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Retail Therapy: An Interview with Forever35’s Doree Shafrir on Gee Thanks, Just Bought It!

Look, I’m not a particularly evolved person, and I won’t pretend to tell you otherwise. I’m not going to say that I make independent well-researched choices about all the things I purchase and consume, that I’m unaffected by advertising and the opinions of others, that I am a strong-minded individual who isn’t swayed by trends and buzz and group-think.

I will mount no defense, other than to say I have a reasonably small pool of energy and fucks to give. And by virtue of said scarcity of energy and fucks, there are only so many things I try to be a well-researched strong-minded individual about. Such things include: a mildly broad buffet of political concerns, various preferences in film and television and podcasts, a handful of tenets in personal finance, ~Media Business Takes~, #Sports, Young People These Days, The Myriad Ways Old People are Screwing Us Over, and the Relative Importance of Cats, among others.

Most other concerns, I generally opt to outsource. For example, I enjoy music, but I’ll lean on more passionate friends to feed my earballs. (Also, frankly, the Great Spotify Algorithm in the Sky.) I enjoy celebrity ephemera, but I’ll rely on Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger to clothe my culture. I love to cook, but I’ve willingly submitted my free will to the Church of Epicurious and

I am, of course, well aware of the various critiques, philosophical and practical, of constructing a life and personality according to the blueprint of, say, Wirecutter or Discover Weekly. Indeed, in some cases, I’ve even internalized them. Again, I don’t pretend to be a particularly enlightened human, and I suppose a semi-justification I’d try to weasel out here is that part of making choices is the choice to make choices, and in some cases, I’d rather not make choices, because there are so many other important choices to make. Or maybe I’m just a lump of coal who should try harder.

Aaaaaanyway, this is all an extensive preamble to a rather interesting news hook, which is Gee Thanks, Just Bought It, the new podcast hosted by the writer-author Caroline Moss, which very shrewdly launched on Black Friday with two episodes. Designed to be “a shopping guide of sorts,” GTJBI endeavors to serve listeners recommendations of relatively inexpensive products that could have out-sized impact on their day-to-day lives. Each episode runs for about thirty minutes, and they’re generally structured around a different guest talking about a specific item, with Moss closing out the show with a rec of her own. All of which is to say: you bet your ass I’m outsourcing my purchasing decisions to this podcast.

Gee Thanks also has the distinction of being the first new podcast launched under the banner of Forever35, the podcast fronted by Kate Spencer and Doree Shafrir about “the things we do to take care of ourselves” that, by virtue of the subject matter, frequently discusses products to begin with. We’ve covered Forever35 a bunch of times before, viewing the production as a pretty interesting example of an independent operation effectively navigating through an increasingly industrializing business — most recently, they struck a deal with Acast, exchanging some amount of independence for more resources — and this show expansion further deepens the story.

I jumped on the phone with Shafrir — who, by the way, also has a piece out in the New York Times about her experience with another podcast project, Matt & Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure, which you should read — just before Thanksgiving and the launch of Gee Thanks, Just Bought It to talk about the new podcast, the move to build out a new show, and capitalism.

Hot Pod: Could you walk me through the decision to help create Gee Thanks, Just Bought It?

Doree Shafrir: The goal of Gee Thanks, Just Bought It is to bring you the under the radar life-changing products you didn’t know you needed. It’s meant to be a shopping guide of sorts, not in the sense of “buy all these things,” but “get this one thing, which will be life-changing.”

It was inspired by Caroline’s Twitter feed where she posts recommendations under the hashtag #WireCaro… which is a play on Wirecutter, of course. I’m friends with Caroline, I’ve followed her on social media for a long even before I met her in person, and I’ve always loved her recommendations. The podcast came about because I had jokingly replied to a thread saying, “You should do a YouTube channel!” And she was like, “LOL, no, but I would do a podcast.” Obviously, I told her we should talk. One thing led to another, and here we are.

I’m really hoping that people will take the show as irreverent, but smart and, uhm, #servicey. That’s the intention — the things we recommend, we really do think they’ll make your life better.

HP: When I first heard about the show, I immediately thought about two business model-related things. The first was the potential for affiliate marketing, which is something that’s become quite common elsewhere on the internet but which still isn’t really technologically supported in the podcast context. (Unless you count the traditional promo code arrangement, which I think is a little too indirect to be counted.) And the second thing is stuff about editorial integrity and the relationship between the products being discussed and the substance of the show. Could you talk about the business model of the show? Is it advertising-driven, and if so, how do you think about the way it squares with the product-orientation of the show?

Shafrir: Yeah, so, one thing I’ve learned from doing Forever35 — where we talk a lot about various products to begin with — is that it doesn’t really stop other companies from advertising on our show. If anything, my impression is that advertisers like taking out spots on a show where people are primed to buy stuff. That’s especially true with host-reads ads, where the host is doing personal endorsements of a product.

More broadly, though, the thing about Gee Thanks, Just Bought It is that everything Caroline recommends tends to have a low price point. Even if she does love, like, Casper mattresses, she probably wouldn’t talk about it because it’s not at the price point that the show is intended for. And so, on that level, Casper might be interested in buying on the show because Caroline’s probably not going to be talking about them or discussing a product area where they’re generally operating in, but the listeners are already in the hunt for something to buy.

With Gee Thanks, we’re going to engage in normal host-read ads, but as we’ve done with Forever35, we’ve always made it clear that we only do ads for products that we genuinely endorse. We also work to make it clear that there’s no pay-to-play on Forever35. I’ve discussed this elsewhere, but some brands have tried to pay us to do interviews, and we would never allow a brand to pay Caroline to recommend products.

In terms of affiliate marketing, because there’s no real way to do this audio-wise, and because Caroline has already built out a brand for herself, she’s keeping all of the affiliate revenue from her website and Twitter.

HP: What did the process of shepherding Gee Thanks into production involve?

Shafrir: We had already been talking to Acast about potentially starting more shows even before this project was on the table, where they would be our revenue partner for whatever podcasts we would launch. When Kate and I started talking to Caroline, we went over to Acast and said, “Okay, now we have a show that we want to launch. Can we get a more formal deal in place between us” — as in, Forever35 and Acast — “for this show and any other future show we might want to launch?” So we got that deal done, and then we went back to Caroline and laid out the terms.

Basically, Caroline has a deal with us, and we have a deal with Acast, where Acast handles the ad sales. They also offer some additional support, like providing a studio for Caroline to record in New York, plus some marketing and publicity stuff.

HP: A rote question — do y’all have any download benchmarks when bringing this show to market?

Shafrir: We haven’t discussed specific goals. I mean, we have some numbers in mind, and we told Caroline what a “successful” podcast broadly looks like, but only because she was wondering about the industry. Generally. We felt it was a little premature to come up with a benchmark off the bat, and our move is to take the first few months to feel out the baseline and then figure out what makes sense moving forward. We see this as a long-term partnership.

HP: What did you tell Caroline in terms of those industry benchmarks?

Shafrir: I explained that for most shows to qualify for advertising these days, you’re usually looking at a minimum of 10,000 downloads per episode. Of course, it’s a little different now with dynamic insertion, because the framework there is weekly downloads. For that, I said that if we’re able to get about 20,000 downloads a week, that’s a pretty good threshold.

HP: If you were to give advice to another show in your position — as in a reasonably-sized independent podcast looking to help shepherd another show into existence — what would it be?

Shafrir: That it’s important for the parent show to have a sizeable and loyal audience. You want to be in a position where you’re able to tell your listeners, “Hey, we’re launching this new thing,” and that they’ll be excited that it has your imprimatur. For example, there were already a few reviews up on Gee Thanks, Just Bought It’s page on Apple Podcasts before we even launched, where someone said “If Kat and Dor are connected to this, I’m listening. Love Forever35, excited to see them expanding. 💃”

The parent show needs to have that before it can spin something off… not that Gee Thanks, Just Bought It is a “spin-off,” necessarily. But it’s certainly congruent with what Forever35 has done. It’s a show that makes sense for us to be doing. It’s not completely out of the blue. I think if we were, like, launching an eight-part true crime documentary series or a politics show or something, our people might get confused about that.

HP: Maybe it’s too early to ask, but are y’all thinking about launching more shows?

Shafrir: We’re taking it one project at a time, but we are thinking about other shows. We’re starting to have conversations with other people who we think will make great hosts. We’re interested in bringing people who haven’t podcasted before, and give them the guidance and production support they need. But it’s still too early to discuss publicly.

HP: One last question. What has your experience talking about products on Forever35 and developing Gee Thanks, Just Bought It taught you about capitalism?

Shafrir: So, our mission is really to help people shop better. The goal isn’t acquire a million things. It’s to say, simply, “here’s a really useful spatula,” or whatever, that we think you should buy. I’m hoping that people will take it in that spirit, and that it’s not us telling you that you need to acquire endless amounts of stuff. (I mean, even Marie Kondo is selling things now.)

I think working on these podcasts has made me a more ethical consumer. I do think a lot more about where the things I’m buying are coming from, and more about where the places I’m actually buying them from. These things are really emphasized for me now.

Certainly in terms of beauty products. I used to not pay particular attention to whether things were cruelty free, but now it’s something I care about a lot. I had been, I think, somewhat willfully ignorant about it, and between doing the show and getting gentle encouragement from listeners to pay attention, it’s really affected my thinking.

You can find Gee Thanks, Just Bought It here.