” was being “neglected”.

The men’s magazine market was booming in the 1990s and 2000s but nearly every big-selling title from that era (including Maxim, Zoo, Nuts, FHM and Loaded) have since closed.

Assembly will be a twice-weekly subscription newsletter costing £8 per month with a free ad-funded spin-off podcast Manatomy to come in July following a deal with US podcast giant Stitcher.

Hilton told Press Gazette: “It’s a chance to speak to a certain kind of neglected man really in that I think there’s been a lot of stuff made for a slightly mythical executive Club Lounge dweller with a £5,000 suit and a Ferrari in the car park, and then equally there’s been a lot of celebration of very young laddy men obviously in the past – much less so now but on the internet I think that lives on.

“So the conversation that Danny and I were having was that what we really like to do is cook a meal with our families, watch a film with our wives, and there’s loads and loads of men like us who quite like some nice stuff but we’re not obsessed with cufflinks. We looked around and his point was that there’s literally nothing for men like us. No one’s speaking to men like us in the media.”

GQ and Men’s Health are the only major men’s lifestyle magazines left in a market that was once dominated by “lad’s mags”.

Hilton’s Shortlist closed in print at the end of 2018 after 11 years but continues to exist as a “product recommender” online. Owner Shortlist Media rebranded to Stylist Group after its ongoing free women’s magazine.

Other free mid-market titles like Sport and Coach also failed to survive. Meanwhile younger brands like Lad Bible and Joe dominate online.

[Read more: ‘We’re for the men, not the lads’ says new Joe Media editorial director]

Hilton said the pressures put on major men’s titles often stemmed from advertisers and the need to maintain a large audience to be viable. He said newer formats escape both of these pitfalls.

“Having spent so many years launching really quite large things and all the pressure on that, this medium of sending emails out and doing podcasts where you have a much more direct relationship with your audience is liberating,” he said.

“Partly because all the pressures on those big men’s products were advertisers on the one hand who often wanted a lot of influence on the content – so if you look at a lot of men’s products in the past, I don’t know about now, there’s a lot more about £30,000 watches and supercars than men would ideally really want I think, fine though they are.

“And on the other hand the pursuit of very large audiences all the time to keep that up, and that also makes you slightly distorted in your editorial choices.”

‘A lovely new world’

He said it was “so different and so freeing” to build a direct relationship with an audience, adding: “I really hope it works because it’s a lovely new world.”

Hilton said he was hopeful people would accept the “fairly lean” payment for Assembly.

“It’s a question of how long it will take people to accept that they can pay for quite light content,” he said.

“One of the nice freeing things about the format is I don’t have to sound unbelievably certain of all my outcomes because there aren’t any expectant advertisers, which is so different from everything I’ve done in the past.”

Hilton also said it was freeing to be away from the high costs of print, but added: “I’d love there to be a place for print. I absolutely would, I so love print.”

The Assembly newsletter, being put out with a bespoke system rather than via an established platform like Substack, will be written by Wallace and Hilton and cover food, technology, family, entertainment, fitness, psychology, fashion, grooming, plus contributions from the likes of author Frank Cottrell-Boyce, writer Charlie Higson, actor and podcaster Scroobius Pip and comedian Rufus Hound.

[Read more: Substack is the newsletter platform that’s convinced Glenn Greenwald and other high-profile journalists to fly solo]

The pair will also co-host the podcast, on which comedians and celebrities including Tim Minchin, Jon Ronson, Jason Manford, Sir Chris Hoy and Jameela Jamil talk frankly about their own bodies – a conversation Hilton said men “never, ever” have.

They hope to expand into live events once Covid-19 restrictions allow as another way of building a community under the Assembly brand.

Wallace said: “I wanted Assembly to be a welcoming, friendly place, like the pub table by the fireside where everyone’s laughing. So I called a guy I usually share a pub table by the fireside with, and we realized there was nothing that covered what we cover at that table.

“Phil and I talk friendship, family, the big things and the minute details. The glories and disasters and box sets. All in that funny, open, honest way you do at a table like ours.”

He added: “We want this to be the world’s biggest pub table.”

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1 thought on “Shortlist co-founder launches newsletter and podcast for men 'who like nice stuff but aren't obsessed with cufflinks'”

  1. I could never understand why irreverent, fun Shortlist closed but the anodyne Stylist survived (and I’m female btw).

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